Preserved by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton
|Preserved by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A reasonable introduction to the art of preserving but the book lacks the depth I'd been hoping for. You'd be as well reading Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall or even Delia Smith and then looking for a specialist book.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: August 2004|
|Publisher: Kyle Cathie Ltd|
I was born not long after the end of the Second World War, at a time when food was still rationed. My father grew vegetables and the surplus was bottled or pickled for use in the winter months. By the end of September the larder shelves would be groaning with colourful bottles and jars. I've done some bottling myself but most of our food is preserved in the freezer. This may be convenient, but I'm afraid it's not the most environmentally-friendly appliance and I was looking for a book which would revive some of the old ways and bring them into the twenty-first century.
So, what made me buy "Preserved"? Well, I'd read a review of it when it was first published back in September 2004, but thought the cover price of £25 a little rich. Even Amazon's £17.99 seemed a little high when I looked closely at the authors of the book. Nick Sandler is a "development chef" who "creates new concepts in food and then processes and preserves them for retail customers such as delis and supermarkets". That's not my type of food at all! Johnny Acton is "an entrepreneurial writer/journalist whose career has included writing obituaries for The Times". I normally prefer my food writers to have a more distant relationship with death. Then I saw the book on sale from The Book People at £6.99 and decided that I need not be quite so fussy.
There's a foreword by the sainted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall stressing the value of home-preserved food. Gone are the days when it was meagre and rather bland - this is the sort of food which is now seen as a luxury or a treat. It's the best way too of ensuring that there's no need to compromise on the quality of ingredients. The authors' own introduction to the book stresses that preserving allows you to take control of your food. There's also a brief note about the history and geography of food preserving which is interesting, if a little learned.
The first technique to be covered is DRYING. Drying preserves food because the organisms which contaminate food can't survive without moisture. There are clear details on how to construct a drying box and instructions for producing biltong, jerky and bresaola. I would suspect though that more people will be interested in drying herbs and mushrooms. This section is very easy to follow - and it works. If I can grow some chillies next year I'm going to dry some.
Each technique is explained and then recipes are given which use the preserved products. Some of the recipes which are offered are good - in the section on freezing there are some ice lollies which are heaven. Some are ordinary, such as salt beef sandwich with dill pickle and some are downright odd, such as smoked custard tarts.
The next technique is SALTING. This is a relative of drying as it works on the same basis of pulling moisture from the food. I'm unlikely to use this method though as I find foods which have been salt-cured remain too salty for my taste. If it interests you there are recipes for corned beef and sweet-cured ham.
I was interested in the section on SMOKING although there is a health warning here. Some of the by-products of the process are not the healthiest of substances so it's unwise to eat too many smoked products. There are instructions on how to build a cold smoker. This isn't something I think I'd want to undertake for the small amount of smoked produce we allow ourselves, but you could find it useful if you had access to a reasonable quantity of fish to smoke. Hot smoking can be done in a specially-adapted dustbin, but foods which are hot-smoked have generally undergone a period of cold-smoking first, so smoking may be a non-starter in practical terms. The detail is interesting though and there are one or two good recipes.
If it was not for the fact that I can buy from a champion butcher I might well be tempted to try some of the techniques in the chapter on SAUSAGES. From interest I priced up a sausage-making machine and they start at around £50. Some food processors even have an appropriate attachment. There are recipes for British and Continental sausages and the procedure doesn't seem to be difficult. I was particularly tempted by the Frankfurters.
In the chapter on PICKLING I liked the recipes for tomato and mushroom ketchup. The tomato ketchup is slightly thinner and less sweet than the one produced by Mr Heinz, but it's rather more healthy. Having said that, I have a very real problem with this section. Vinegar reacts with metal and when you pack pickles you should avoid using metal lids, but there's a picture of pickled onions in a jar with just such a top. I'd have liked to see clear and prominent warnings on this point.
The next section on HERBS, PASTES AND INFUSED OILS AND VINEGARS is rather better. There are some good recipes for curry pastes with the authors having taken advantage of the knowledge of Nick's Malaysian wife. I liked the infused oils too - there'll certainly be some of those made next summer!
I'm less certain that I'll be doing anything from the chapter on FERMENTING. I'm happy with the principle of suppressing micro-organisms, but less happy with encouraging them. That's a personal choice though and it may well appeal to you if you like sauerkraut, kimchee or miso soup.
I have used SUGAR as a preserving technique before: in fact the recipe for candied orange peel is very similar to the one I use. The sugar technique familiar to most people would be the making of jams and jellies. Most of the standard recipes you would expect appear in this section, but apart from a good peach compote there isn't a lot that's either new or unusual.
The chapter on ALCOHOL was disappointing, containing little more than sloe gin, oranges in brandy and flavoured rum made with frozen fruit from the supermarket. There's a recipe for a trifle using morello cherries in Kirsch, but this chapter smacked more of Delia Smith's Cookery Course than a specialist book on preserving.
I really bought the book in the hope that I would learn more about BOTTLING & CANNING, but I'm afraid I didn't. I've been using a bottling technique for the last thirty years which is simple but isn't even covered in the book. The methods used are very much more complex and I would think there would be more likelihood of an accident. I found this chapter a sad disappointment.
I was more interested in the chapter on AIR EXCLUSION. Fish which is vacuum- packed before freezing will last for up to two years rather than the usual two to three months. It's possible to buy a home vacuum packer but many fishmongers will supply fish prepared and vacuum packed. There's a good recipe for wild mushroom pâté but I'm afraid the other recipes in this section look rather ordinary.
FREEZING is a big subject: I've seen many a book devoted to nothing else. In this book it's covered in half a dozen pages, so I'm afraid it's rather superficial. The saving grace is the recipe for righteous raspberry lollies, using raspberries, clear honey and lemon juice. It's years since I've had an iced lolly, but there's going to be some in the freezer next summer!
At £6.99 this book is reasonably good value, but I wouldn't recommend paying any more than that. It's only an introduction to the subject and one that's fairly skimpy in places. There are some excellent, indeed rather beautiful photographs by Peter Cassidy, but they're over-used and make the book into the sort you display on the coffee table rather than use in the kitchen. If you want an introduction to the subject you'd do just as well reading Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "River Cottage Cookbook". If you want the bible of preserving I think you've got to try and get hold of Oded Schwartz' "Preserving", but there's a waiting list of four for used copies on Amazon. Perhaps I ought to make it five.
You can read more book reviews or buy Preserved by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Preserved by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton at Amazon.com.
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