Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cookbook Review: Food in Jars

Can you feel it in the air? Canning season is upon us!

Sure, you can put food in jars year-round, but there's just something about canning in August and September. This time of year puts me in this sort of content yet industrious mood.  Plus, there are few things more satisfying than seeing jars full of delicious and fresh food in the pantry and thinking, "I did that!". I'm telling you, canning is good for the soul!  (Watch this to see what I mean.)

For a while, it seemed like canning was going out of style and becoming a lost art (I used to have older women gawk in line at me at the store, in my early-20s and with a shopping cart full of jars. Often they would say, "I didn't think anyone still did that."). Now there seems to be a resurgence and interest in canning (I went to the same store last week and found the canning supply shelves looking pretty empty). It isn't just for people with huge families, people with massive gardens, or people with tons of time (are there people with tons of time?) -- anyone can do it. Which leads me to one of my latest cookbook acquisitions:  Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan.

For years, my go-to (and only) canning cookbook has been the classic Ball Blue Book of Preserving and it's a classic for a reason. That said, I'm really enjoying this new book. Here are a few of the reasons:

1. The emphasis on small-batches.
I think a lot of people write canning off because they think that it's super time-consuming and that it isn't practical unless you have a big family and tons of room for food storage. I can see why they'd think that. Canning twelve quarts of peaches doesn't make sense if you're single.  A couple isn't likely to go through dozens of jars of homemade jam in a year.  Problem is, so many traditional canning recipes call for lots and lots of produce. I think that's one thing that turns people off from canning.

I went to the store to buy some pectin a couple weeks ago and saw that Ball has sort of ditched their boxes of pectin and have gone with a container (pictured below) instead.

I think this represents a shift in how canning is approached. Instead of using the pre-packaged amount of pectin, you can measure it out according to your needs -- you can make twenty jars of jam or just two. And that's what I love about Food in Jars -- the title says it all: preserving in small batches. This makes canning less overwhelming, especially for new canners. That said, experienced canners, those who want quarts of canned tomato sauce and twenty jars of jam, can enjoy this book as well. You can make as much or as little as you want.

2. Small batches mean more variety.
This book has all sorts of recipes, ranging from the basics (like strawberry jam, salsa, dilly beans) to more unique recipes (like blackberry and sage jam, blood orange marmalade, lemony pickled cauliflower). Instead of limiting yourself to month after month of a certain kind of jam (that was our case when I made, not exaggerating, 30+ jars of pluot jam a few years ago), you can have a variety in your pantry. Plus, with smaller batches, it doesn't feel nearly as risky to try new things. Take her recipe for cantaloupe jam with vanilla -- it sounds kind of odd but intriguing. I haven't made it yet but I want to. What if I make it and it's not what I hoped it would be? It only took 2 1/2 cups of cantaloupe, a packet of liquid pectin, and some sugar (enough to make around 3 cups of jam), so my losses aren't so bad. Say I made some other kind jam with bushels of fruit and pounds of sugar and didn't like it? We'd be eating it whether we liked it or not -- it'd be too much to waste.  This isn't to say I'm against big-batch canning (I would make gallons upon gallons of this salsa if I could), but small-batch canning does mix things up a bit and make eating more interesting

3.  All the recipes can be processed without a pressure canner. 
No expensive gear needed for these recipes -- just a pot to cook your food in, a bunch of jars and lids, a canning funnel, some ladles and tongs, and your boiling water canner. I have yet to learn how to use a pressure canner (I'm not going to lie -- I find it pretty intimidating), so I was glad to flip through the pages of this book and know that I could make every.single.thing. in there if I wanted to.

4. So far, all the recipes I've tried from it are good!

My mom brought a gallon-sized bucket of tomatillos from her garden to my house last week (Mom and I have fun canning together this time of year), so we decided to try out the recipe from this book for tomatillo salsa. It was yummy! Sweet and tangy and little bit spicy -- it's a really nice salsa verde. Another recipe I've liked out of the book is the peach jam -- her recipe has cinnamon, nutmeg, a little lemon juice, and lemon zest in it. The result is a peach jam that has a warm, almost fall-like taste to it. After I'd put it in jars, me and my little baby (18 months old this month! Where does the time go?!) kept scraping the extra in the pot onto pieces of toast. So tasty!

5. Not all food in jars is fruit and/or vegetables. 
Though there are plenty of recipes for canned and processed produce, there are also recipes for things you can store in jars without any processing. McClellan includes lots of other kinds of recipes -- bread mixes, nut butters, chicken stock, vanilla, and more.

6.  It's pretty.
Maybe this seems superfluous, but for me, a pretty cookbook goes a long way. When a cookbook is laid out well, has lovely photography, and an appealing look to the text, I'm more prone to cook from it.

7.  It's not just recipes. 
I read cookbooks like I read novels. I love them. I especially love cookbooks that aren't just cookbooks. I like it when they're wordy, when recipes have a sort of preamble. I like to read about how the recipes came about, what thoughts the author had as he/she was making them, what the recipes remind them of, the memories associated with their food, that sort of stuff. It makes me feel like I'm right there cooking (or in this instance, canning) with them, like I know the author personally. (A perfect example of a cookbook author who does this well is Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman -- if I saw her in person, I'd probably just start a conversation with her like she was one of my neighbors, completely forgetting that she had no idea who I was.). Food in Jars has just the amount of wordiness I like.

8.  The book conveys a sense of confidence, energy, and fun.
So many people think that canning is scary, that one risks killing the people you love with a botulism-tainted jar of fruit. I would like to state for the record: canning does not need to be scary. Other people think they can't make it work in the space they have-- the author is proof that anyone can do it, no matter the size of your home or kitchen (here's a picture of her kitchen).  Marisa McClellan makes canning not only seem completely do-able, but fun. Her book, like her blog, has this feeling like she's right there with you, helpful and attentive (speaking of helpful, she pretty much answered any question a person left about her book in the reviews section on Amazon. Awesome.).

I recommend this book to both experienced and novice canners. Pick up a copy and start putting up all the great summer produce. 'Tis the season, after all.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to Your Green Resource, Little House Friday, Homestead Barn Hop, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}


Bama Girl said...

Hi Heather! Thanks for your review of this book! I love to can! Although I'm a beginner, reading this inspires me to try and get my hands on this book! Blessings from Bama!

Justine said...

I have been following Marisa on her Food in Jars website for a long time, but I was hemming and hawing over buying the book. I'm going to get it today, thanks for the review and inspiration! (I found you via Homestead Barn Hop)

Birds, Bees, Berries, and Blooms said...

I think I have been to her website, but didn't know there was a book. I can't wait to find it. Thank you for the low down!

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