Book Review

Art of Preserving

by Jan Berry

Ten Speed Press, P.O. Box 7123, Berkeley, CA 94707. 1997, 160 pages. Paperback. $17.95.
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)

Reviewed by Bob Allen (9/1997)

When this book arrived I had been puréeing apricots for smoothies (even freezing some) to cope with the ample apricot crop. We had already dried three batches in our new electric dehydrator. What else could we do?

Looking in the "Art of Preserving", I found two choices: Apricot and Cardamom Chutney and Fresh Apricot Jam. With our pantry almost out of apricot jam, I decided to go with the jam instead of chutney.

Immediately, I noticed that the recipe called for twice as much sugar as I normally use. My basic proportion is one cup of sugar to one pound of fruit. Depending on the sweetness of the fruit and personal taste, one can always add more sugar and correct with lemon juice to get the right balance. On the other hand, I liked the idea of using cardamom with apricots. I had made a quince-cardamom marmalade last fall and decided to make apricot-cardamom jam, beginning with only one-half of the prescribed sugar. The results were remarkable even with less sugar.

As I looked at other recipes, I found the amount of sugar most of the time more in line with my personal taste. One other exception was Strawberry Jam although the addition of the juice and zest of three oranges was a nice touch. In the same way, many other familiar-sounding recipes contain a unique ingredient that sets them apart from the ordinary. For example, whiskey in Orange Marmalade, ginger in Grapefruit Jam, cardamom in Preserved Lemons, cayenne pepper in Gooseberry Chutney, sunflower seeds in Apricot and Cardamom Chutney, golden raisins in Plum Sauce, toasted walnuts in Apple Chutney, ripe tomatoes in Pear Chutney and nutmeg in Pickled Asparagus.

The author, Jan Berry, grew up in the Australian outback, learning to cook from a mother who, in keeping with her outback lifestyle, was of necessity resourceful. Berry's first cookbook, published in 1993, is called "The Proud Tradition of Australian Cooking." She also leads food tours to Italy, a country that has long been a source of inspiration for her cooking style. Given these sources, it is striking that she credits her mother directly in only two recipes (Plum Sauce and Pumpkin Chutney) and an unnamed Italian for one recipe (Mediterranean Sweet and Sour Fruits). For the rest, she has been practicing the art of preserving for decades, amassing a collection of treasured recipes along the way. As you can imagine, this combination of inspiration from Australia and Italy is perfect for Californians, especially those with a surplus of home-grown fruit.

In my own decades-long experience as a home orchardist, I continually seek out new ways to enjoy fruit freshly picked right from the tree. Most years it is impossible to consume all the fruit at its peak. Now "Art of Preserving," with its over 130 easy-to-prepare recipes, guides the home cook in extending the odyssey of fruit the year round. For example, one chapter includes enough ideas to stagger even the most avid grower of citrus fruits, with recipes for Blood Orange Marmalade, Orange Chutney, Spiced Orange Slices, Orange Ratafia, Blood Orange Pomander Brandy, Orange Wine, Chunky Grapefruit Marmalade, Citrus Marmalade, Grapefruit Jam, Lime Marmalade, Lemon Oil, Lemon Curd, Preserved Lemons, Lemon Vinegar, Lemonade, Mandarin Jelly, Kumquat Jam, Tropical Marmalade, Candied Citrus Peel, Whiskey Tangelo Marmalade, and Tangerine Conserve.

"Art of Preserving" is beautifully illustrated with color photographs taken by internationally known photographer Rodney Weidland. I fully appreciate Berry's comment "Whenever I look at this photograph of Whiskey Tangelo Marmalade, I'm reminded why I love making preserves." The book is a visual feast, jam-packed -- one might say -- with an astonishing variety of unique gourmet foods to enliven any meal throughout the year. Here is a brief sampler of the recipes at the top of my list:

Fig and Rhubarb Jam
Tomato and Walnut Jam
Sage Jelly
Tamarillo Chutney
Pumpkin and Rosemary Jam
Pumpkin Chutney
Red Onion Chutney
Brinjal Chutney
Mediterranean Sweet and Sour Fruits
Melon and Passion Fruit Jam
Fig and Almond Conserve
Pear and Ginger Marmalade
Plum Sauce
Whiskey Tangelo Marmalade
Tangerine Conserve

Berry recommends her Red Onion Chutney containing prunes as a tasty accompaniment to cold meats, terrines and pâtés. I plan to serve it with raclette, the Swiss melted-cheese-over-potatoes dish. The Mediterranean Sweet and Sour Fruits would also be excellent with raclette. I have made Fig and Rhubarb Jam before, using a recipe from another Australian cook, Pamela Allardice, but Berry adds a twist with cashew nuts.

Similarly, I have made Pear and Ginger Marmalade, following a recipe in the Fanny Farmer Cookbook, but Berry's version substitutes apple cider for water. Intriguing recipes using vegetables include Green Bean Chutney, Red Bell Pepper Jelly, Brinjal Chutney (made with eggplant) and Turnip Chutney. The list goes on.

In the caption to a photograph showing both the preserve and the fresh pear, Berry says, "Pear and Ginger Marmalade was made from a glut of corella pears." Corella pears? On the previous page, she writes, "Tiny pink and green corella pears are ideal to pickle, and they look interesting on an antipasto platter." My dictionary says that corella is either of two small white cockatoos, found in Australia. The corella pear appears to be the same size as the Seckel pear or the Forelle pear, but Berry says nothing further about this unusual, presumably Australian, variety.

In a similar vein, she writes, "When I was growing up in the country, my father grew an abundance of Queensland Blue pumpkins. These sat for months maturing on the hot tin roof of the outside toilet, waiting for my mother to make into delicious dishes like this (pumpkin) chutney." In the photograph, the Queensland Blue pumpkins retain a green skin color perhaps with a tinge of blue. Again, it would be nice to know a source for this variety.

Berry begins the book with a chapter on the basics of preserving, guiding novice and expert alike in the use of the right equipment and how to recognize a good set in various preserves. With each recipe, she indicates how long one should wait before sampling the finished product. Thankfully, many are ready to consume immediately. She provides sidebars with tips on selecting ingredients, processing techniques, and serving suggestions. Each chapter begins with a literary quotation from writers as varied as Andrew Marvell, Mohammed Ibn Omar, William Shakespeare, John Keats, André Gide, and Waverley Root.

"Art of Preserving" is a worthwhile addition to any CRFGer's library.


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