Fall Recipes for Preserving and Pickling

Make succulent pickled grapes, peppers and pumpkin. Infuse vodka with tantalizing heat. It’s all possible with these fall recipes for preserving and pickling.

| October 24, 2012

  • Salt Sugar Smoke
    "Salt Sugar Smoke" by Diana Henry is a collection of jams and jellies, chutneys and pickles, mustards, vinegars and more … in short, a wide and tasty array of preserves. 
    Cover Courtesy Octopus Books
  • Two-Pickled-Grapes
     Award-winning food writer Diana Henry provides two takes on pickled grapes, plus many more rich, sophisticated preserving recipes in "Salt Sugar Smoke."
    Photo Courtesy Octopus Books

  • Salt Sugar Smoke
  • Two-Pickled-Grapes

Preserving can seem like a daunting task, but Salt Sugar Smoke (Octopus Books, 2012) by food writer Diana Henry includes simple guides to canning, preserving, curing and smoking. The following excerpt is a primer on Henry’s food philosophy, plus some stellar fall recipes for peppers, pumpkin, grapes and vodka. 

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Salt Sugar Smoke. 

Lifelong loves take hold early on. My mum did lots of baking when we were growing up, and I have a clear memory of sitting on the countertop in our small galley kitchen as she sliced warm wheat bread and spread a piece with raspberry jam for me. The jam was made by Aunt Sissy, who wasn’t an aunt at all, but an elderly family friend and a tremendous preserver. That jam was better than any fruit I ever tasted fresh. Aunt Sissy’s jams were soft-set and ran off the bread. They were so loved, we only ate them on homemade bread or in a Victoria sandwich. At home, we seemed to be surrounded by great jam and chutney makers, many of them redoubtable members of the WI, and we loved getting jars from them.

So I always appreciated preserved foods, and I have been preserving this or that since I was in my mid-teens. Salt Sugar Smoke is the result of a rigorous exploration and a long journey. For three years, I preserved food every day, often all day long and well into the evening. My laundry room filled up with jars. The refrigerator became home to big slabs of bacon and chunks of beef in brine. I also discovered that I could go my own way. It may be traditional here to use equal quantities of sugar and fruit to make firm-set, sweet jams, but they make soft-set jams in France and much lower sugar jams in Scandinavia, so I made the kind of jams I preferred: soft-set and fairly low in sugar.

I am a home cook. I don’t have masses of special equipment and I don’t do things on a grand scale. Quite a lot of the literature that existed on preserving was off-putting. I didn’t want to turn my garden shed into a smokery. I could never manage — and would never need — to cure a whole pig. Preserving looked as if it was either for elderly ladies in floral pinnies or country-based downsizers with a vehicle big enough to transport several dead animals. I didn’t come into either category. I have done everything in this book in quite a gentle way and didn’t spend much on new equipment. I bought an additional preserving pan, some more wooden spoons, a wide funnel for pouring jams through, a lot of measuring jugs, a big plastic box to use for brining, and a little stove-top smoker.

Then I started my journey. I had, as the saying goes, a ball. I discovered that preserving made you feel as if you were more than just a cook. There were days when it reminded me of being on my grandparents’ farm. It felt as if I was presiding over something natural that had its own momentum, but which I had a hand in. And the food was bloody delicious. People have always preserved because they needed to, it was about survival. But the reason we still bother to do it is because the end products taste so good.

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