I am a cook up for a challenge. I’ve mastered the delicate foamy batter of genoise cake, I’ve made scratch marshmallows, and I’ve made mass quantities of spinach pies while the whole lamb roasted outside my kitchen window.
But canning has eluded me. I took a local extension service class, and like Kevin West, did some entry-level strawberry jam. Sure, I’ll make a few fresh pickles or a chunky homemade ketchup that live in the fridge, but I lust after shelves of mason jars in jeweled colors that are truly “put-up.
I want what West is offering—Agrodolce Spring Onions, Brandied Raisins, Wild Blackberry Molasses, Fennel Relish, and yes, strawberry jam, but with Pinot Noir.
What’s most reassuring is that West isn’t a farmer or even a gardener—he lives in the city—nor is he a professional cook. He does have the advantage of living in California where citrus fruits fill February farm markets.
But he’s also done an incredible amount of legwork, unearthing recipes and techniques from friends, experts, and older family members who put up farm produce in Tennessee to get through the winter, not as an artisanal exercise. And although there are regional recipes for ramps or beach plums, the more common apples, tomatoes, and berries are well-covered.
Plum Liqueur, made from dark, winey plums simmered in gin and allspice, was the delicious work of a week and I couldn’t resist trying a fraction of the recipe for Tomato Jam with Smoked Paprika with a few CSA tomatoes on the kitchen counter. It’s sweet and savory–a perfect foil for prosciutto or a hot dog.
West is a researcher passionate about his topic. His guidance through technique and equipment is meticulous, but also appreciates the poetry that happens in the kitchen. Sidebars on “Road Trips” recall culinary adventures and he includes odes to blackberries and novelist Thomas Mann’s rumination on canning jars.
This might be the book that pushes you to buy both a flat of berries and of mason jars.