Canning, Pickling and Freezing with Irma Harding: Recipes to Preserve Food, Family and the American Way

Cookbooks and cultural conversation starters top our summer reading list

Reviewed by Jessi Cape, Fri., May 23, 2014

Canning, Pickling and Freezing With Irma Harding: Recipes to Preserve Food, Family and the American Way

by Marilyn McCray
Octane Press, 256 pp., $22.95

When Irma Harding, the beloved trademark character of International Harvester's home appliances, was introduced in 1948, ours was a country building itself up post-war, when victory gardens fed families and home refrigeration was the latest in modern home technology. With Canning, Pickling and Freezing With Irma Harding, local food writer and vintage collector Marilyn McCray is reintroducing Irma and updating her recipes for a new batch of home cooks. As Michael Perry puts it in the book's foreword, "A resurrected icon of hardy Americana, [Irma] is intended to appeal across genders and generations."

Easily searchable for ideas, the book is reminiscent of decades-old handwritten recipe cards and clip-outs, now yellowed and frayed or filed away in a dusty box. Only these recipes are shiny and new, with safer food-handling practices. It's all about pickles and relishes, jams and jellies, freezing and refrigerating, drying, smoking, and fermenting. There is a chapter apiece for fruits, vegetables, and tomatoes, plus a slew of time-honored recipes with short ingredient lists. Instead of food photography, the book features old pictures, quotes from "Irma" in an old-fashioned font, and step-by-step instructions with black-and-white graphics. This book is ideal for individuals who know their way around a kitchen, at least in rudimentary fashion, and anyone with an overabundance of produce and a penchant for the past.

McCray includes recipe contributions from several Central Texas favorites, such as Amy Crowell of the Wild Edible Texas website out of Wimberley and Stephanie McClenny of Confituras. A few summery recipes that caught my eye are pickled watermelon rind from Jesse Griffiths and Tamara Mayfield of Dai Due, and the smoke-dried tomato jam from Sonya Coté of Eden East, using Boggy Creek farmer Larry Butler's smoke-dried tomatoes (recipe also included). And because freezers were the name of her game, McCray resurrects Irma Harding herself to contribute recipes like ice cream pie. "Freezing is quick and convenient. It's so easy to package frozen food the right way. It's modern food magic," says Irma. So, although the Fifties homemaker advertising image initially seems laden with outdated associations, the lovely catch is this: Learning to update a daily activity – such as cooking – to be both efficient and enjoyable is the modern way.

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