There were more than a few moments this summer when I savored a bite of vine-ripened tomato, juicy berry, or cool, crisp cucumber and immediately wished I could bottle it. Wouldn’t it be incredible to have these flavors at hand all the time? Popping the seal on a jar of homemade blackberry preserves in the dead of winter sounds delightfully hedonistic. So what’s stopping us from living the dream of a pantry well-stocked with sauces, salsas, pickles and preserves? Certainly there’s no shortage of produce at the local farm stand. And with the release of Williams-Sonoma’s tempting new cookbook, The Art of Preserving, we appear to have run out of excuses.
The Art of Preserving takes readers through a mouth-watering tour of possibility. Suddenly the overripe peaches on the kitchen counter become Summer Peach Butter and the bumper crop of tomatoes weighing down the garden vines look like Bruschetta or Tomato-Basil Sauce. First-timers will take to the book’s tips, everything from a survey of essential equipment to the recipe to try first (jams are our safest bet). “I would start with the berry jams or stone fruit jams and start in small batches. All those fruits are very good right now and they won’t be around for too much longer,” says Rebecca Courchesne, co-author of the book with Rick Field and Lisa Atwood.
Seasoned canning experts will love The Art of Preserving for its more than 130 recipes, several of which include food pairings. If you’re preparing the Meyer Lemon-Ginger Marmalade, you can turn the page and find a recipe for the crepes that will make it sing. And the book’s step-by-step reference guides can teach canners of any skill level a few new tricks. If your tastes are more sour than sweet, flip right to The Art of Preserving’s chapter on pickling, undoubtedly the brainchild of Field, the founder of pickle company Rick’s Picks. After your first batch of Classic Dill Pickles, you might get adventurous with recipes for picked okra, green tomatoes or beets.
The glory of canning and preserving your own fresh bounty is undoubtedly in the delayed gratification, the fact that you may not reap the delicious rewards of your work for months or years to come but when you do, they will be even sweeter. “When I take a jar of preserves from the shelf and open it, I’m flooded with memories of the day I preserved it. I remember the aroma it made in my kitchen when I cooked it, its flavor when fresh, the heat of the day, the hum of insects or birds, kids out playing whatever was happening that day comes back with a single whiff from the open jar,” says Atwood.
The lure of canning and preserving is strong these days, as many of us strive to eat locally and seasonally and to get ourselves into the kitchen regularly. “[Canning and preserving] is part of the food movement that is happening right now, the Slow Food and the Buy Fresh/Buy Local movements. People, especially younger people, are paying more attention to the quality of their food. They are cooking more and preserving is part of that,” says Courchesne. If you aim to eat seasonally, canning an abundance of summer foods is one way to balance the season of root vegetables that lies ahead.
Another hidden delight of canning? You may not know until the moment hits just how the fruits of this harvest will be used. For Atwood, pie fillings created for the book inspired a new family breakfast tradition. “Crisp turnovers filled with apples or blueberries have become my kids’ favorite breakfast treat. I keep the open jars in the refrigerator, cut a frozen pie shell into quarters, spoon the filling on top, fold, and bake. It’s a snap.” Pick up The Art of Preserving and open yourself to a year of possibilities.