I can, you can, we all can!: Essential books for preserving seasonal bounty
Well, that sure happened fast. One day I was bundling up in a coat to head outside, and the next thing you know, the weather turned downright summery here in northeastern Ohio. The early crops I planted at the beginning of April are starting to overwhelm me with their bounty — loads of lettuce, reams of radishes, heaps of herbs, and even a scattering of over-wintered scallions.
On top of all that good fresh food from the garden, I've been trying to use up last year's produce from the freezer and the pantry. Jars of tomatoes, tomato sauce, peaches, applesauce, grape juice, jams, and pickles linger on my shelves, quietly tormenting me with the question, "When is it our turn?" I've cleaned out a number of jars in the past couple of weeks, making meals that make the most of fresh and preserved, but I'm clearly in limbo between preservation seasons, and I can't let the remains of last year's harvest keep me from planning how I'll put up this year's.
Last year I started organizing my preservation plans, compiling a spreadsheet that listed the types of fruits and vegetables I knew I'd be able to harvest or buy at the farmers market. For each type of produce, I checked off what preservation methods I knew I'd want to use (or at least try) in order to keep me on track during the summer. It turned out to be the best thing I've ever done to get ready for preserving as it helped me clarify how I would really best use the foods, and it gave me a way to track not only how much I put up but also what worked well in terms of my "experiments."
This year I'm starting with the spreadsheet again and have already begun my preservation tasks. But even with this guidance, I still find myself reaching for one of my many books on food preservation to give me some new ideas. Here's what I have in my library:
"Putting Food By" by Ruth Hertzberg, Beatrice Vaughan, and Janet Greene
"Stocking Up: The Third Edition of America's Classic Preserving Guide" by Carol Hupping and the staff of the Rodale Food Center
Both of these books cover all the basics: canning, drying, freezing, jams, pickles, juices — even meats, dairy, and grains. They make it easy to find how to handle specific fruits or vegetables with the basic techniques, as well as to find tasty recipes for more unusual preserves like chutneys and relishes. ("Stocking Up" has a recipe for pickled ginger, while "Putting Food By" has a pumpkin pickle recipe that sounds like it would be worth a try.) Both include recipes for how to use preserved foods as well. I found both at our local used-book store, but both are popular enough to be found or ordered many places.
"Canning & Preserving without Sugar" by Norma M. MacRae
With diabetes running in my family, I tend toward low-sugar jams and preserves when at all possible. This book offers suggestions for different ways of lowering sugar content (fruit juices especially), but I find it most useful for when I'm canning fruit and want a low-sugar syrup using concentrated white grape juice.
"Making & Using Dried Foods" by Phyllis Hobson
When I decided to start drying foods more regularly, I spotted this at the local book store. It gives a straightforward look at individual fruits and vegetables, how to prepare them for drying, how to dry them in a dehydrator or the oven (or even outside), how to store them, and how to use them in recipes, including mixes for camping or hiking. It includes information on drying herbs, dairy, meats, grains, and leathers, too.
"Food Drying with an Attitude" by Mary T. Bell
I borrowed this from the library and am in the process of getting my own copy, because it takes the drying techniques in Hobson's book to the next level. What intrigues me about the book are her claim that you can dry anything (except oil and eggs) and her specific use of purees in drying. Drying spaghetti sauce? No problem! I started with the vegetable flax seed crackers (shown here), using canned tomatoes from last year and fresh cilantro and scallion from this year's garden, and was completely won over to the idea of drying purees. I can hardly wait to try more.
"Making Liqueurs for GiftsMaking Liqueurs for Gifts" by Mimi Freid
This small pamphlet, a Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin, is available for download as a PDF (for $3.95, same price as Amazon.com's print version), though I originally found my copy nearby at Lehman's Hardware. Here's one exciting way to preserve fruit and to share the bounty of the season. I've tried several recipes, but the one that always wins friends is the pear liqueur, liberally laced with ginger.
"Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning" by the gardeners and farmers of Terre Vivante
I bought this title over the winter and have yet to use it, but the more I try to get away from freezing produce (a high-energy endeavor in the long run), the more intrigued I am by other methods. The book's subtitle says it all: "Traditional techniques using salt, oil, sugar, alcohol, vinegar, drying, cold storage, and lactic fermentation." What more do you need?
"Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods" by Sandor Ellix Katz
Fans of sauerkraut or other fermented foods must get this book. I've only begun to scratch the surface here, but Katz's writing is engaging and his recipes are tempting. Having tried kim chee last year (and loved it) and wanting to delve more into dairy fermentation, I'm happy to have this book at hand now.
If, like me, you enjoy foraging for wild edibles, you'll be happy to know that many of the same food preservation techniques can be used for wild as well as cultivated foods. But for specific recipes, I turn to my foraging books: "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places" by "Wildman" Steve Brill, and "Abundantly Wild: Collecting And Cooking Wild Edibles Of The Upper Midwest" by Teresa Marrone.
There's so much wonderful food heading our way during harvest season, and there's no need to gorge ourselves on it now when we have so many useful preservation methods, refined over years of use, at our service. With just one or two of these books in your library, you'll be able to expand the possibilities — and the season for eating good food.
Editor's note: The Ethicurean team maintains a comprehensive list of books about sustainable food and agriculture and related topics at Goodreads.com. You can see some of what we're reading via the Goodreads widget in the righthand column (and if you click on one of those book covers to purchase it via Amazon.com, you'll be helping us feed our own book habit, at no cost to you.) To browse our collective library and read previous reviews, visit our Goodreads bookshelf.
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