Review: The River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin

As I admitted before, I've always been a little afraid of preserving things. But since my husband planted 50 fruit trees and shrubs last year, I'd better figure it out before we're buried in overripe fruit. (Many of his darlings are still infants, so at least I've got a couple of years to educate myself.)

I was seduced by The River Cottage Preserves Handbook because of its beauty. I tucked it under my arm in the bookstore like a lost kitten, and never quite put it down again until the checkout counter. The still life photography of preserves in simple jars is extraordinarily attractive. The book's design is also gorgeous.

But worried that I'd succumbed to a pretty face at the expense of substance. Would this full price hardcover beauty be a good worker too? Things looked up as the bookseller handed back my credit card. "I love this book. The mint syrup is to die for."

I had nothing to fear. The Making Perfect Jams instructions were concise and supportive, and taught me things that I haven't read in any other book about canning. Did you know that tougher fruit skins will not soften properly if you add the sugar immediately? I, for one, did not.  The science of jamming and jellying is laid out nicely here, and I appreciate the table showing the pectin content of different fruits.  I can't wait to try the fruit leathers.

The recipes are quite adventurous. Apple lemon curd? Roasted Sweet Beet Relish? Yes, please.  I especially appreciate the section on cordials. Elderflower cordial! Come to mama.

The only hesitation I had after a thorough read was that the book was first published in the UK, and then converted. So the amounts of fruits nearly always read: "2.25 pounds plums," for example.  That's a kilo, people. Caught you! But then I realized that this quick conversion is less troubling in a book on preserves than anyplace else. When we pick our own fruit, it surely doesn't come to us in even poundage.

I'm smitten. And my kitchen scale is happy to take up the slack.