Awhile back I realized that the best green beans around (the best that don’t have lots of added fat and bacon grease anyhow) come from dad’s garden by way of my mom’s pressure cooker. I poach a few jars every time I visit them, and it’s gotten to the point that dad decided to expand the garden so he can keep up with demand from myself and my younger* siblings.
*And not as awesome.
That experience made me very interested to read about the canning and pickling adventures of some friends of mine last fall (especially the pickled okra). In a serious ‘teach a man to fish’ moment I discovered I didn’t have to buy a pressure cooker to keep some of the best from the farmer’s market around through the winter. Turns out some foods can be canned and preserved with boiling water, and a little added acidity.
To that end I got a copy of Canning & Preserving by Ashley English. From reading the book and poking around on her blog I get the impression that English’s authority on the topic comes more from extensive research than significant experience. I don’t consider that a bad thing, but I do think it’s important to keep in mind while reading.
The book is essentially a text book rather than a cook book. It’s light on recipes, and with the exception of some fairly complicated looking ‘seasonal recipes’ in the back, the recipes it does have it does have are pretty basic. That’s most definitely not a drawback for me. I was very interested in the step by step way English takes you through various canning and preserving techniques. It’s well written and covers the basics without becoming boring. In the chapter on fruit I finally learned the answer to a question that has been nagging me since my first grown-up trip to the grocery. I’m proud to say I finally know the difference between jam and jelly.
There’s a great economy to the writing. Her recipes and step by step illustrations are accompanied by a discussion of the chemistry of the process and topped off with a discussion of ingredients and prep techniques went well beyond what I expected from the size of the book. I could have done without the tips on how to decorate the jars and the step-by-step for holding a canning party but they did help set the tone without detracting from the book.
Beyond the text, I can’t praise the graphic design enough. The book is full of crisp pictures to keep your eyes on the prize, and the use of faded backdrops and color changes contribute a homey aesthetic. I rarely notice much about the physical quality of the books I read, but this one stood out for its use of an extra sturdy binding and thick pages. The sturdy construction should help the book survive extended kitchen use.
I only ran across one thing that really bothered me. There’s a strong ‘going back to my roots’ vibe throughout the book that came off a bit smug and condescending. (Tips for my own canning party and decorating jars? Not so hard to figure out on my own, thank you.) English’s focus on local food also rubbed me the wrong way and felt a bit smug. Most of these problems are probably more due to my personal grumpiness than anything English actually said, you can judge for yourself.
I’ve read most of what the local library has to offer on canning and preserving and this is the only one I liked enough to buy. If you’re a new canner, or thinking about taking up canning, I can’t recommend this book enough. If you’re an experienced canner you probably won’t get as much out of it, but I still recommend buying the book for a friend (and reading it before you gift it).