The River Cottage Preserves Handbook (Ten Speed 2010) by Pam Corbin is a handsome book with a hefty binding, thick paper, and glorious photographs by Gavin Kingcome. It is the kind of book to consult year after year as the fruit and vegetables ripen, or a guest arrives with baskets of apples. It is the kind of book you bring as a gift to your hostess along with a jar of preserves.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage farm is the source of other wonderful cookbooks (see Super Chef’s review of The River Cottage Family Cookbook). His introduction to the book is full of enthusiasm for the importance of jam and preserver making:
Over the centuries, wizards and alchemists have used all the power and magic they can muster to try and catch rainbows, spin straw into gold, and even bring the dead back to life. They failed of course, yet all the while humble peasants and ordinary housewives have got on with the simple business of bottling sunshine so that it may spread a little joy in the leaner seasons…They call it jam. (p.6)
And if you think of the best in homemade jams and preservers and the pleasure in eating your own produce, then you are ready for this book.
There is much practical advice on how to preserve and bottle safely as well as how to make basic jams from practically any fruit. The recipes range from Early Rhubarb Jam (p. 48) to eat over ice cream or yoghurt, and the unusual Apple Lemon Curd (p. 67) made from Granny Smiths, butter, eggs, and lemons.
There is a whole chapter on Pickles, Chutneys & Relishes and one on Cordials, Fruit Liqueurs & Vinegars that is filled with unusual recipes, perfect for holiday gifts. If you have a beech tree, you can try Beech Leaf Noyau (p. 130) though the recipe calls for the young leaves of a European beech tree, plenty of gin for steeping the leaves, sugar, and a few capfuls of brandy. No beech tree, then try and Elixir of Sage (p. 135) or Raspberry Vinegar (p. 142). There are plenty of exotic and common recipes, that all have comprehensive notes and instructions.
Pam Corbin, Hugh relates in his introduction, uses to run a company that made old-fashioned preservers. She knows her craft well and is an excellent teacher. This is a wonderful book for both the novice and the more advanced cook.
(Image of Pam Corbin by Galvin Kingcombe for Metro.co.uk)