Saturday, July 24, 2010

The savory side of canning

With apricots and cherries in season, I am up to my ears in jam, despite the unavoidable fact that my family prefers salty preserves over sweet ones. It was time to put up some more savory treats, so I turned to a newly released book: Homemade Living: Canning and Preserving with Ashley English (I received a review copy from the publisher). Ashley English writes a blog, Small Measure, that will certainly be of interest to anyone who has found their way here to K-Town Homestead -- it is chock full of posts about a sustainable, homemade life. I am always a bit wary of books by bloggers -- all too often the books seem little more than printed-out posts (case in point: The Foodie Handbook). English's book comes off as a stand-alone effort, much to her credit. A blogging sensibility does infuse the book, however; like the best of the blogs on the web, it is carefully designed, with lovely photos and an appealing and accessible layout.

The book is full of information for beginners, as well as challenges for old hands. I put myself somewhere in the middle skills-wise, and was intrigued by most of the recipes. I say most because she includes a "classic" recipe for canned corn -- seriously? Canned corn? Freezing wins out on this one for me. I tested three recipes that worked with what was available at the farmer's market this week as well as spilling out of my own overflowing summer garden. Alas, the Cardamom Apple Cider Butter will have to wait until fall!

I jumped in with a refrigerator pickle recipe for Persian Cucumbers. Spicy, snappy and redolent of cloves, they made a good accompaniment for my hummus. I must caution that these pickles are for true clove-lovers. The next time I make them (and there will be a next time), I am cutting down the cloves at least by half. It is a gutsy recipe and I appreciate the bold spicing. So many canning books keep everything mild enough for a ninety-year old Midwestern grandma.

I moved on to the tomato-basil sauce, using a combination of two varieties from my garden: mortgage lifter and peiping chieh. Now, I know mortgage lifter is a slicer, but they are low-seed and meaty, and frankly we can't keep up with the output (how many two-pound tomatoes can a family eat?). I had to do something with them, so they went into the canning pot. English's recipe and my produce yielded a thin, bright sauce -- not mind-blowing, but better than any canned "pizza sauce" you buy in the store. I will probably use it as a base for a more complex pasta sauce, rather than just dump it on pasta all by itself. I am going to try this one again with a true sauce tomato, once my opalkas ripen (if I don't lose them all to blossom end rot!).

Finally, I canned up a recipe for fennel relish (pictured at the top of the post). English organized a lot of the recipes by season and filed this one under "winter". Hmmm...peppers in winter? The late-July farmer's market today had fennel, onions and red bell peppers for sale. So, it seems like a summer recipe if you want to make it from locally-grown produce. This recipe yields a product that needs a month or two to mellow in the jar, letting the spices meld before taking a true sample. So I cannot speak to the taste, but the recipe was straightforward and easy to follow. These jars are easy on the eyes too -- I love the red pepper slices and black peppercorns against the pale green fennel. If I have a quibble, it is that the book assumes the reader will generally know how to put the preserves to good use. While English does offer some quick suggestions before the recipes (i.e. "slather on a ham sandwich"), folks might be left scratching their heads at 4 pints of fennel relish. A few actual recipes for the use of each preserve (as are offered in Eugenia Bone's book or the Williams-Sonoma guide) might help home cooks realize the full potential of their efforts.

Overall, this is an excellent book and an especially good choice as a gift for someone who wants to start canning. This is not an encyclopedic effort, but rather a well-edited collection of interesting projects. Those huge textbook-sized canning manuals can be intimidating! While it is ideal for the beginner, especially given the clear step-by-step photos, there are enough challenging and unique treats for the master canners in our midst. This definitely earns a place in my canning library and, come fall, you can expect a post about that apple butter!


  1. Abbie, you are amazing! I tried canning many years ago and I gave it up because I worried I would poison everyone after reading the directions.

    Your produce looks great and I am sure is delicious. I still do not have any ripe tomatoes, maybe it is the varieties I planted.


  2. thanks, Eileen -- I don't know about the tomatoes -- variety definitely has something to do with it, but I have two of the same variety (sun gold) next to each other and one is teeming with ripe tomatoes and the other has barely set fruit. The mortgage lifter that is ripening so early was the one I coddled in a wall of water....maybe they do work.