Saturday, February 15, 2014

Curing and Smoking - Steven Lamb

I love the River Cottage handbooks, every time I write about them I find myself enthusing about the same things - they're lovely to handle, look great, are funny and engaging as well as informative, and generally speaking are as useful as any set of books could possibly be. Book number 13 deals with curing and smoking, it's been my bedtime reading for the past few nights and is the reason I've spent the best part of an hour researching salt on the internet this afternoon. I had no idea there was so much to know about salt.

As someone who lives in a city centre flat deep in the Midlands there are titles in this series which are of limited use to me on a day to day basis - the ones about fishing, sea shore foraging, and chickens don't get quite as much use as I'd like - but at least I have enough garden access through D to have found the allotment and fruit tree volumes more than just inspiring. It's the flat dwelling part of my lifestyle which will hold me back from really exploring the world of smoking and curing. I have nowhere to hang sausages to age them, and although I'm still playing with the idea of buying a stove top hot smoker I suspect that it'll just be something that gathers dust. My father and stepmother however have the space, equipment, and expertise to do all these things (my stepmother's pickled herring is amazing, she does one cure with Christmassy spices which is particularly memorable, it has nothing to do with this book - just thought I'd mention it) so perhaps I can experiment a bit more with the smoking element when I'm next up there.

Meanwhile there are still projects (anything that takes more than a few hours to cook is surely a project) that even I can have a go at. There's a recipe for salt beef which looks especially good, theoretically I could make sauerkraut but despite it being a really good probiotic food I've never really taken to it. What I really want to have a go at though is dry cured streaky bacon. It looks like it can basically be done in the fridge, takes about 10 days to have something ready to fry, and seems like a skill it would be good to have. The required pork belly is easily, and reasonably cheaply, available from local butchers so if I somehow make a mess of it at least I won't have spent a fortune in the process. What I feel I can make from this book though is only part of it's charm for me. I like to know how food is put together, there's a world of cured meat products in here which had hitherto passed me by which means all sorts of things to seek out and try even if I never do get the chance to make them.

'Curing and Smoking' also feels slightly different to the other River cottage handbooks - this is the first one that explicitly deals with the possibility that you might want to sell what you're producing with a short but helpful section on commercial considerations. This is a subject dear to my heart, I would love to see more small producers working on a local basis, I want to buy things from people who really understand what they're selling, who know their product inside out, and who care about them because basically I consider it to be a far more sustainable model. Paying a bit more to support small, quality, producers is future proofing.
That section on commercial considerations is only a couple of pages long but in some way it changes the tone of the whole series - the others have essentially been about hobbies and activities (which is no criticism) but 'Curing and Smoking' has the potential to be something more than a hobby or a weekend activity. I'm hopeful that at some point a book about cheese making will be forthcoming - something else I've always wanted to have a go at but won't be able to do in a flat but meanwhile this is an excellent addition to a brilliant series.    

No comments:

Post a Comment