Earlier this summer, the nice folks over at Storey Publishing sent me a copy of Serri Brooks Vinton’s Put ‘Em Up. Sometimes, when I sit on a review copy, it’s because I’m trying to decide what, if anything, to say (on the theory of “If you can’t say something nice….”). But that’s not what happened here. I love, love, love this book. I’ve been dithering ever since as to whether I should keep it, or give it away. Lucky for you, my bookshelves are just about full.
I like so many things about this book that it’s hard to pinpoint just one thing. If I had to narrow it down, I’d point to the author’s focus on ingredients rather than method. There’s been so much excitement about canning over the past year—enthusiasm that I share!—that I think some people are missing the point. The point of canning is not just to assemble a pretty pantry, or to recover lost skills, or display hipster credentials. It’s definitely not about making life harder, contrary to the advice offered in one odd little not-quite-a-cookbook. Ultimately, we can to preserve food. And there’s the rub. Canning is not the only, or even the best, way to preserve many foods. Vegetables freeze well; peppers are terrific dried; cabbage was seemingly made for sauerkraut.
Once you get the hang of food preservation, you start to develop a sixth sense for what method might work best for any given food item. You also develop preferences for what you like to eat and how you like to spend your time in the kitchen. Unfortunately, most food preservation handbooks focus on technique, with long sections on water-bath canning, pressure canning, pickling, freezing, and dehydrating. This is great if you’re looking for an introduction to how to make pickles. It’s not so helpful if you’ve got 30 pounds of tomatoes and need to know the pros and cons of freezing vs. canning vs. dehydrating. Vinton’s section on cherries, for instance, includes instructions and recipes for frozen cherries, a sweet refrigerator sauce, a shelf-stable cherry bourbon infusion, dehydrated cherry leather, basic dried cherries, a savory cherry-walnut relish for canning (really a pickle), and cherry preserves. It’s really the most useful and versatile book I’ve seen for people who are dabbling in food preservation because they want to transition to a local foods lifestyle. And everything I’ve made from it is delicious.
My only complaint? It’s too short! I’m as excited about the next person about pickled ramps, but where’s the eggplant? And I do so sorely wish someone would break the ban on pressure canning in “mainstream” canning books. But these are small complaints. It’s really terrific, and if you don’t win the giveaway, you might want to buy it.
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