In the Garden:
Homemade peach marmalade is a delightful treat right away or during the depths of winter.
An Embarrassment of Riches
One of the most indelible memories of my youth is of spending hours on end with my mother, peeling, chopping, canning, and freezing during the summer months. For some people, this may sound like a bad memory, but for me it brings warm thoughts. What a sense of accomplishment we felt at the end of the day to see row upon row of jars, or a freezer full of produce. Back then such endeavors were a necessity. Now, we tend to look on such activities as not being "cost effective."
Realistically, it isn't practical any more for my mother and me to preserve large harvests, but there are a few things we still "put up." I now expend time, money, and energy on "specialty" items, foods that either cannot be bought or ones that are very expensive. Unusual jams, jellies, chutneys, pickles, and salsas are among my favorites. They become a treat throughout the year, plus make great gifts.
All of this came to the fore recently when I was bestowed with a half-bushel of very ripe peaches that needed immediate attention. On my bookshelves are almost a hundred books on preserving of one sort or another. I certainly didn't have the time to casually peruse these. After a few missteps, I ended up using four books that over time I turn to again and again as my favorite guidebooks to the world of preserving.
Ball Blue Book
Only one of the books I chose is still in print, and it is certainly indispensable if you want to can, freeze, or dry fruits and vegetables. The Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing, and Dehydration (Alltrista Corporation, Muncie, Indiana, 1995, $4.95, homecanning.com) is a comprehensive how-to book on food preservation. There are gourmet and special diet recipes along with home canning classics and illustrated step-by-step instructions.
What Fancy Pantry, by Helen Witty (Workman Publishing Company, 1986, out-of-print) offers is truly amazing. There are hundreds of the most mouth-watering recipes. Some of these include Seckel Pears in Vanilla Syrup, Tomato Jam with Ginger and Coriander, and Escoffier's Condiment of Sweet Peppers. There are also recipes for smoking, brining, and salt-curing, plus a number of flavored vinegars and mustards, and many, many more. Her directions follow approved safety guidelines and are easy to follow.
For an erudite read about preserving, try to find a copy of Fine Preserving: M. F. K Fisher's Annotated Edition of Catherine Plagemann's Cookbook (Aris Books, 1986, out-of-print). Plagemann's original recipes are certainly tempting and her comments pithy. Sidebars with Fisher's comments are like a favorite aunt telling you what works and what doesn't. Her favorite recipes are for pickled grapes and Moroccan chermoula (a sweet pepper relish). The one caveat to this book is that food safety doesn't seem to have much of an issue in the original 1967 edition, so you'll have to be fairly knowledgeable about canning.
The Good Cook Series
The volume called Preserving from the Time-Life Good Cook Series (Time-Life 1981, out-of-print) offers excellent step-by-step photos for a number of different preserving methods, plus a number of out-of-the-ordinary recipes.
At the time of writing this column, all of these out-of-print books could be found for sale on the Internet.
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