Pickles to Relish

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Pelican Publishing

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More than just a cookbook, this encyclopedic guide seeks to teach methods of applying the many concepts of cooking to our everyday lives. From pickles and relishes to chutneys and sauces, the process of food preservation is thoroughly demonstrated. Educating each person on how to safely preserve their own foodstuffs at home is the foundation of "Pickles to Relish." Using this model, hundreds of easy-to-follow recipes, techniques, and tips for the home canner are presented. Also featured are in-depth explanations on how home-preservation can offer economic, social, and health benefits. Its ease of use and wide array of information lends itself to a broad audience. From novice to professional chef, this guide is designed for use by anyone. Recipes that teach how to make pickles in plastic baggies for a single serving are alongside recipes with detailed pH instructions for the more difficult applications.


Beverly Alfeld
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Pelican Publishing
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Beverly Alfeld is, to say the least, passionate about food preservation. The big tip off is she has developed her own food preserving alter ego, the Jamlady, whom she channeled for her previous book, The Jamlady Cookbook, and who occasionally peeks out of  the pages of  her latest book, Pickles to Relish. In her new work Ms Alfeld extols not the predominantly sweet side of food preservation but the savory and spicy. Jams and jellies are left behind for the sake of pickles, relishes, chutneys, chow-chows, jardinià¨res, and sauces.

Upon first look, the photography of Jim Smith peppered throughout the book is inspiration enough to go dashing off to grab as many canning jars as possible in hopes of lining your cupboards with all manner of pickled fruits and vegetables. But pay close attention to the written word, there are things you must learn before you can hope to have a year's supply of Sweet Gherkins at your disposal.

If you don't know already, Ms Alfeld is sure to tell you about the big giant boogey man of food preservation & botulism. If her descriptions of the pathogen aren't enough to put the fear of God into you, she also reminds the reader that "Because botulism is so deadly, some of our enemies have prepared to use this bacterium and others like anthrax, in bombs and other weapons." She sure knows how to get a reader's attention. Have no fear, though, she gives meticulous step by step instructions for avoiding the deadly contaminate through proper sanitation, acidification and processing.

Ideal for those who are just beginning to put their foot in the canning room door and for those who have been there for a good long while but don't want to drag out the pressure canner, all of the recipes are suited for the rolling-water bath method of processing. No need to purchase or master the use of a pressure canner, Ms Alfeld not only provides recommendations on what size and types of pots and jars to use for this, she has developed her own notation system for instructing and recording processing times for future reference. The downside to her notation system is that you have to learn it, or just dog ear the page on which she tells you how to turn "JSP/RWB10A" into "jar, seal/close, and process in a rolling-water bath for 10 minutes or 10 minutes plus the increase in time needed for the increased altitude." 

With all the given variations, as well as instructions to customize, there are well over 40 different recipes using both fruits and vegetables in her chapter on relishes. The recipes run the gamut from a fairly standard Sweet Pickle Relish and Vidalia Onion Relish to Hot Moroccan Relish (a mixture of lemons, celery, bell peppers, capers, tomatoes and olive oil) and Speckled Horse Relish (with enough grated horseradish to put a serious amount of hair on your chest). Fruits are covered with Banana Relish, Sweet Crab Apple Relish and Spicy Winter-Pear Relish.

The chapter on pickles provides upwards of 80 recipes for pickling all manner of things both sealed in jars and fermented in crocks. Lest you think of only the cucumber as a pickle, Jamlady does not live by "Bread and Butter" alone: zucchini, yellow squash, beets, peppers of all sorts, Brussels sprouts, okra, tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, garlic, onions, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, mushrooms, peaches, watermelon rinds, cantaloupes, even hard-boiled eggs, fiddleheads, nuts, grape leaves and more are all fair game for a long soak or a hot bath in brine. 

The final chapter, "Chutneys and Sauces", should really be called "A Bunch of Chutney and Five Sauces", around 50 recipes in all. The sauces are three variations of chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce and Hot Orange Seedless Shirley Sauce (made from orange tomatoes, onions and jalapeno peppers). Like the other recipe chapters, there is a wide variety of flavors and ingredients & mangoes, tomatoes, pears, apples and rose hips to name a few main ingredients.

200 recipes in a 208 page book is quite a feat, especially when the recipes don't start until page 53, and there are several charts and two small appendices. This leads to recipes that are very short, even a tad skimpy, on the instruction side and often several recipes crammed onto one page which can cause some visual confusion. One glaring omission from the recipes is that the author never gives a recommended maturation time on any of the pickles, relishes or chutneys. Will those Dilly Beans be at their tasty best in a day, a week, or a month?  How long will it take before the Worcestershire sauce has fully developed in flavor? It leaves the reader hanging. However, despite this omission, I had great success with the recipes I tried. Deviled eggs are so much better with homemade sweet pickle relish. The Kosher Dills make out of this world fried pickles and hot dogs with the Vidalia Onion Relish are treats not to be missed.  I still haven't settled on the best application for Banana Relish, it's a little too novel for my tastes. 

Do not arrive at the conclusion that after reading about the immense number of recipes and in-depth techniques included in the book that this work is only a "how to" manual with recipes that follow. Ms Alfeld intends it to be much more than that. The first quarter of the book not only covers methods, trouble shooting, and the science of preserving food, it also delves into nutrition, health, anthropology, economy, horticulture, education, history and global hunger. Furthermore, it reads more like a master's thesis than the beginning of a cookbook of any sort. 

The author has a tendency to wander off on tangents---informative and enlightening tangents, but tangents nonetheless. While I don't find issue with the majority of Ms Alfeld's views on food preservation, she sets up a clear dichotomy when she simultaneously insists on highly controlled methods using fairly modern specialty equipment while also urging further study, documentation and propagation of food preservation techniques used in non-industrialized cultures, such as the method of fermenting in outdoor in-ground pits. It isn't a conflict that couldn't be resolved. She just appears not to be aware that more than stern warnings of botulism whenever a ph meter can not be found to settle the slightest question negates waxing poetic about primitive cultures sustaining themselves with food produced in an environment far less controlled than an average 21st century home kitchen.

Ultimately, I really want to like this book, and I do. However, in her attempt to have one book be not only an exhaustive collection of recipes but also a magnum opus on the art and tradition of food preservation, the work can come across as slightly schizophrenic and under developed in places. It can leave the reader sometimes wanting more and sometimes wanting less, which is a bit of a pickle to be in.

Recipe: Vidalia Onion Relish


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