Another book that I've been looking forward to for a while. Before Pam’s River Cottage handbook on ‘Preserves’ (the 2nd in the series) came out in 2008 I hadn't really bothered with making jams or jellies. It had always seemed easier to buy them - which it is, but doesn't take into account the satisfaction making them brings.
When I think of that book now I think of the huge success that is the raspberry fridge jam, the minor failure of an apple curd (just didn't like it), and first tentative steps into the mystery that is chutney. Diana Henry's ‘Salt, Sugar, Smoke’ is easily my favourite on the subject of preserving (because I want to make more or less everything in it) but it's Pam The Jam’s book I turn to if I have a glut of something and no particular idea of what to do with it.
I don't know how to start explaining the magic of preserving to the uninitiated, but it is a peculiarly satisfying thing to do. I especially love the way that jellies start off as roughly chopped fruit, and end up as beautiful jewel coloured jars. The way chutney develops once bottled so that it becomes more than the sum of its parts is a close second.
Beyond the immediate satisfaction of making, there's also the feeling of a task shared by generations of previous cooks - that things have their season and so do the jobs that go with them. I find it reassuring, and deeply comforting. And as preserving is an art there's endless room for refining.
The jams that we buy are legally required to contain 60% or more of sugar, and the jams we used to make were more or less the same. Sugar helps a jam set, and acts as a preservative. If you're making a lot of something that's going to hang around for a while (the years supply of marmalade that gets produced when seville oranges are around for example) that's quite handy. Better refrigeration, and better quality jars p, are two things that allow the home cook to reduce the amount of sugar (and up the amount of fruit) in preserves. Or with chutney reduce the amount of vinegar.
Which is the specific point of this book which is set on “learning to shed new light on a traditional craft”. I’m personally drawn towards the chapters on jelly and fruit cheeses (which I haven't made before, but which look like fun). There are some really good looking coulis and compotes which are always a useful thing to have around. A chapter on curds which I'll probably ignore (strictly lemon curd in these parts thank you very much) but less prejudiced people should definitely be looking at.
The chapter on pickles looks really good too. I'm more or less new to pickling as well as fruit cheeses, and these recipes are appealing to me - they sound like things I want in my kitchen. My favourite thing about the marmalade chapter is that Pam isn't snobby about using those tins of pre cut Seville peel (she gives quick and easy jam recipes too). I both love and don't love the ritual of cooking and cutting the oranges, it's quietly encouraging to be told shortcuts are fine.
Overall this is a book full of inspiration coupled with sound advice, beautiful photography (by Mark Diacono) and illustrations (Hello Marine). It's time to order a new box of jars and start planning.