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Cookbook Review: The River Cottage Preserves (And Booze) Handbook

Canning and preserves books are typically best left to those who consider slow versus rapid set pectin a suitable cocktail conversation, or who happened to be employed by canning jar companies. Enter the just-released (stateside, it was originally printed in Britain) The River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin, a former professional preserves maker turned instructor at River Cottage.

The book is concise, informative and dwells just long enough on proper sterilization techniques so you get the "any microorganism lurking in the container" point, without being dissuaded from actually trying to make that red currant jelly. It's a canning and preserving book for the home cook who likely wouldn't call themselves the "canning" type. You know, those of us who might want to whip up a batch of elderberry jelly on a whim, but really have no desire to sterilize jars more than once or twice a year. Although with these recipes for jams, pickles, relishes, canned fruits, vinegars and cordials (so many books forget the booze) we might just have to make them all: green gooseberry jam with elderflower, sweet pickled damson plums, ale chutney, raspberry vinegar, currant shrub, sage elixir, hawthorn berry brandy.

Corbin's detailed instructions for preserving whatever you happen to find growing in the forest behind your house (were you to actually have a forest behind your house) are so enticing, we've added a preserving pan to our Amazon wish list (though you can get away with a stockpot if you're only planning one marmalade weekend a year).

Plus, there's that lively British banter, such as in the sage elixir recipe headnote, where Corbin offers this instruction for cleaning the herbs: "Shake the sage leaves well to remove any wildlife (those that don't escape at this stage will become sublimely intoxicated)." Infinitely more engaging than your average American canning book, such as Better Homes & Gardens You Can Can! (also released this month).


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