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Monday, August 26, 2013

Sustainable Bookshelf: Saving the Season

(Disclosure:  I received a review copy of this book from Random House/Knopf.  The opinions in this review, as in all of my posts, are mine alone.)

It is so difficult to find a really great new book on food preservation.  Of course, everyone starts out with some of the basics:  The Ball Blue Book and Putting Food By are two of my stand-bys that I recommend to beginners.  But if you want to go beyond that, you typically find books with one or more of these problems:
  1. They assume you know exactly what things should look like at every step.
  2. They assume that you are either preserving bushels-full (and want recipes for giant quantities) or cups-full (and want to load up on expensive, luxury add-ins).
  3. They are boring to read.
This is why I was so thrilled to receive a review copy of Saving the Season.  Kevin West manages to solve all three of these problems in a book that is just beautiful to hold.  (And I do sometimes judge books by their covers and paper quality -- once a mark of literary shallowness, but I think a reasonable criterion on which to judge paper additions to your library when you also have e-book options.)

First, West assumes that you know nothing of the canning process.  He includes line drawings of all of the necessary equipment, and he isn't afraid to add explanations about things he misunderstood while learning.  West's explanation of Basic Strawberry Jam is a triumph in this regard -- he devotes two whole pages to talking the novice through a recipe that most experienced canners know by heart and can do in their sleep.  But I am confident that, given the right equipment, the virgin canner could walk through this explanation step-by-step and emerge with a batch of impressive-looking jam.

This attention to detail continues to the photography.  The photography is beautiful, but, more important, it is sometimes messy.  That is, it shows what food looks like smeared on a plate or a utensil, something that is important for canners hoping to learn what things should look like.  I absolutely swooned over a photo of jam jars that had vented hot jam onto towels beneath.  It was artistically beautiful, but, more important, it showed what that accident actually looks like, which should dilute the terror that you feel the first time it ever happens in your kitchen.

Second, West does an admirable job of including both basic and gourmet recipes for small farmers' market purchases and home gardens.  I grow a big suburban garden, but I don't bring in produce by the bushel.  However, I favor the basic recipes, and I'm often faced with cutting down recipes that are designed to fill a 9-quart canner.  This book is idea for figuring out what the basic way of preserving a variety of crops is, in quantities that are easy to manage and easy on the budget.

Then, he includes the specialty recipes that will have you running for additional add-ins that may not be frugal, but are sure to impress your guests and gift recipients when they find out you make your own aromatic bitters or cocktail onions.  I don't always appreciate recipes that send me to several stores for a pinch of this and a jar of that, but occasionally I will want to make something truly gourmet, just because it is something special for me and my family.

Finally, the book is fun to read.  West is, first and foremost, a writer, and he includes stories, memories, poetry, and detailed explanations highlighting his experiences with and knowledge of food.  It is these additions that make the book something that the reader will keep out in the kitchen year round, reading stories of tomatoes in the depth of winter, then turning to instructions on how to make marmalades from the organic citrus you find at your favorite bodega.  These recipes are almost enough to make me break my "eat local" pledge, at least long enough to get enough citrus so I have something to can in January.

Saving the Season on Amazon
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