As part of my quest to become the ultimate domestic goddess, I was excited to pick up a copy of "The Joy of Pickling." Let's face it, in this economy, do-it-yourself preserving is hot right now, and the combination of high unemployment, a foodie culture, and eco-consciousness means that more of us are growing our own food than in decades past. With all of this, it seems like everyone and their personal trainer has taken up making jams and jellies. But pickling? Hmmm....
Let me tell you something. If you want to spark nostalgia, interest, and cravings among your friends and families, tell them you have taken up pickling. Seriously, in the days when I first announced my foray into the world of acid-preservation, I had swarms of comments. Older relatives fondly reminisced about grandma's sweet pickles; foodie cousins compared recipes (and sparked some competition); pregnant friends immediately began demanding half-sours and dills, NOW.
What I love about this book is that to each of these comments, I had a response. Bread-and-butters like Grandma, coming right up! Pickled watermelon rind? Um, sure, OK! Pregnancy cravings? You handle the ice cream, I've got the rest. From the familiar to the fancy, this book has a recipe for every taste and every occasion. So far, I have made the aforementioned bread-and-butters (yummmm) and dill spears, pickled peaches (surprisingly tart), and freezer cilantro pickles (easy, fresh, and delicious). From there, I made the leap into modifying my own recipes. A suggestion for pickled whole blueberries in red wine vinegar became the impetus for a balsamic-strawberry pickle that is simply divine. A basic pickled shallot morphed into an onion relish, perfect for barbecues and picnics.
So on the strength and variety of the recipes, I give this book full credit. However, this is not just any cookbook. We're talking about food preservation here, and that leads to a whole other realm of food safety issues. And on that basis, I am frankly a little more reserved about this book. Here's the problem: The author, Linda Ziedrich, is clearly an expert who knows exactly what she's doing and doesn't really need to think about it anymore. The rest of us noobs, however, need quite a bit of guidance when it comes to things like canning, brining, freezing, and otherwise ensuring that the food we are setting aside for weeks or months doesn't come back and kill us. Unfortunately, Ziedrich's instructions are often vague, too casual, or poorly organized. While I'm sure all the proper procedures and precautions are in this book, somewhere, the fact remains that unless the aspiring pickler sits down and reads the entire book, cover to cover, and then re-reads the entire first chapter every time she sets out to make a new recipe, I worry that a nasty case of botulism is just lurking around the corner.
My other nitpick has to do with the audience of this book, particularly when it comes to the serving size of each recipe. OK, there's actually 2 issues here. First, many - perhaps most - of these recipes assume that you will be pickling items pulled from your own garden. But not just that, they assume you are pickling items from your huge, vast, incredibly varied garden. I'm talking recipes for 12 pounds of cucumbers, or quarts and quarts of tomatoes, along with dozens of herbs. Now for some of the more popular recipes, Ziedrich does include brief proportions if you don't happen to have a bushel of zucchini on hand and just want to make a couple of pints. Still, it's much easier to size a recipe up than scale it down - I would have preferred that she write her recipes with a much less ambitious yield in mind. Second is the bizarre fact that while some recipes make gallons, they are placed right next to recipes that make only pints or even cups. This isn't really bad, it's just weird. It makes it hard to compare recipes, for one thing, and just goes back to the whole poorly organized thing.
Still, organization and some level of vagueness aside, I have to say that I really enjoy and appreciate this book. It has sparked a whole new level of culinary creativity, and has prompted me to think about veggies in a new way. For those cooks with time, patience, and ambition, "The Joy of Pickling" will give you hours of satisfaction in the kitchen, and months more satisfaction on your table.