Preserving is a feel good affair. When you stand at stove and stir a batch of chutney, or tenderly fold chunks of pepper-flecked cabbage into a fermenting crock, you can quite justifiably feel proud of your efforts. The reason? Preserving — from sweet jams and chunky pickles to fiery kimchi and other ferments — is a wonderful combination of nostalgia (“Just like Grandma used to make!” ) and taking environmentally friendly, budget-boosting advantage of what’s plentiful at a particular point of the year.
Jam tends to get most of the attention, but savoury preserves and lacto-fermented vegetables, too, are extremely satisfying to make (and make great presents).
Here are six books (in no particular order) that are not only packed with good recipes and information, but a delight to read. Even if you are an experienced preserver, you’ll find plenty to like — and learn — here.
1. Well-preserved traditions
What’s Old is New Again (hb, $39.95,from Fowlers Vacola)
Stephanie Alexander writes in the foreward to this sweet book that she has strong memories of her mother’s preserving kit and the jars of peaches, apricots and tomatoes she produced each year. She’s talking about the uniquely Australian Fowlers version of water-bath preserving (more on that here), and many of us have memories of our mothers or grandmothers doing much the same. It was a tradition that seemed in danger of dying, but as the world of food has embraced preserving and pickling these past few years, Fowlers has enjoyed new interest too. What’s Old is New Again, released this year to mark the Melbourne-based company’s 100th anniversary, features recipes that use the Fowlers system of rings, jars and lids, along with others that require only stirring in a pot on the stove and sealing into everyday jars. There are recipes from leading cooks, including Alexander, Alla Wolf Tasker and Maggie Beer and Matt Wilkinson (whose recipe appears below), plus award-winning agricultural show competitors and CWA members.
Best bit: The edited highlights of 100 years of tradition, including “Mrs B. Thrifty: the original domestic goddess” who featured in ads in the 1930s and 40s.
Cook the book:
Pickled zucchini slices (pictured above)
2. Stir up a storm on the savoury side
Savoury preserves: traditional handmade accompaniments for meat, cheese or fish by Guy Tullberg and Becky Vale, recipe photography by Dan Jones (Pavilion, hb, $35)
Forgive me, I have to say it. This book is jam-packed (boom boom! Although there are actually only two jams, neither sweet, in the book) with information about the why and how of preserving. I thought I knew how to make a decent jar of jam or chutney, but I learned a lot about safety (when you can, and can’t play with ingredient ratios), the crucial balancing act between sugar and vinegar (if you want to add vinegar to make a preserve sharper, you need to remove some sugar), why relishes tend to have a shorter shelf-life than other preserves, and the difference between clear pickles and sweet pickles (the former involves whole vegetables, such as onions; the latter combines mixed vegetables in a thick liquid). But it’s by no means a dry text book. The “learning” is easy to navigate, and the recipes… well, put it this way, there are a lot of little paper flags marking things I want to try. It’s so great to see a book devoted to the savoury side of preserving (Tracklements is UK company that makes specialty condiments, the sort of thing that go beautifully with meats or cheeses). There are family heirloom recipes; a recipe that involves smuggling — roasted shallot and garlic chutney; six types of homemade mustard, including a beer version that the authors say lifts cheese on toast to new heights; some very fiery pickles; various ketchups and sauces; savoury jellies, cheeses and fruit butters... and more.
The best bit: A quote on the contents page, from Herbert Mace, the author of a 1940 book called Storing, Preserving & Pickling: “…in the great rush to the towns, old traditions were lost… To restore the knowledge may be one way to make a happy and contented people, for there is more in it than reducing the cost of living; there is the satisfaction which comes from creative and productive occupation, and the culture of self-reliance which is the backbone of freedom.”
