The fact that canning and preserving in America has been trending for a decade is both a blessing and a curse. For every enthusiast with a blog and a jar lifter, there’s an essayist bent on exposing the posers among a genuinely interested, growing population.
Yet the activity continues to empower home cooks. Talk about rewarding: You can sail past the produce department’s rock-hard tomatoes, extend the shelf life of your farmers market favorites and reduce your household’s food costs and waste; and when was the last time you turned down a gift of DIY dilly green beans? Jarden Home Brands, which manufactures Ball products in Indiana, has enlisted an army of can-do types at state fairs and through its online newsletter. Classes fill quickly and cyberspace facilitates bonds from coast to coast.
Is the person who makes freezer jams in July less committed than the cook who wields a pressure canner and pickles through the seasons? It’s not a contest. After spending lots of time with the recent crop of canning and preserving cookbooks, though, I can say that jammers and picklers can both come out ahead.
There is a higher level of engagement in these guides. They provide technical information packaged with meaningful bells and whistles: bright images of every step or relatable stories or unexpected flavor combinations or recipes that incorporate what’s gone into the jar — and, in some cases, all that and a bag of tips.
The biggest of the bunch seems like a bargain. Canadian cookbook author Pat Crocker’s
“Preserving: The Canning and Freezing Guide for All Seasons”
(William Morrow, 2011; $30; 220-plus recipes) functions the way a Sears catalogue used to, as a “wishbook.” Its large type is easy on the eyes. Crocker shot all the photographs, which capture the beauty of raw ingredients and plated dishes as well as points of preparation. Her advice on best varieties for canning looks to be well researched, and the how-to-use-it recipes show depth and creativity.
If I’m allowed one quibble, it’s with the page referrals to general processing directions at the front of the book (in fact, a common characteristic among most of the books). Understandably, the volume would be at least a third longer than its 525 pages if each canning recipe was written in full. But there’s incentive and value in being able to read through what’s entailed, start to finish. I suspect people who know the genre have perfected their bookmarking techniques.
Some of the most interesting flavor profiles can be found in “Jam On: The Craft of Canning Fruit,” by Laena McCarthy (Viking Studio, 2012; $35; 68 recipes). A white nectarine jam with kaffir lime leaves and ginger. Pink peppercorns and dried hibiscus flowers in a brine for watermelon rind. The author’s customizing and pairing suggestions are equally inspired, and small-batch recipes are less intimidating. In 2009, McCarthy elevated a passionate pursuit into a Brooklyn-based, artisanal business called Anarchy in a Jar. She has earned deservedly good press, in part for using local producers and for working with less or no sugar. Even if you are not moved to create, you can buy her products online and in a lot of New York stores.