Book Review: A Knead To Read
Sit down with a book when it's too hot to cook
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., May 27, 2011
The Blue Chair Jam Cookbookby Rachel Saunders
Andrews McMeel, 372 pp., $35
The gradual rediscovery of farm-fresh foods, eating in season, and heirloom fruits and vegetables is a trend that has inevitably led to the revitalization of other obscure foodways, such as charcuterie and preserving. California, with its vast orchards and unparalleled farming acreage, has been on the forefront of the farmers' market and locavore movements, and unsurprisingly also boasts premier organic, seasonal fruit preserves business the Blue Chair Fruit Co.
Launched in 2008 in the Bay Area, Blue Chair earned nearly instant fame for its intensely flavored preserves. However, founder Rachel Saunders had put years of research into jam- and jelly-making before starting the business. It is this long history of research and experience that makes this book so valuable. It's a veritable encyclopedia of jam, jelly, marmalade, and preserves, and it is as thorough and exacting as Saunders herself.
Most 20th century cookbooks give only the barest outlines of preserving techniques and recipes, resulting far too often in failed jellies, tough jams, and overly sweet, discolored syrups as the disappointing end products. Saunders heroically breaks through the vague, poorly written preserving instructions of the past and writes them anew, with the helpful assumption that the reader is a novice. Included are photos illustrating exactly what is meant by "ability to sheet," "the freezer test," "late-stage foaming," and other baffling terms often found in preserving recipes.
Saunders delves deeply into questions of equipment, spelling out exactly why certain pans and scales are needed for success. She also elucidates various techniques and terms, including the technical differences between jams, jellies, conserves, and marmalades. Then, making the book really invaluable, she includes 120 of her award-winning recipes, which span the entire spectrum from the simplest strawberry jam to complex favor combinations such as Italian prune and cardamom conserves.
Throughout the book are inspiring photos of Saunders creating batch after batch of perfect, jewel-toned preserves. This book is a must-have for anyone who has ever made a failed batch of jelly; with this book in hand, that will never happen again.