Books To Pickle By


Ball book In my part of the world, harvest season is now in full swing, and it’s demanding.  Just picking and washing and storing nature’s bounty takes time, and the vegetables from my garden are so good and various that ambitious cooking is required just to live up to them.  Adding canning on top of that?  Not something I’d ever managed to do in 18 years of gardening.  

Last year, however, the ridiculous bushels of cucumbers and squashes I produced prompted a unfamiliar impulse: pickle.  To learn how, I ordered the most popular book  on’s canning & preserving list: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes for Today, edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine.  The Ball of the title is a popular brand of canning jar and the tone is correspondingly organizational: “Preserving food in mason jars might sound old-fashioned,” the Ball Complete Book declares, “but it is as modern and practical as the latest health food trend or gourmet creation!”

 The phrase “gourmet creation” is the tipoff, of course, that anything fancy here will err on the side of weirdness.  Kiwi daiquiri jam, anybody, with optional green food coloring?  Fortunately, there are recipes for old standards, too, and even instructions for canning roast beef, a practice that the advent of the freezer compartment would seem to have rendered obsolete.  But, for me, as a beginner, Ball Complete was too sprawling, and it failed to quickly answer the question I was most anxious about: how worried should I be about poisoning my family with botulism?

 Not very, says Sherri Brooks Vinton, author of Put ‘em Up: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling. Within the first paragraph of her introduction, she rebuts the two myths about canning, time-consuming and dangerous: “Home food preservation is simple and delicious, and no one was harmed in the making of this book.”  She swiftly covers the safety principles—heat and acid kill the bacteria that produce the botulism toxin, so canning recipes have to be followed dutifully, with the specified amount of vinegar added and time spent in a boiling water bath.  This clear, friendly book explains many food preservation methods, and is organized by ingredient, which really works for gardeners confronting a surplus of something in the yard.

Daniel Gasteiger’s Yes, You Can! And Freeze and Dry It, Too is charmingly passionate and homey.  He includes recipes from his mother.  He talks about freezing leftover Thanksgiving dinners for his dad.  In just 200 pages, Gasteiger manages to cover not just canning and fermentation, but an enormous array of other food preservation techniques.  Want to know how to make your own instant potatoes, dehydrated vegetable mix, frozen pies, fruit leather, and canned yams?   This is the book for you.

Alas, as cool as some of Gasteiger’s methods are, I’m not really interested in duplicating supermarket food.  I want the opposite of that.  What I want, clearly, is Liana Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry.  Krissoff wins points for keeping the homemade truly homemade: Instead of recommending store-bought powdered pectin to help certain jams gel, Krissoff gives a recipe for pectin made from a green apple stock.  Her initial discussion of the theory and practice of canning is superb.  In the best locavore tradition, Krissoff’s recipes are organized by season.  And those recipes!  Strawberry jam with Thai herbs, cumin and paprika pickled turnips, cardamom plum jam! 

I may need to start gardening for the canning, rather than canning for the gardening.



  1. I love it when you write about food.
    Years ago I canned some tomatoes, now I’m lazy and just freeze them. But, the home canned tomatoes were so pretty. I kept them out on display. They were delicious too.
    Now, I’m experimenting with fermentation. Wild Fermentation is where I get all my information. The author really helps with the fear factor.

  2. Canning is great and in my case, essential: I run out of freezer space. I grow a lot of my own food and pick more from the local fields (apples, cherries, elderberries, blackberries) then live off the freezer and pantry over the winter. And it’s been years since I bought jelly or jam. Can on!

  3. I really rely on the big Ball canning book. I think it is the most thorough about exactly how to do the canning. My only complaint with it is that it is often a bit unclear about how much product will yield how many jars. I think that might be one of those things one learns with practice.

  4. I just got the Ball book this season because it has a harissa recipe. I love Put ‘Em Up and Canning for New Generation. Tart and Sweet is good too, but anyone intested in canning absolutely HAS to have the two Linda Ziedrich books–Joy of Pickling and Joy of Jellies, Jams, and other Sweet Preserves.
    Happy canning! It is so much fun and really easy–just reading the introductions of any of these books will reassure anyone nervous about the process. It has changed my cooking, gardening, and pantry!

  5. Fortunately I learned about canning & jelly-making at my mother’s side. Twenty years ago my friends were amazed that I kept up such an “archaic” practice (along with growing so much of my own food). These days they are asking me for advice & lessons.

    I rely on occasional calls to Mom, but, since her memory is failing, also the old standby Stocking Up, (inherited from my husband’s grandmother) for basic advice. When I want to get creative with jelly & preserves, I pick up Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J Amendt. And for drying, I have a few books by Mary Bell (no relation), the queen of dried foods. I have served many a winter meal where every course contained an ingredient preserved straight out of the garden.

  6. Canning and the old methods of food preservation are becoming more and more popular. Here in central WI, it is hard to find pint mason jars and regular lids are also at a premium.

    The sweet pickle relish and the apple-tomato chutney from the “Ball Book of Preserving” are really good.

    My brother used a steamer/juicer and put up 500 ounces of concentrated grape juice and made 50 pints of grape jelly.

    Grape jelly on toast anyone?

  7. Just ordered the Canning for a New Generation book–we’ve got the too-many-veggies, too-little time problem here, too. And while we use our basil-infused olive oil constantly for cooking, and love our home-made pickles, we’ve been at kind of a loss on how to expand to make stuff we WANT to eat. Can’t wait to check the books out!

  8. I like the book Well Preserved by Mary Anne Dragan. I made a batch of orange pepper jelly which was so good I had to make a second batch.
    I have the Ball book as well as a select portfolio of canning reciped collected over the years.

  9. I’ll second Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation as a resource on food preservation. He’s also a great speaker if you get a chance to check him out. He did a workshop in Atlanta last weekend through Slow Food Atlanta and just puts on an excellent, fact-based, realistic presentation of the art and science of fermentation.

  10. I’ve never tried pickling, but it seems like a great thing to do with ones garden produce as well as being eco-friendly. I think I might give it a try this year! 🙂

Comments are closed.