Thursday, July 5, 2012
I think every blogger, to some extent or another, has a "blogger crush" on some other blogger. There's something about that person's work that you just like and that you aspire to achieve in your own work. Maybe it's a certain "voice" in the writing or a sense of humor. Maybe you admire the dedication to compose, shoot, and carefully prepare every single photo so that each post comes out just so. Or maybe you just think, "Gee, if I knew this person in real life, I think we'd be instant friends."
If I were to pick one blogger I admire in this way, it's Marisa McClellan from FoodInJars.com. Aside from Ball and the NCHFP, Marisa is probably the best and most well-known authority on all things canning. And get this...she doesn't live on a farm or a homestead or any of the typical places you'd expect to find someone "putting-up" food. She cans small batches of jams, pickles, chutneys, and just about anything else right in her very small apartment kitchen in Philadelphia. I also envy Marisa because she's managed to do what I only dream to do...to make a living writing about a topic that she loves and is passionate about.
Enough of the gushing. Let's talk about the book! When it arrived, the book was a very pleasant surprise. A lot of food bloggers have been getting publishing deals lately and I have to admit that some of them fail to impress. Very often, they're filled with a handful of frilly, impractical recipes and they don't get enough into the meat and potatoes of the topic to be helpful for beginners. Filled with delicious-sounding recipes and beautiful photos? Yes. Fun to look through? Absolutely. Constructed to sit open on the countertop amid sticky, wet, and slimy ingredients only to become stained and dog-eared over time from repeated use? Usually, not the case.
Marisa's book is the complete opposite. Here are a few reasons why:
Beginner Basics - Always a champion for educating the beginning canner and explaining it as simply as possible, Marisa boils-down the basics of what you need and how to do it into just a few pages, but leaves nothing important out. I don't think I've ever seen it done in a more concise manner (and I've read quite a few canning books).
Construction - This book is designed as a cookbook, not as a coffee table picture book. It's just the right dimensions to sit on your kitchen bookshelf and there's no detachable dust jacket. The pages are sturdy, non-glossy, and once the spine is broken-in a bit, the book will eventualy lie flat (important when your hands are sticky with fruit juice).
Recipes - This is not a book full of fancy recipes with lots of specialty ingredients. This is a book with simple, low-yield recipes that just about any home cook can tackle. Sure, there are some special treats in there, but they don't outnumber the basics that you'd expect to see like a simple peach or vanilla strawberry jam. There's even a whole chapter devoted to granola! Most importantly, this is all about small-batch preserving, so most of the recipes don't make more than 3-4 jars at a time and are designed to work with supermarket quantities of produce as opposed to bushels from the farm.
Design & Photos - While this is a serious use-it-in-the-kitchen kind of cookbook in terms of content, the photos are gorgeous and rival that of most coffee table cookbooks and food magazines. As you're flipping through, your mouth waters and you want to jump up and make every recipe RIGHT NOW (or you wish the pages had free sample packets attached).
Voice - Marisa's voice comes through loud and clear and you'd swear you were reading her blog. Every recipe has a generous head note that explains where the recipe came from and how she developed it. Sometimes, they're filled with old family stories while others are more practical.
All and all, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you could actually replace The Ball Blue Book (the established Bible for beginners of home canning) with Food In Jars if you really wanted to. At the same time, this book easily serves as inspiration for those of us who have been at it awhile to get back into the kitchen and try something new. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.
Food In Jars - Preserving in Small Batches Year Round
by Marisa McClellan
Published by Running Press (2011)
Disclaimer: I purchased a copy of this book myself. All thoughts, opinions, and shameless plugs contained in this post are my own and were not solicited by or paid for by the author or publisher.