A few years ago, I spent a day with my colleagues brainstorming new book ideas. We were hunkered down in the Soho apartment of the parents of our editorial director (they were generous, it was big) and, armed with pens and pads of paper, we went around the table and talked about the kinds of books we wanted to publish. I had made a list of four book ideas that I really wanted to pursue, but today, sitting here, I can only remember one.
Because after that brainstorming session, I went back to the office to check my email one last time before leaving for vacation the next day and there, sitting in my inbox, sent at about the exact moment that I was telling my boss and my colleagues that I desperately wanted to publish a modern, updated book on canning and jam-making, pickling and preserving, was an email from one of the company's authors, laying out her vision for that exact book.
Kismet! Fate! It was hard not to run to the CEO of the company right then and there, begging him for approval and, oh, some money, too.
A few weeks later, we had a deal. Liana would write a comprehensive book on canning and preserving, chockful of recipes that were new and interesting. She would leave behind the fuddy-duddy and slightly snoozy tone of all the older canning books. She would mine the preserving techniques of other cultures and she would include recipes for what to do with those fermented long beans you spent precious time finding in Chinatown and then putting up, all the while making sure that readers' hands would be held as they went from making their first batch of strawberry jam to their very own Indian lime pickle.
In Liana's own words, "The recipes are for people a little bit like me...who upon hearing 'pickle' remember Mom's sweet watermelon-rind pickles ice-cold out of the fridge, but also think of the dollop of goodness that goes on top of a bowl of curried lentils, or the dainty dish of tsukemono pickles that might come with the sashimi at a good sushi bar. Those people for whom 'ferment' means not just full-sour dills bobbing about in a crock of cloudy brine on the Lower East Side but also spicy red kimchi. And those of us who, while thoroughly enjoying a sweet, thick slather of classic peach preserves on toast every now and then (or, okay, often) might prefer a tart-sweet black plum jam spiked with fragrant cardamom, or a small spoonful of fig preserves with port and rosemary alongside a wedge of veiny blue cheese and a thick slice of dark bread."
That was exactly the book I wanted to publish.
As Liana worked on her book, she'd periodically send me photos of her pantry shelves that were filling at an alarming rate. Jar after jar of jams and pickles lined the room. It was like a settler's dream. Sometimes, if I was lucky, Liana would even send me a few things to try: a delicately-set grapefruit jam, tea jelly or, my very favorite, that plum jam flavored with cardamom.
In the end, Liana's manuscript turned out to be even better than I could have imagined on that hot day in August when her email first hit my inbox. It was big. It was comprehensive. It was interesting. And it was funny.
Take, for example, Liana's headnote on making her own sauerkraut:
"Although it may seem as if you're having - as my husband said when he walked in on me with my arms elbow-deep in a mass of pale-green shreds - 'a difficult immigrant experience', squeezing cabbage and salt together to make sauerkraut is fun."
But best of all, the manuscript was smart. Liana teaches you how to make kimchi and then gives you a recipe for pork and kimchi dumplings. She tells you how to make Chinese plum sauce and then gives you a recipe for Mu Shu pork using the plum sauce. She tells you how to make a Sidecar using the Brandied Cherries from the previous page. Liana comes up with all these great new staples that you just have to have in your pantry and then gets your mouth watering with dinner recipes that actually use them.
We got Rinne Allen, a talented photographer, to do the photography for the book and her lush, thoughtful images paired beautifully with Liana's recipes and pithy prose. The two would meet, week after week, at Liana's house in Georgia and Rinne would shoot what Liana was working on that day.
The book is divided into seasons, so there are four main chapters and then, within those chapters, Liana splits the recipes between fruits and vegetables. For those of you intimidated by preserving and canning (hot water baths! botulism! equipment!), Liana demystifies everything in soothing, sensible terms. She makes you feel capable and safe. And, really, her recipes will have you chafing at the bit to get started, whether you're a novice or not.
Liana's philosophy, when it comes to jams, is that the less commercial pectin you use, the more delicious your jams will be. And so, with a few exceptions, her recipes for jams, jellies, preserves and conserves are made without commercial pectin and the amount of sugar she uses lets the bright, beautiful flavor of the fruit shine through. Always.
Shall we look at a quick sampling of some of Liana's recipes? Let's. I'm hungry.
Tomato and Cashew Chutney, Simple Pickled Jalapeño Slices (that you use, then, to make a Sliced, Braised Beef Sandwich, yowrrr), Candied-Pickled Apples with Star Anise, Minted Cranberry Relish with Walnuts, North Indian Carrot Pickle, Honeyed Fig Jam with Sesame Seeds, Achar Segar (what, you didn't know how to say "Indonesian Pickles" in Indonesian?), Pineapple Jam with Chinese Five-Spice, Quince Slices in Cinnamon Syrup (that you later use in a Persian lamb stew), Nuka, also known as Japanese Fermented Bran Pickles, and Hibiscus Jelly.
(Who else is hungry now?)
(But don't worry, the classics are here as well: Strawberry Jam, Apple Butter, Raspberry Preserves, Cherry Jam, among many others.)
Canning for a New Generation, much to my utter delight, turned out to be even better than I could have ever hoped for on that hot day in August when it was just a twinkle in both of our eyes. Liana put an enormous amount of work into the book and her passion fairly jumps off the page. It's a delight to read and is an inspiration in the kitchen. It's beautiful to look at and it's an incredible resource. Take a look at that cart up there: It holds all the jams I've made in the last three months, most of them done with Liana's book open on the counter. Raspberry Mint Jam, Plum Cardamom Jam and Holiday Cherries are just a few of my favorites. And one day, I like to dream that I will have an actual pantry like Liana's to line with identical jars filled with all the season's bounty. It will be grand.
Are you scared of jam-making and preserving? Liana will hold your hand. Are you bored with the plain pickles and jams you already know how to make in your sleep? Liana will lead you down the path of international pickling and preserving. Of all the many cookbooks on my bookshelf (and there are many, so many), this is the one that most consistently gets "borrowed" and not returned. Quite literally. I've had to ask my very kind former employers for a replacement copy of the book more times than I care to admit.
So, maybe, when you buy a copy, if you buy a copy, think about getting two. Then chain one to your kitchen counter so that no one can ever take it from you, or deface it with a big black marker ("Property of Geraldine! Keep Out!") so that no one will want it, and give the other one away. You'll thank me for this tip later.