'Our grandparents knew how to judge for themselves whether a food was spoiled, whereas in our supermarket-dominated world, governed by use-by and sell-by dates, it is easy to abandon the fundamental sensual skills of looking and smelling. But once you enter the world of preserving, it is important to re-hone your senses, as well as to understand and feel comfortable with what you are doing.'
— Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi in the introduction to The Gentle Art of Preserving
The authors of The Gentle Art of Preserving remind us that 'preserving is a science, but is not an exact science, and there is no foolproof way of preserving in the home environment… the best way is to learn to trust your instincts, spot problems, adapt, and accept the occasional failure.' Sage advice, methinks, and a good reminder that preserving food has become something of a lost art in our wasteful, fast food society.
Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi say they grew up in households where food was valued and preserved. In the introduction to the book, Ms Caldesi writes: 'Giancarlo grew up in a family in Tuscany, which never, ever, wasted food and yet there was no fridge in the house. They kept their own pig and butchered it each November, and every part of the animal would be used… and in every appropriate season there would be food — from tomatoes to porcini — that could be conserved for the rest of the year. I grew up in an English seaside town, watching my mother make chutneys, jams and marmalades throughout the year and helping my father pack apples and potatoes in boxes to store in winter. And our whole family have always enjoyed foraging. But during these last few years, I realise I had only scratched the surface of the enormous world of preserving… In the course of writing this book, we have worked alongside expert artisans, collected long-standing family recipes and techniques from friends and tapped into diverse preserving traditions.'
Writing this book took the Caldesis on a two-year journey to discover the different methods of conserving food: curing, smoking, freezing, pickling, bottling, fermenting and drying. The resulting book can easily be described as a 'Bible on Preserving', even if the authors had not intended for it to be so. There is much information here on food safety, trusting your instincts, spoilers (enzymes, moulds and yeasts, and bacteria), sterilising techniques; and then pages and pages of superb recipes and detailed instructions.
Chapters cover preserving by: Vinegar; Sugar; Salt; Air; Smoke (hot and cold); Oil, Fat & Butter; Alcohol; Fermenting; Heat; and Cold (freezing). There is also a useful bibliography listing cookbooks and blogs, as well as suppliers of preserving equipment. Some of the stand-out recipes that appealed to me include pickled grapes, pickled nectarines, homemade pectin stock, Livia's oven-baked quince jam, roasted peach and vanilla butter, maroons glacés, bacon, cold smoked prawns, wild garlic pesto, feta in oil, rum plum compote, labneh, and no-churn strawberry ice cream.
With such a diverse range of recipes, easy-to-follow instructions and a vast amount of thoroughly-researched information, The Gentle Art of Preserving is a worthwhile addition to every kitchen.
The Gentle Art of Preserving by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi, $39.99, Kyle Books. Thank you kindly to the publicity team t Simon & Schuster for giving me the opportunity to review this excellent title.
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