Spring may be when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to love — or baseball — but that tender sentiment can’t hold a candle to the hot, late-summer lust that seizes a farmers’ market shopper faced with mounds of fruits and vegetables at their peak: so tempting to buy in bulk, so quick to pass their prime.
Fortunately, there is a way to preserve some of that glorious excess — and two recent cookbooks want to help us do just that.
“My vocation was decided the moment my parents named me,” writes the author of The Book of Preserves (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019, 256 pages, $34): “Pam rhymes so very well with jam.” So well, in fact, that Pam Corbin has become widely known as “Pam the Jam,” the name gracing the cover of her most recent book.
An expert on both sweet and savory preserves, Corbin has spent more than 30 years developing and refining recipes and techniques for producing award-winning jams, jellies, fruit curds, marmalades, chutneys, pickles, and sauces — 100 of which are included in her third book. Her voice is friendly and most of her recipes are simple and relatively easy to follow, requiring only a few ingredients. Because both Corbin and her publisher are British, though, North American cooks will need to take the extra step to translate quantities from the metric to the customary system of U.S. weights and measures — kilograms to pounds, liters to gallons, milliliters to ounces, and grams to pounds. Fortunately, a number of online measurement conversion sites (like convert-me.com and thecalculatorsite.com) make that task easier than it was in pre-internet days. It’s certainly worth it.
The Book of Preserves opens with 19 pages of basic instruction on preserving technique and equipment and closes with a listing of resources for the home canner (all UK based). Corbin addresses food safety issues but does not dwell on them at length. “The basic principles of preserving have hardly changed,” she writes, “since the ancient Phoenicians of the Mediterranean left their grapes in the sun to dry until their natural sugars were so concentrated that they wouldn’t go off.”
She notes that modern approaches to canning allow for the use of less sugar in jams and jellies and less vinegar in pickles, resulting in condiments that will keep for months rather than years as in the past. To be sure a contemporary cook’s preserves won’t go bad, she advises following recipes closely, at least at the start, and recommends that equipment and work surfaces are scrupulously clean; that jars and lids have been sterilized just before using; and that containers are filled to the brim and tightly sealed.
Then we are off to explore a wide assortment of recipes — some traditional, like raspberry jam, others more unusual, like a kiwi and banana combination or a pear and chocolate spread that can form the base for a Pear Belle Helene Pudding. Separate chapters address classic jams; soft-set, low-sugar jams, “more French in style than British”; coulis and compotes; and jellies, with recipes for the usual fruit-based suspects, as well as more intriguing sweet-sharp herb- and flower-based combinations that can be used to glaze roasted meats or fish or stirred into a sauce or gravy. Fruit cheeses — pastes cooked down until they are thick enough to cut with a knife — include membrillo, the quince paste popular in Spain and Portugal, and soft, citrusy pâtes de fruit, perfect for holiday gifts. Chutneys, vinegars, and vegetable pickles of all varieties, including a low-labor jalapeño and sushi-style ginger worth trying, focus on the more savory side of preserving.
Not surprisingly, marmalade — part of the British breakfast table for at least three centuries — gets the most in-depth treatment in the book, with its own introduction and review of technique. This is partly because marmalade is one of Corbin’s specialties (she has been a judge at the World’s Original Marmalade Awards for many years) and partly because it is one of the more complex and challenging preserves to produce, requiring both knife skills and patience. Some of the seven recipes can take as long as three days to complete.
But filling a cupboard with rainbow-hued preserves is more than worth the time invested, Corbin says. Self-sufficiency, the ability to capture the flavor of fruits and vegetables at their peak, the potential to save some money, and filling enough jars to share with family and friends are the rewards reaped for hours standing at the stove. And Pam the Jam should know: She built a successful business turning out 3,500 jars of small-batch preserves a day in a West Country cottage.
Joyce Goldstein, a passionate supporter of farmers’ markets and ultra-fresh local foods, organizes Jam Session: A Fruit Preserving Handbook (Lorena Jones Book/Ten Speed Press, 2018, 264 pages, $24.99) accordingly — by season rather than by types of preserves.
In spring (from late March to late June), her canning kettle is filled with strawberries, rhubarb, and apricots — including a very simple recipe for preserving the golden orbs in a fragrant syrup. Cherries, carrots, and mangoes also make their appearance in spring. Summer (late June through early September) boasts the largest number of recipes and includes not only stone fruits and berries but also eggplant, tomatoes, and figs. Mostarda — a traditional Italian condiment that she has adapted to ingredients available in the United States — gets some shelf space, along with chutneys, sauces, syrups, and pickles. Peaches get their due here, too, appearing both on their own and in recipes spiked with lime, raspberries, ginger, or Sicilian style, with slices of lemon. Pears, apples, and quince define fall, while winter (late November through March) focuses more narrowly on preserves crafted from citrus, pumpkin, and winter squash.
Herbs and spices typical of Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Turkey, and North Africa find their way into many of the recipes in Jam Session — the same flavor profiles that distinguished the cuisine in Square One, the San Francisco restaurant Goldstein owned from 1984 to 1996, and that she celebrated in her 28 previous books. Although she says she has been putting up preserves for more than 30 years, this is her first book to focus solely on preserves. “What began as a fun hobby,” she writes on her website, “has turned into a full-fledged obsession. Over the years I have refined my technique and broadened my palate. I cannot walk through the farmers’ market and see fruit without thinking of what I can prepare with it.”
Some of the 75 recipes she includes in Jam Session are classic formulations; others are unique to her palate and preferences. All are written with simple, straightforward instructions that display the confidence of a longtime master chef, recipe developer, cookbook writer, and restaurant consultant, professions she is still pursuing in her mid-80s.
The section on tomatoes offers a number of recipes to capture that soon-to-arrive glut of farm-ripened tomatoes. Ginger-scented green tomato chutney, sweet tomato jam, and the Moroccan-spiced sweet and hot cherry tomato preserves she started making in 1968 to serve with Square One’s Moroccan mixed grill can pull you to the kitchen, as can a Turkish tomato and poblano relish, which is at home in both Istanbul and Northern New Mexico. A go-with-everything basic tomato sauce that can be scaled from a few jars to a year’s supply is also included.
Goldstein’s extensive culinary background makes it easy for her to recommend ways each of the preserves can be used to turn simple dishes into something special. Among her suggestions: siding fried chicken with pickled peaches; spreading peach-lime salsa-jam on sandwiches, mixing it with cream cheese, or spooning it onto a pork chop or duck breast; adding briny Moroccan preserved lemons to fish stews and vinaigrettes; and using citrus marmalades to bolster a sauce or glaze a cake.
The basic safety and preparation techniques covered in the front of the book should help a novice canner feel confident about taking on the art of preserving. “There is science involved in making preserves,” Goldstein writes, “but it is not rocket science.” ◀