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Cookbooks With a Can-Do Attitude

By Eugenia Bone
Clarkson Potter, 2009, $35

Canning & Preserving Your Own Harvest (An Encyclopedia of Country Living Guide)
By Carla Emery and Lorene Edwards Forkner
Sasquatch Books, August 2009, $16.95

C-A-N. Easy to spell, not daunting to do when armed with these new cookbook/guides. They celebrate seasonal eating, which might seem like a contradiction in terms. Not every bit of summer bounty is made for preserving, but then again, “putting up” is redefined in both books. The freezer, fridge and oven; an oil immersion, salt/smoke curing and potted butter are machines and methods at your disposal, in addition to the jam jars ready and waiting at the hardware store.

The authors make the processes accessible, even as they discuss pH levels and pack densities and risks of botulism. Instead of parsing differences between the books, here are some tips and bits I found most helpful and interesting:

From Eugenia Bone:
• Why do it? Because home canning reduces your carbon footprint, increases the quality of your meals and provides a sense of independence from the industrial food complex.

• Everybody worries about whether their jars are properly sealed. The ultimate test is to unscrew the band on a canning jar; use your thumb and middle finger to grasp the jar by the edges of the lid and lift. If the seal is good, you will be able to lift the jar by the seal alone.

• Making Fava Bean Cream for the freezer is a great way to enjoy the beans’ fleeting season. Eight pounds of fava beans in their pods, chicken broth, garlic, pine nuts and lemon juice yield a mere 3 cups of the cream; that’s a serious commitment in time and labor, but the accompanying recipes for Cream of Fava
Soup, Risotto With Fava Bean Cream and Stewed Swordfish With Fava Bean Cream sure sound like they’re worth it.

• When smoked foods are cool enough to handle, dry them very well before placing them in a plastic bag or container that’s headed for the fridge or freezer. Smoked food can sweat, and the moisture released by the food may condense on the inside of the bag or container and, when it settles on the surface of the food, can create a moist spot where mold can grow.

• Take a class in food safety from your local state university extension service, through the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (Eugenia did, in addition to reading lots of canning books).

From Carla Emery and Lorene Edwards Forkner:

• Keep track of your efforts in seasonal preserving notebooks. Write down the season, variety, crop, source and process you used.

• Twenty-four hours before doing a major freezing project, reduce your freezer temperature to -10 degrees. Quick freezing minimizes the risk of spoilage and reduces ice-crystal formation. Once all the food has been frozen, return the freezer temperature to 0 degrees.

• Insulate the counter with a cutting board, cooling rack or several layers of newspaper or towels to avoid breakage due to a temperature contrast between hot jars and a cool surface.

• Do not try to double or triple a jam or jelly recipe; the additional cooking time will not only affect flavor but also break down the pectin (natural or added) and prevent it from setting.

• A fruit coulis can be simply mashed or pureed. Sweetened with sugar or honey and given a splash of lemon juice, it can be frozen for up to 6 months. Leaving out the sugar will shorten the coulis’s shelf life to 3 months in the freezer.

Are you ready to give it a whirl? I am.

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  July 8, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Books  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, canning, cookbooks  
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