Salt Sugar Smoke: The Definitive Guide to Conserving, from Jams and Jellies to Smoking and Curing- Diana Henry
Diana Henry is, for my money, the best of our newspaper food writers. Her style is clean and simple, highly readable and to the point. Her book on leftovers Food From Plenty is one of the most stained in our house, indicating how often it gets used. This book again takes a fascinating subject and runs with it.
Preserving food is one of mankind’s oldest struggles. No matter how good the summer, how healthy the animals, winter was always a time when we lived on what we had stored. In our cupboards and around our muscles. This is why I don’t fear winter, I am well insulated. Back in the day we salted, we smoked, we made jams and we didn’t rely on the often fickle power of electricity. Freezer melt down anyone?
Preserving saves seasonal vegetables in glut to be enjoyed as themselves later, but it also magically transforms things into something else. Relishes, chutneys and mustards for example. And who doesn’t like a home pickled onion? The apple-crispness is a sensatiion shop bought ones never seem to have, perhaps because they use the shortcut of brine and not packed salt, as my father always used to insist on.
And preserves make nice gifts – my dad’s pickled onions may have been in a variety of crude jars, mostly empty Nescafe ones, but the whole street came knocking when it was known that he’d made a batch. The simplest way to preserve is under oil and here Henry uses cheeses, olives and peppers. This is not a long term method of course, but it lets you create tasty treats for short term storage. Jam is of course the best way to preserve fruit and all its flavour, freezing destroys fruit’s structure.
Plenty of recipes here, including marmalade of course, and then some killer ideas for curry pastes including the wonderfully named Thai Jungle Curry Paste and a great sounding Adobo paste to liven up meats, especially pork chops. Smoking requires a little more effort but you don’t need to get the Black & Decker out and start drilling out the office filing cabinets. A cheap wok will do a good job, although it will be useless for anything after of course.
Cold smoking or hot smoking, there are recipes here for all kinds of committed smokers. Hot smoke your own salmon and you’re doing what so many smug restaurateurs are doing and then bragging about. Better still hot smoke a duck breast and toss it in a salad. Middle Eastern pickles put in an appearance, and that Olde Englande speciality potted shrimps, as well as classic fish treatments from Scandinavia.
We should preserve the art of preserving, it’s satisfying and it gives you tastes you just can’t get in the shops or get as good. I’m off to pickle some allotment tomatoes now and on Boxing Day I’ll crack the first one open to go with my cold turkey. The best things come to those who wait.