If you’re in a jam, there’s a new book that can help.
Best of all, it works if you’re in a pickle, too.
“Tart and Sweet: 101 Canning and Pickling Recipes for the Modern Kitchen” (Rodale Press; $24.99, 2011) is written by Naples High School grad Kelly Geary and her friend, Jessie Knadler. Geary, 33, now lives in Brooklyn and owns a business called Sweet Deliverance, a private chef company. She graduated from Manhattan’s Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts.
Her book, which was released in March, bulges with recipes for an array of preserved foods. There are vegetables, marmalades, chutneys, syrups, sauces, relishes and even cocktail considerations. She created all 101 recipes in the book, and her friend Knadler did the writing.
It’s a combo that proved successful: The book has earned acclaim from none other than Alice Waters, owner of the famed California eatery Chez Panisse and one of the most prominent figures in American cuisine.
Waters professed to love the book’s “collection of simple yet remarkably diverse recipes.”
That collection began not with the intention of being a praiseworthy book, but as a way to be practical, explains Geary.
As part of Sweet Deliverance, Geary is a shareholder in her local Community Support Agriculture program. It’s a way to support local farmers, the local economy and eat organically, she says — but it also often results in more food than could be easily consumed by Geary or her clients.
“We started canning the leftover produce,” she says. Then, at the end of the season, Geary gave the canned goodies as gifts to her clients. The results earned raves. Also, Geary wasn’t content to leave conventional canning recipes alone: She began to fiddle with them, trying to lower the level of sugar. She also began to try to can and pickle new and unexpected things, such as wild leeks and kumquats, “the fun stuff that you find,” she says.
The idea for the book evolved from that, in part because Geary says she didn’t find anything that offered the same sorts of recipes.
The book also dispelled one common canning myth: That it’s difficult work.
“I don’t think so,” Geary says. “I know it definitely makes people nervous. But there’s just a few safety guidelines that you need to follow.”
One of those guidelines relates to the pH level of the canned goods. Successful canners must be sure that level is 4.6 or lower, because the contents must be acidic enough so bacteria doesn’t grow. Usually, a few tablespoons of lemon juice will do the trick, Geary says.
Proper sterilization is another issue, as is leaving enough space at the top of the jar to create a vacuum. With jams, it’s important to leave ¼ inch at the top; with pickles, it’s ½ inch.
But the most common problem with canning is spoiling, Geary says. That can happen when a jar doesn’t seal properly. One of the best ways to be sure you’ll get a proper seal is simply to make sure the rim of the jar is clear of any tiny debris.
And don’t feel bad if a canned good does spoil, she adds. It happens to everyone, including Geary from time to time.
If you suspect a canned item has spoiled, let your eyes and nose serve as your guide.
“If it looks stinky and it smells stinky, it probably tastes stinky and you should throw it out,” she says.
It’s not necessary to invest big bucks in canning, either. Many of the items a beginning canner needs are available at the local grocery store, such as jars with lids, tongs and a wide-mouth funnel. Large pots are essential, too.
For newbie canners, Geary suggests starting with a blueberry or blackberry jam; these types of fruits already have pectin in the seeds and skin.
Apple and peach butter are easy choices, too, because canners don’t need to add too much to the recipe except sugar, spice and lemon juice.
“Tart and Sweet” helps readers by giving them a guide to each recipe’s difficulty level. There’s also a section about “canning conundrums.”
Geary also suggests trying on one of the syrup recipes in her book, such as the raspberry rosewater or blueberry lemongrass syrup. Those are good on ice cream, in sodas or as part of a cocktail.
But there’s no doubting her favorite canning creation: It’s the candied kumquats with cinnamon and star anise.
“That’s super delicious,” she says.