by Amy Scheuerman
Are you afraid to try canning? Does the process of preserving food seem more like a shamanic-ritual, full of mystery and magic, than a scientific process? Or does it simply seem like a great way to get botulism? Fear no more, Eugenia Bone’s new book, Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods, takes the fear and fallacy out of home canning.
Most books on canning give little information about the whys of the processes. It seems like some magic spell, handed down over generations, completely free of logic. If this technique bothers you as well, the solution is Well-Preserved. Bone gives the science behind the magic spell and even provides lists of resources, like the United States Department of Agriculture’s food preservation pH charts, for creating your own recipes.
Bone understands the constraints of a busy life and a tiny kitchen because she is a working mother of two with a New York City apartment kitchen. Her recipes are for small batches that can be done on the back burner while you focus on dinner or studying for an exam. They won’t take a whole weekend and every inch of counter space. Also, aside from a pressure canner (used in less than a quarter of the recipes), the most expensive piece of equipment needed is a jar-lifter, something that easily fits into a grad-student’s budget.
Bone’s speaks through the pages of her book. You come to know her as you read. I like to start with a cookbook’s introduction, and her’s blew me away. She balances the gourmet, “golden brioche as puffy as cumulus clouds,” with the grungy, “I went back to my apartment…where we smoked a joint. While I rhapsodized about cured fish…he swooned and fell off my platform bed,” with unaffected ease.
The book starts with an overview of each preserving technique, from water bath canning and pressure canning to freezing, pickling, fermenting, and even salting and smoking. Bone is alternately reassuring and amusing and never drones on or talks down to her readers. Next are the recipes, which come in two types: first a master recipe for a specific preserve, then three secondary recipes using the preserve.
Each master recipe recaps the specific preserving technique and gives times for seasoning and safe storage. The recipes incorporating the preserves range between between sweet and savory. This is a joy for people like me, who make 15 pints of brandied plums because they’re easy but then leave them untouched in pretty jars for years.
The secondary recipes are mostly Italian inspired and uniformly fabulous. Bone is the daughter of Edward Giobbi, a well respected Italian chef, and learned how to preserve from him. My favorite recipes are beef tenderloin cooked with preserved cherries in red wine (named Cherry Tenderloin by Bone’s friends because, “They thought it sounded like a porn star’s name”), Ricotta Pie with Marinated Baby Artichokes, Zucchini Flower Risotto, and Frisee Salad with Poached Eggs and Lardons (homemade bacon!).
If you’re ready to take the first steps towards becoming a home canner, here’s what you need: a few jars, a big pot, a jar-lifter, and a copy of Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods. You can find it at most local bookstores including Brookline Booksmith and Harvard Bookstore, or online at Amazon.com. Also, check out Eugenia’s blog about canning at: http://blogs.denverpost.com/preserved/