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You know how some people are obsessed with stamp collections or fantasy football teams? Well, we're obsessed with cookbooks. Here, in Books We Love, we'll talk about our favorites.
Today: Mrs. Wheelbarrow has long been the friend we look to for advice on canning and jamming. Now, thankfully, she's turned a lifetime of preserving and a pantryful of recipes into a big, beautiful book.
Canning and preserving straddles the line between hobby and science, meaning that the cookbooks that address it can risk reading like textbooks or devolving into jee-whiz paeans to the DIY life. Thanks to Cathy Barrow -- a.k.a. Mrs. Wheelbarrow, a longtime Food52er -- we have the guide we've been looking for.
Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry is a thorough, readable resource for anyone interested in making more pantry staples at home -- from jams to pickles to all those canned tomatoes you call on for Marcella sauce when winters turn merciless.
We say it of the best cookbook authors: Mrs. Wheelbarrow is the sort of guide you want -- and need -- in the kitchen. She knows the world of canning front and back; she is stern but encouraging; she reminds us not to bite off more than we can chew; she is forthcoming with stories of her own mistakes, and reminds us never to apologize -- but rather "rebrand" -- when things don't go as planned.
Can you learn something from her practical pantry if you don't plan on buying a boiling water canner, or can't bring yourself to go the whole nine yards? Yes: Mrs. Wheelbarrow reminds us that frozen fruit makes for a lovely jam, and offers smart new uses for any jam or chutney that might be loitering on your back shelves.
For those who want to go all in, though, Mrs. Wheelbarrow's guide to boiling water canning will give you all the confidence and the details you need: temperatures, times, visual cues, and a reminder to keep a small ramekin next to your stove to test a few teaspoons of jam ("the cook's treat"). As you would with Tartine Bread or another book that so fully takes on a singular technique, you will want to sit down with it, to pore over details and think through techniques. Thanks to Cathy's smart, familiar writing, it will all be a joy. Here's what she has to say about her practical pantry, and how to use it:
What is a "practical pantry?”
My Food52 friend WinnieAb called me back in January, 2012. I knew she had taken up canning the summer before, because we often chatted about it and her blog posts were full of jamming adventures. That day she confessed, “I’ve got fifty-eight jars of jam, and we don’t even eat toast.” Over the phone, I shared a few ideas (bake rugelach, mix it into barbecue sauce, stir up a pan sauce, fill granola bars, put a spoonful in a cocktail) but that chat, that germ of an idea, got me thinking. I realized how frequently a jar from my refrigerator turned a basic recipe -- dinner, drinks, dessert -- into something special. And that is how I came to write Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry. I started the proposal that day. It’s this idea of practicality that drives all of my preserving habit. Each item I can or cure or ferment is just a building block to more cooking adventures.
How did you first get into preserving? How has it changed the way that you cook?
I remember preserving with my great-grandmother when I was five years old. It was just part of life at that time, at least in Ohio. And then my mother took up canning after a 1983 Gourmet article (I still have the magazine!). So, the idea of canning was familiar to me when I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and my takeaway was the direct connection between eating locally and preserving food. I took up basic canning again, then, through reading, classes, YouTube, and experimentation, and taught myself other types of preserving like pressure canning and charcuterie.
Preserving food became a way to actively live more sustainably, contribute economically to my community, know my farmers, and get closer and more connected to the food I was cooking. (And besides all that, the food is delicious and preserving is easy and fun.)
You're a longtime Food52er (and we love you for that) -- what's your favorite recipe on the site?
Oh, cut it out. How can I pick my favorite? Liz Larkin’s Butternut Sage Scones? or her Lemon Possets? Jennifer Hess’ Boracchos or scallops with tarragon sauce or, let’s be serious, anything she cooks. Anything. How about Emily Nunn’s Lemony Cream Cheese Pancakes or Maple Matilda Pork? MonkeyMom’s Bánh Mi? ArielleClementine's olives? HelentheNanny’s Devils on Hatchback? Anything Aargersi, DrBabs or LiztheChef? Absolutely every recipe Merrill posts? Ditto for Amanda but especially that plum tart?
I can go on and on, but I would be most remiss if I didn’t mention Jenny, who has unearthed so many great recipes from everyone on the site that she may be my favorite Food52 resource (and she makes a great Negroni, to boot).
What's your number one tip for holiday entertaining?
Use your pantry. All those jars of goodies you’ve been hoarding since that trip to Spain in 2012? Open them, for heaven’s sake. Make and freeze a breakfast casserole, sticky buns, or croissants, and your holiday breakfast with a houseful of guests just got easier. Use your slow cooker. And don’t be a hero. Delegate.
The most serious question ever: What's in your perfect PB&J?
Creamy Jif peanut butter. (Stop judging.) Homemade grape jelly.
What's your earliest food memory?
I was four when my grandfather took me to the Old Oyster House in Boston. We spent the afternoon at the soapstone bar where I ate oysters and had a little beer. Mostly I remember my mother shrieking, “Daddy, you got her drunk!"
What's your go-to edible gift?
A 4-ounce jar of jam and a round of my Camembert. Or a faux-cisson (cured pork tenderloin) and sweet pickles. I’ll wrap these goodies in a pretty tea towel (insert a piece of cardboard to make a flat surface) and tie up the bundle with kitchen twine.