Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Salt Sugar Smoke - Diana Henry

Years ago I got a really good book about preserving called, of all things, 'Preserved' by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton. It's a fantastic book with instructions on how to do everything I could imagine including building your own hot smoker, cold smoker, thing for slow drying stuff, and other stuff I can't even remember. It also had the best recipe for candied oranges I've ever found. However there comes a point in life when you have to admit to yourself that you'll never build a smoker (hot or cold), I reached that point at about the same time a friend started building his so I copied out the orange recipe and passed on the book.

Since then I've been on the look out for something that would take it's place and perhaps be better suited to my actual cooking habits. 'Salt Sugar Smoke' is without doubt that book. Diana Henry's 'Roast Figs Sugar Snow' was an impressive if belated introduction to my newest kitchen heroine but 'Salt Sugar Smoke' is the title that confirms that this is love - the real thing and not just a summer romance. 

As with 'Roast Figs Sugar Snow' the inspiration for recipes come from across the globe and that's always exciting; all those things available on every supermarket shelf that I'm never quite sure what to do with suddenly taking on a world of possibility - it's heady stuff. September is jam month for me, lots of foragable stuff is available in hedgerows or gardens and what I can't find for free is often obtainable at farmers markets so it's fitting that Jam is the subject of the first chapter. There have been no shortage of Jam books published over the last couple of year so I wasn't sure I'd find anything new here, I was wrong. There is a legendary French Jam maker - Christine Ferber; Greengage and Gew├╝rztraminer, Pear and Chestnut, and Blackberry and Pinot Noir jams are all pure Ferber (her inspiration is credited) which saves me having to pay a fortune for her books in translation. I have made the Damson and Gin jam, it's excellent and it's sod's law that this is such a bad year for fruit trees because I could have made gallons of it. 
On the immanent to do list is Fig and Pomegranate jam which I think should be exotic enough to make memorable presents. There is also a Lime and Rum marmalade, and it occurs to me that if I add a bit of mint I'll basically have a Mojito I can put on toast...

After that there are various tempting things that can be preserved in vinegar and oil, and a chapter on hot smoking. Henry uses a wok and recommends stove top smokers which are apparently quite affordable, I might research this, and also how it's likely to react with my smoke detector, I like the idea but don't want the neighbours to hate me. There's also a good section on brining which I've heard about but never done, as all I really need to do with that is plan ahead it's got to be worth trying. I have other long held ambitions regarding successfully curing herring (I've already done it unsuccessfully) and making my own gravlax - there are recipes for both which look good.

After the jams though the real draw for me in this collection comes in the chapter on 'Cordials, Alcohols, Fruits and Spoon Sweets' specifically Alcohols. It's not to late to make sloes in apple brandy (liqueur de blosses) which sounds wonderful - more mellow than gin or vodka, and if it's more expensive, well it will be correspondingly special. This is also the best possible time for making Russian Plum Liqueur - both would be ready in time for Christmas but that's not nearly all... 

There are a handful of recipes that constitute the absolute last word in luxury preserving - prunes in armagnac with vanilla, prunes in a mix of rum, eau de vie and monbazillac, and perhaps best of all apricots in muscat; I can picture them now; glowing dried apricots plumped up in luscious, golden, sticky wine. They take about a month to be ready and will keep for a year. Some times food columnists talk about how handy it is to have crumble ingredients or the like prepped in the freezer for those times when unexpected guests come round and you simply must have an emergency pudding. I've never found myself with that problem but if I did I'd rather whip out some apricots in muscat and a decent pot of yoghurt than defrost something nameless from the back of the freezer. Seriously this has to be a contender for best cookbook of the year. 


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