Before you know it, the long hot days of summer will soon be here. The gardens you are so carefully planning now will be bursting with ripened goodness, and roadside vegetable stands will be popping up everywhere. There is something very satisfying about cutting into a tomato that is deep red all the way through, or a cantaloupe so perfect you can smell the earthy muskiness as you heft it in your hands.
Unfortunately, the season of bounty is short-lived, so for several weeks I pack away berries, peaches and the occasional green bean before I have to go back to the overpriced, under ripe produce available at the grocery store. However, my ability to preserve seasonal food is limited to freezer space because the idea of canning is very intimidating. I have visions of exploding jars and family-wide food poisoning.
Thankfully help came by way of local author and food blogger Marisa McClellan, who wrote "Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round." The book, like her online blog by the same name, is beautifully illustrated and makes preserving fresh food very approachable.
To start, McClellan's recipes are designed for small batches, so no need to lug tons of produce home. They are also primarily written for hot water bath canning which, once you understand the basics and have the short list of essential supplies, is no more difficult than boiling water. Like other food preservation books McClellan covers the fundamentals, from choosing the right tools to a step-by-step of the canning process.
Unlike similar cookbooks, however, the recipes go well beyond jams and pickles, although those are also included. Some of the recipes I tried with much success include dilly beans (green beans flavored with vinegar and dill seed), blueberry butter (a spicy spread reminiscent of that Fall favorite, apple butter) and my personal favorite: maple almond butter (a more grownup version of peanut butter). Best of all, there wasn't an exploded jar in sight; each recipe delivered a lot of flavor with very few ingredients and very specific (read: dummy-proof) instructions.
A glimpse at the Table of Contents hints at the wide variety of delicious ideas inside, by way of chutneys, mustards and curds, which inspire me to think of homemade gift-giving this holiday season. There are also recipes for things I'd never considered for home canning, like cantaloupe jam, pickled zucchini and garlic scapes, as well as money saving ideas such as making vanilla extract and flavored salts from scratch.
If you are looking for ways to trim your menu budget or get back to basics, then you may want to try your hand at home food preservation. Or perhaps you are looking for new twists on old favorites. Either way, your local CCPL branch has plenty of cookbooks to choose from to preserve this season's fruits and vegetables on topics like canning, dehydrating, freezing and more.
Recommended by Priscilla Garvin