Due to poor queue management on my part, the past couple weeks have brought with them a colossal wave of books from the library. Some I valliantly tried to forge through (Bee Keeping for Beginners, They Call Me Killer), some I got halfway through before losing the will to force myself to finish (Outlander), still others I took one look at before mentally sticking in a “return it, then re-request it” pile (Divergent, Tartine, Homemade Soda).
(I think it’s safe to say, at this point, that as much as it would have been fun to read the Wheel of Time series throughout 2012… that’s not going to happen. Chris, I’ll give you back Book 1 next time I see you. Given that the kids are still in Two Rivers, I think I’m giving this one a pass until next year.)
One book I was determined to have a look at before I sent it back to the library was Put ’em Up! — a canning book I was interested in because it purported to also have preserving advice for freezing, drying and infusing *. I liked the instructional sections — the writing is fun and concise — and love that the recipe section is organized by ingredient. While the recipes are generally quite diverse… I find myself torn on whether or not this is It.
* – Not having a pressure canner, and not being likely to acquire one in the near future, I’m a little biased against books with recipes requiring one. It’s the only thing I have against Eugenia Bone‘s fabulous Well-Preserved.
You see, I’ve decided that, since I appear to be back on the “acquisitive” swing of my relationship to cookbooks, I should probably own a canning manual. Wait a minute, you might be saying, didn’t I do a major cookbook culling 3 years ago?? Yes, yes I did. And my time in the kitchen has benefited mightily since I no longer feel guilty every time I look at my cookbooks. Since then, however, I’ve also figured out what kind of cookbooks I’m actually interested in owning. (Good to the Grain, for example, and The Flavour Bible I have no regrets about, because I turn to them fairly often.) The thing is, I was never against having cookbooks… I just had too many that I never used. And while I’m still on the fence about whether or not I need The Tassajara Bread Book or The Perfect Scoop, I’m pretty sure that I DO need a canning manual.
Which brings us back to Put ’em Up!. The canning cookbook of my dreams will have (obviously) canning recipes in it, but also recipes for other (non-pressure canner) preserves, or better still, general how-to advice. (Check!) It will ideally not be super-glossy and arty, since I want to be able to scribble in my recipe modifications without feeling guilty. (Check!) It will have a goodly variety of recipes (check!) and consist of at least 60% recipes that I want to try (or know I’ll use). That last is where Put ’em Up! is falling short, at the moment. Or at least, I feel like it is. Is it? Skimming through the index, well over 80% of this book sounds delicious. But then I delve in and have to ask myself: am I really going to make raspberry jelly? (Too fussy; I don’t do jelly.) What about Dilly Beans or Dilled Carrots? (I hate dill.) Radish relish, Spicy Peach Salsa and Indian Pickle all sound great, until I realize that I barely know how to use the chutneys and relishes I have now. (If anyone has advice for me, beyond “serve it with a cheese plate!”, I’m all ears, seriously.) Ditto anything tomatillo-based. Etc. So there is doubt, although only a sliver of it. I appear to be gripped by a deathly fear of buying the wrong book, as if I didn’t used to have whole shelves full of “wrong books” before. Argh.
I should probably bow to the veteran canners out there who swear by Ball’s Blue Book but where that might be the great oracle I’d need if I were to can something I don’t have a recipe for… I also kind of feel like I have the Internets for that. For “every day” canning I want a friendly book, you know? With colour and personality and fun flavour combinations. I’m probably judging B’sBB but it seems… frumpy in comparison.
At the moment, the only other possible contender is Putting Food By, which has so many recommendations behind it I couldn’t not check it out. I guess choosing between two isn’t bad… right? Unless someone has a different canning favourite they swear by? (If you’re going to suggest Mes Confitures, please don’t. I don’t think my self-esteem can handle the pressure of not living up to Mme. Ferber’s amazing jams. Maybe one day, but currently I am not ready.)
Why the canning book obsession anyway? It’s March. Not quite St. Patrick’s day. The snow has vanished away, and the ground is temptingly squishy. In an effort to distract myself from planting things outdoors (“Just think! I could have peas by May!!!”) only to have them smitten by a vicious frost, I’m starting to take stock of my jars: what have I actually consumed out of my pantry this winter? What did I (once again) make too much of?
I’m surprised to report that I have yet to eat my two paltry pints of pasta sauce; partly because I’ve been hoarding them (I know, I know) but also because we just haven’t been eating that much pasta lately. (Guess what’s for dinner next week!) My dried tomatoes, due to being hidden behind other stuff in the fridge, have also survived for a surprisingly long time. (They’ve since been rediscovered though so I don’t expect them to last past April.)
I am less surprised to report that I made rather too much garlic scape pesto last year, as much of it is still in the freezer. I’ll try to eat some when The Boy’s away (he’s not big on the pesto). Also in the freezer? A couple more of the scapes I froze whole. I won’t do that again: they turn really mushy. I’d expected they’d hold up like green beans (those we finished) but sadly, no.
It turns out that I froze nearly exactly the right amount of corn for our use, and over-estimated how many roasted peppers I would need. (See also: not eating much pasta lately.) Guess it’s time for a fancy antipasto dish!
I sorely miss my bread and butter pickles, and am definitely interested in a couple others (mostly carrot-based), despite my general aversion to vinegar-y veggies. What’s holding me back here is mostly incorporating them into meals. Maybe I’m broken, but I really have a mental block about including pickles (cold!) with normal meals (hot!). Is it just me? Probably.
On the apple sauce front, I seem to be less fanatic about it than last year, although I’ve also been putting the sauce to good use in buckwheat pancakes. If we have any left, it’s due more to my hoarding tendencies than my having made too much.
Ditto jam, although thanks to my more regular English muffin-making, I’ve been ploughing through that fairly steadily. If I were to make one decision, however, it would be to not keep more than two half-pints of any kind of jam for myself. (If I made more, I could definitely give it away as a gift.) It’s not that I don’t love the jams I make; I just love variety more.
That pretty much wraps it up. It’s interesting to me that I shied away from making salsa because I figured I wouldn’t be able to make “enough”. Given that The Boy and I probably consumed less than a quart over the year, I think I should definitely give it a shot this summer. Other tomato-based wishes for this year? Tomato paste (to be frozen in ice cube trays) and homemade ketchup. While I’d love to can my own whole/crushed/diced tomatoes, I’m pretty sure I don’t grow nearly enough for that.
Other than that, the only other thing I’d like to try preserving for this year is more hot peppers. Probably dried, or maybe pickled.
What about all y’all? (Or is it too early for you to be thinking about it?)