Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Salt Sugar Smoke by Diana Henry

Salt Sugar Smoke
by Diana Henry

I've dabbled a little in preserving food over the years but until I got my hands on an allotment it was a spasmodic activity.  If you have a kitchen garden or allotment you'll know it's sometimes necessary to either give produce away or deal with a glut.  Diana Henry's latest book Salt Sugar Smoke is just what I need, but you don't have to grow your own food to find this book invaluable. It's perfect too for anyone who has just a small amount of food to preserve. Diana teaches the "know-how" of preserving nature's abundance, however small an amount you may have.  No backyard smokery, professional brining vat or other expensive equipment is required.  A kindly guiding hand takes you gently through enticing recipes that really work.  This is the perfect book for anyone who wants to learn about all aspects of preserving.

Despite childhood memories of her mother's kitchen in Northern Ireland, surrounded by an extended family of home bakers and jam-makers, Diana Henry always felt preserving was for the "experts".  So whilst this book was inspired by childhood, it was informed by her reading choices, travels and a life lived in multi-cultural London.  Three years of constant learning and experimenting has gone into Salt Sugar Smoke.  The narrative style is warm and engaging, with fascinating nuggets of information on the origins of methods and recipes, and how the writer came by them.

Purple fig & pomegranate jam
prepared from Diana Henry's Salt Sugar Smoke
The opening chapter is on Jam and, given the British love of the preserve, is surprising short, though far from boring.  It starts with "the essentials" and "the process" covering how certain fruits behave, how to sterilise and how to get a 'set'.  Not that Diana, unlike many jam makers, gets hung up on 'set' jams.  She's an advocate of 'less is more' when it comes to sugar content.  Soft-set and "nearly" jams are celebrated and encouraged.  Flavour combinations are inventive, such as decadent Purple fig and pomegranate and Melon, lime and ginger, and aim to inspire.

Jellies, Curds & Fruit Cheeses include a smokey Quince and star anise jelly and a tart Passion fruit curd.  Next come chapters on  Sauces, Pastes, Mustards and Vinegars; Under Oil; and Smoking using a kitchen wok or stove-top smoker.  Recipes include Hot-smoked mackerel with Spanish flavours and Smoked maple and bourbon chicken.  An introduction to the "sinful pleasures" of Cordials, Alcohols, Fruits and Spoon Sweets is irresistible.  Diana wrties, "There is nothing here that is remotely necessary", though Plum and almond hooch and the Middle Eastern cordial Quince sharbat sound pretty necessary to me.  Salted, Cured and Potted is a good introduction to the different methods with recipes ranging from Streaky bacon to Sweet tea-brined chicken.  Chutneys, Relishes and Pickles is the longest chapter reflecting the British taste for sweet-sour.  I love the quote included from the American-Iranian poet Arash Saedinia who wrote of jars of vegetables "gossiping in vinegar".  Amongst many good recipes is Moldavian pepper relish and a must-try Indian pickle Pumpkin Achar.

There is brief essential information on the science of preserving, guidance on keeping times, including a reminder to use common sense "if it smells or looks off, it probably is ...".   There's also a useful suppliers list at the end of the book.

I tried a couple of recipes before writing this review and can't praise the Purple fig and pomegranate jam enough.  It's fragrance redolent of the Middle East, it tastes just as you imagine it will.  A couple of jars glow like rubies on my kitchen worktop as I write.  They won't sit there for long.  I also made the Carrot and coriander relish which will go well with cold meats, I think.  Both recipes worked like a dream, leaving me feeling much more confident, and with a huge sense of satisfaction.

The only danger with this latest of Diana Henry's books is that I'll be delving into the delicious prose when I should be preserving and, as Diana says,  "capturing and holding onto the season".

Book courtesy of Octopus Publishing Group