Cook the book:
Bloody Mary relish (pictured above)
3. Is any of this still releveant? (Actually, yes)
Preserving by Ginette Mathiot, revised by Clothilde Dusoulier, (Phaidon, hb, $39.95)
In 1948 a Frenchwoman called Ginette Mathior published a book called Je sais faire les conserves (“I know how to make preserves”). A bold claim, but it seems she did, and it’s the sort of knowledge that’s come firmly back into fashion. So it’s not all that surprising that Phaidon, known for publishing quirky tomes on niche topics and translating national culinary treasures into English, would decide to send Ginette’s book back out to the world. There are no photographs, just a handful of colourful new illustrations and some line drawings from the original book, but there are recipes. Even for those who have no desire to preserve angelica or make their own dry-cured sausages (the book tackles the preserving of meat as well as herbs, milk, fruit and vegetables), this is worth a look. There are plenty of recipes that are very usable today (the book has been revised to suit modern kitchens), including jams, dried fruit and vegetables, wines, liqueurs and other drinks, flavoured vinegars and even sauerkraut. We're not sure how many people will need to know how to store cauliflowers (answer: “In the attic (provided it won’t freeze)”), but we like the info all the same.
Cook the book:
4. Open the door on a nation's traditions
Preserving the Japanese way: traditions of salting, fermenting and pickling for the modern kitchen by Nancy Singletom Hachisu (Andrews McMeel, hb $50, eBook $US12.99)
For more than 25 years, California-born Nancy Singleton has lived with her Japanese farmer husband and three sons in a farmhouse in rural Japan. This, her second book, dives deep into the traditional methods, and some modern ones, of preserving fruits, vegetables and fish. It’s a big book and that’s because as well as 125 recipes, there are essays on traditions and artisan producers and hundreds of photographs. There are entire chapters devoted to topics such as soy sauce, fish sauce and miso; topics such as tofu, natto, koji, preserving with sake lees, making sake and tea are also covered. Some recipes show you how to make basics or preserve things, others how to use those as ingredients. But this book is more than pictures, or recipes, for that matter. It's at times quite a personal book, where Nancy talks of what it took to adjust to life in another country, and in a traditional family; of learning to appreciate new flavours; and of the long years spent building her skills with unfamiliar foods and methods. This is a deep dive into not only one country’s cuisine, but a particular time and place. Fascinating.
Cook the book:
5. Cool cafe writes a book
We couldn’t do a round-up of our favourite preserving books without including Cornersmith. Read our review and find four of their great recipes here.
6. Hot, salty and pungent, so many different ways
Kimchi: Essential Flavours of the Korean Kitchen by Byung-Hi and Byung-Soon Lim, recipe photography by Anna Kern (Pavilion, hb, $29.99)
This book inspired me to try making kimchi for the first time (a basic Chinese leaf — a.k.a. wombok — version). And while the end product was excellent, I have to confess I didn’t stick to the recipe. I couldn’t find gochugaru — Korean red chilli powder — when I popped in to my local Asian supermarket and wanting to make it now, I instead used a mixture of sichimi togarashi, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika. The result is not at all authentic, but it tastes just fine, so don’t let access to Korean ingredients stop you if you want to give this a go. This is a great little book for anyone interested in either Korean food, or fermenting; you’ll get a sense of the history of kimchi, along with more than 30 recipes for making kimchi, or using it as an ingredient, as well as a few other Korean classics. The kimchis include a white version (no chilli poswer, but with fresh red chilli, garlic and ginger to add zing); squash kimchi (made with butternut squash); and chonggak kimchi — known as bachelor kimchi, because it’s so easy “that even a bachelor can manage it”.
Cook the book:
Chinese leaf kimchi (baechu) (pictured above)
7. Preserving for one?
5-minute Microwave Bottling by Isobel Webb (Five Mile Press, pb, $22.99)
If you live alone, you don’t always want to make a big batch. This little paperback has some great fast recipes, many of them in smaller batches. Alongside jams, jellies, fruit spreads and other sweet preserves, there are recipes for pickles, chutneys, relishes, nut spreads, savoury sauces and salsas. (Also fruit drinks, cordials and fruit liquers!). No photographs, but some very handy information if you use a microwave and would like to try preserving with it.
Pickles and sandwiches simply work together – their tangy flavour and crunch are perfect to cut through the richness of a Reuben sandwich. Try your hand at making these garlic and dill pickles at home – you'll be surprised at how easy they are to achieve.
Thinly slice a selection of the pickles, toss with a handful of salad greens some thinly sliced red onion to make a refreshing and crunchy salad. They make great Christmas or birthday gifts for friends or family.