Unlike fictional novels, cookbooks tend to be released in two distinct seasons: spring and fall. There are the odd ones that get launched into the world in February, July and December, but it isn’t too common. This should explain why you see more cookbook coverage here in April, May, September, and October, then any other time of year. Fortunately for me, as a blogger, author and food editor I receive a lot of the new releases for review, and my desk is currently home a stack of this spring’s hottest titles that are waiting to find a permanent place on my beloved cookbook bookshelf. I have diverse cooking interests so this thrills me, and I’m equally excited to see a new baby food cookbook or family dinner recipe collection as I am a book on frozen treats or home preserving.
Without a doubt, one of the most stylish books to land in my kitchen this season is Batch: Over 200 Recipes, Tips and Techniques for a Well Preserved Kitchen. Written by Torontonians Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison this much-anticipated tome – it really does have an approachable scholarly feel to it – is a feast for both the eyes and stomach and takes readers on a walk through seven different methods for preserving food at home (waterbath canning, pressure canning, dehydrating, fermenting, cellaring, salting & smoking, and infusing). Written with a friendly and encouraging tone, the book continues to take readers through 25 favourite “market” ingredients, each of which lists multiple recipes that use a combination of the preserving methods mentioned at the beginning of the book. Each recipe notes the skill level required to complete it, allowing enthusiasts to dip their toes into the preserving pond at a pace that’s comfortable to them.
They layout of the book is thoughtful and well organized and if you’re a confident cook, I think you won’t be disappointed; if you aren’t, this will help you to get started. I did stumble upon a recipe or two that seemed to be missing an ingredient mentioned in the method, but don’t let this discourage you from buying and trying the book. I almost always find at least one mistake in every cookbook I read – my own included! – and my suggestion is to reach out to the author if you come across an oddity and ask them to clarify any confusion before proceeding with the recipe.
Speaking of recipes, the first one I tried was for a very simple chilli salt. Rob never eats a meal without a bottle of hot sauce at his side, so this seemed like as good a place as any to begin. The two-ingredient condiment couldn’t be easier to make, and although I took Joel's suggestion to puree the peppers in a food processor, you could just as easily mince them by hand if you’re looking to give your knife skills a workout. I say this only because I think it’s fair for you to know just how simple some of the recipes are if you’re new to preserving and want to give this type of cooking a go. It really is possible to make some of this food without expensive or specialty equipment. This spicy salt would make an excellent gift for a friend/neighbour/fellow cook, and the yield is generous enough to allow you to keep some for yourself while also sharing a few jars with others.
To celebrate the release of Batch, I asked Joel to participate in my “21 questions for...” series. His answers were thoughtful and fun (his desert island meal might surprise you!), and it was nice to get to know a little more about him. Although we haven’t met in person, he also happens to be a very good friend of my best friend’s older brother, and I’m thrilled that I was given the opportunity to review his book (also... there's a giveaway for your own copy at the bottom of the post!).
21 Questions With…Joel MacCharles
1. Our life in three bullet points:
- Family and friends are number 2.
- Food is Number 3.
- Family and friends combined with food is number 1.
2. Our favourite vegetable to preserve is:
All of them. Whatever is seasonal. It’s like picking a favorite child - I can’t!
3. The kitchen I grew up eating in was... :
Atypical. We ate deer, moose, rabbit and seafood from family in Nova Scotia. A rite of passage was being able to eat a lobster in it’s shell with no tools by the time you were 5. If you couldn’t do that you ate cold lobster.
I was an only child who ate everything put in front of him (and more).
4. Morning person or night owl?
I used to be a night owl but my day job forces me out of bed between 5-6AM. Truth is that I don’t sleep a lot (5-6 hours a night and sometimes less).
5. When I was a child I wanted to be:
Everything. But the most common theme was a traveller. When I was 21 I took a year off and spent a year travelling Canada on a greyhound Bus. It was an amazing time in my life.
6. If I was stuck on a desert island, the food I’d make sure to have with me is:
Poutine. I know that’s awful to admit to but it’s true. With cold ketchup.
7. My favourite kitchen tool is:
I always used to say my rasp. I really love an apple corer or a cabbage shredder (a MASSIVE mandoline used to make sauerkraut).
