Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No 2 by Pam Corbin

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Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No 2 by Pam Corbin

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The best book about preserving that I have seen - it should be essential reading for every person who wants good, seasonal food all year round.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: August 2008
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747595328

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I was born not long after the end of the Second World War, at a time when some foods were rationed and a banana or an orange was a treat. Preserving was simply one of those things that you did to store one season's bounty to help you through less generous times – and all this without the help of a freezer or even a fridge. Freezers have undoubtedly made it easier to save food but it's not the greenest solution and I have long wanted a book which extended my range of recipes, most of which I inherited from my parents.

A few years ago I bought Preserved by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton hoping that this would be the answer, but was sadly disappointed. I don't have a lot of space for my cookery books and Preserved didn't remain in the house for long. Within the first few pages of Pam Corbin's book I knew that I had exactly what I needed. If you are interested in jams and jellies, pickles, chutneys and relishes, cordials, fruit liqueurs and vinegars, bottled fruits and sauces, ketchups and oil-based preserves then this book should be your bible.

Let's get out of the way what it doesn't do first of all. Unlike the superficial Sandler and Acton book it makes no attempt to go into the more specialist areas such as smoking and sausage making. Yes, these are methods of preserving, but Pam Corbin wisely restricts herself to what most people can achieve in the domestic kitchen without the need for expensive equipment. Probably the largest investment you would make would be in a jam pan – I've tried making jam in other pans but a proper jam pan is easiest and does give the best result. If you're a novice – and this book is ideal for a novice – then you might want to get a jam thermometer as it takes away a lot of the guess work in jam making. Experience is what you get when you make mistakes – and you will get a lot of valuable but costly experience making jam without a thermometer.

Pam Corbin knows her subject well enough to explain it lucidly and without the need to blind with science. She tells us the important points which we need to know about each process and stresses those points which are set in stone – the need to sterilize jars for instance – and then the individual recipes refer us back you back to the instructions. It's done in a way that made me feel as though I was simply mastering a technique which would give me a foundation on which to build – I never felt that what she was saying was constricting in any way. It's a knack that some teachers never master – and it comes from having the confidence of knowing your subject thoroughly and explaining it in a way that makes me think 'I can do that!'

Preserving isn't just a skill, it's an attitude of mind and Pam Corbin begins by explaining how the preserver follows the seasons. It does require thought and organisation – knowing what produce will become available and what bottles and jars you will need to use. Once it becomes known that you preserve you will find that you are given all sorts of produce – and it's a lovely feeling when you can thank the giver of a load of assorted vegetables with a jar of his 'own' piccalilli.

So, what are the recipes like? Most sections on preserving in cookery books restrict themselves to the old faithfuls – the strawberry jam, a marmalade and couple of chutneys. Preserves is imaginative. There are about forty pages of recipes for jams and jellies alone, with something for every taste, including the wonderfully-named Compost Heap Jelly. It might not sound very appetising but I read the recipe and couldn't understand why I'd never thought of trying it. Apart from some sugar and your time everything that's in there would have gone on the compost heap. There are some wonderful tips too – such as using redcurrant jelly to make the most beautiful pink icing.

Like Jane Grigson I felt that Pam Corbin knows far more than she has the space to tell us. She's had a lifetime working in the food industry and the experience shines through. Recently I was somewhat surprised to hear the Prime Minister pontificating about food waste – I suspect that wide readership of this book would achieve far more than his words could ever expect. If you only buy one cookery book this year I think it should be Preserved.


I revisited this review some five years after the book was published and I'm still surprised by how often I refer to the book. I've just used the recipe for Seville Orange marmalade and produced the best marmalade we've ever tasted - not too sweet but with an excellent flavour - and the blackcurrant jam which I make with the glut from the garden is our favourite jam.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you enjoy books like this and haven't already encountered Jane Grigson then you really should. Start with Jane Grigson's Fruit Book. Alternatively, the introduction to Preserved is written by the sainted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and we can recommend River Cottage Cook Book.

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