8. The last great book I read was:
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I’ll admit I don’t read as often as I aspire to but that book just took me to magical (and often dark) places. It was wonderful.
9. My ideal breakfast is:
I don’t eat a lot of breakfast which I also know is horrible! I do love a good bagel. An occasional weekend treat is to pan fry local bagels (made by the amazing Henry of Humble Bread) in butter and cover it with Monte Forte’s (Ruth’s) boursin-inspired cheese. We’re lucky to know the producers of a lot of our food and I adore when we eat their passions!
10. My ideal dinner is:
Pasta with our preserved tomato sauce surrounded by family and friends at our cabin.
11. I stay healthy by:
I walk the dog and try to stay active; not nearly as much as I would like to or as much as I should.
12. The app I use the most is:
Facebook, Twitter (for the blog). For fun? Boom Beach.
13. Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Does a chair at the buffet count as sit-down? Both have a time and place. Our cabin has a 5-foot long breakfast grill and seats 14 people and is located in the middle of nowhere and it’s buffet all the way! We really enjoy family-style dining in restaurants where you pass plates between friends in a casual setting.
14. A cookbook that changed me is:
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and The Flavor Bible by Karen A. Page and Andrew Dornenburg. I know you asked for 1 but I’ve included both of these for the same reason - neither has a recipe. They are amazing tomes of wisdom that helped me become a better cook without a recipe; something I aspire to when writing recipes of my own.
15. Tea or Coffee?
I had a bad phase in my life when I used to drink coffee with a tea bag in it. Now I drink both - or neither. I love coffee and drink a lot of it during the week but will have 2 or less on the weekend.
16. Best restaurant meal you’ve had in past 12 months is:
Ooof. Tough one. Cocina Economica (a TINY Mexican place off-the-beaten track in Toronto) had a menu so good that our small group ordered many dishes twice - then went back a week later and ordered them twice again. Their Chile Rellano, Molecajete (picture a hot stone bowl full of meat, cheese and beans placed on corn tortillas) are unbelievable. And their pitchers of cocktails will add magic to the night. I love how tiny and packed the place it - you are literally jammed into your table but it somehow works.
17. Soup or salad?
Depends on time of year. Salad all summer, soup all winter. :)
18. A person I want to have coffee with is:
Nigel Slater. I find him beyond charming and love his passion for food. But it might be a beer.
19. Twitter or Instagram?
TWITTER! But, in fairness, I should say that Dana wouldsay INSTAGRAM! I love browsing Instagram but interaction is generally 1-2-1; I’ve found Twitter is easier to engage with several people at once and is easier to build community/find others on. I do love to use Instagram's recommended accounts that pop up after following someone though.
20. What do you love on your pizza?
Too many toppings. I’m one of them. Something Spicy always.
21. If I was new to preserving, which recipe would you recommend I start with:
Something you LOVE to eat. I know that’s a painful answer but it’s true - too many people start preserving and make something they think they ‘should’ vs. something they love.
We all preserve in one way or another (most of us use a fridge or a freezer); we just don’t think of it that way. When you learn about the different styles of preserves you’ll learn easy techniques in each method. I am always amazed by the ‘easy’ ones like dehydrated mushrooms (place mushrooms on a cooling rack like you’d use for bread, ensure they don’t touch each other and leave in a warm, dry place for a few days; store in a jar with a lid when dry) or chili salt (cover ¼ cup of chopped chiles with ¾ cup of salt, cover and shake).
If you’re not sure what you like, take a look at your fridge and try to figure out the food you like but often waste (i.e. you never use all your herbs or hot peppers) and you’ll find an easy way to preserve them online or in Batch! :)
Book Giveaway Details:
Thanks to Appetite by Random House, I have one copy of Batch to give away to one lucky reader in Canada.
To enter, leave a comment letting me know which preserving technique you'd like to learn more about and why.
If one chance to win this book isn't enough, a few of my friends are also reviewing Batch this week. Don't hesitate to pop over to their blogs to see what they made this week and leave a comment for another chance to add this book to your own cookbook collection.
- Prize consists of one copy of Batch (value $35CAD).
- Open to readers with a Canadian mailing address.
- No purchase of any product necessary for entry.
- Winner will be chosen at random on Wednesday May 18th and notified via email.
- Winner will be required to answer a skill testing question.