Pickles and Preservesby Marion Brown
"The conservation of food by pickling and preserving is an old and honorable art," writes Marion Brown in her introduction to Pickles and Preserves, first published in 1955. While the art of food preservation does indeed have a long history, it is also very much in step with contemporary interest in natural foods and home gardening. As the popularity of/i>
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"The conservation of food by pickling and preserving is an old and honorable art," writes Marion Brown in her introduction to Pickles and Preserves, first published in 1955. While the art of food preservation does indeed have a long history, it is also very much in step with contemporary interest in natural foods and home gardening. As the popularity of farmers' markets, natural food stores, and garden-to-table cookbooks attests, Americans are once again hungry for the taste of authentic home cooking.
With its heirloom recipes and clear instructions, Pickles and Preserves introduces the modern cook to a wonderful piece of America's culinary heritage. The book's 408 recipes not only cover pickles and preserves but also relishes, conserves, jellies, marmalades, chutneys, jams, fruit butters, pickled meats, mincemeats, ketchups, sauces, and candied fruits. Many of the recipes are surprisingly quick and simple. Many are for special delicacies to be savored with a holiday meal or given as gifts. Damon Fowler's new foreword expands and updates Brown's notes on preserving methods, equipment, and safety. The book will be useful to canners of all levels of experience.
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Pickles and Preserves
By Marion Brown
University of North Carolina PressCopyright © 2002 University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.
ForewordPickles and preserves are an enduring symbol of the American table, of American hospitality in general (and of Southern hospitality in particular), and of the generous spirit that has made our hospitality legendary. Such conserves did more than preserve food for later use. They gave ordinary meals fillip and made special occasions sparkle more brightly; tucked into a gift basket, they comforted the bereaved, helped the sick to heal, or made a new neighbor feel welcome. Like so many art forms, preserving in salt, sugar, and vinegar was born out of necessity, but it was transformed by imagination into a means of self-expression and pride for housewives who had few creative outlets.
Consequently, the image of an old-fashioned Mason jar, filled with homemade pickles or preserves and sealed with a shiny new brass lid, has taken on almost mythic proportions. The image glosses over the hard work and tedium of necessity, and evokes a romantic image that most housewives of the past would no doubt find amusing. Since it is no longer necessary for us to preserve food in this way in order to eat, pickling and preserving at home has today become little more than a hobby-if not a vanishing art. For those who are rediscovering this satisfying art, thisforeword provides an update on modern methods, which should be consulted as you prepare pickles and preserves from the recipes that follow. With all that in mind, it is a pleasure to introduce a new generation of cooks and readers-whether novices or seasoned pros-to Marion Brown's charming Pickles and Preserves, and to the remarkable woman who wrote it.
Marion Brown was born and raised in Petersburg, Virginia, but spent most of her adult life in Burlington, North Carolina. Aside from authoring three cookbooks, she wrote for a number of magazines and newspapers, enjoyed a local reputation as a textile designer, and hosted her own radio program. That she was accomplished at cooking, pickling, and making choice preserves is evident in her books. But Mrs. Brown is best remembered today for her timely collection of uniquely Southern recipes. Without any formal training in historical method, but with the nose of a journalist and the eye of a natural historian, she gleaned the sources available to her in the 1950s to produce Marion Brown's Southern Cook Book, a truly characteristic cross-section of Southern cooking as it had once been and as it was in her day. She also provided amazingly accurate insights into where Southern cooking was heading. In Pickles and Preserves, which was first published in 1955, she expands that view to cover the conserves of the entire nation, and beyond.
The important thing to note about this intelligent woman is that she was always looking forward. If she were alive today, she would be hard at work on a new edition of Pickles and Preserves before she would allow it back in print under any circumstances-carefully studying contemporary canning methods, sifting through the new recipes in her files and from her readers, embracing anything that would make the housewife's work easier. This forward thinking makes Pickles and Preserves a valuable tool for historians and anthropologists, helping us to understand the transformation of American food that marked the mid-twentieth century.
Mrs. Brown was on the cusp of a revolution in American business and homemaking. Raised in an era when housekeeping was the most common occupation for American women-at least for those who bought and read cookbooks-she was herself an educated career woman. However, she still took homemaking seriously and expected her readers to do the same. This is all pointed up by the original introduction of her landmark Southern cookbook and the introduction to its revised edition little more than a decade later. When the first edition of Marion Brown's Southern Cook Book appeared in 1951, the traditional division of labor was intact. Women were beginning to work outside the home, and in professions not traditionally held by women, but most of these women were working out of necessity rather than because they chose to do so. The second edition, published in 1968, addressed a different audience-women who were working away from home by choice, and in increasing numbers. This new audience was also being exposed to a widening array of convenience foods, new kitchen equipment, and cuisines from all over the world.
That is why Mrs. Brown's work is especially useful to historians: she looks both forward and backward without prejudice. Not only does she provide us with a clear, concise picture of American cooking at mid-twentieth century, she also slices a cross-section through the layers of history. Some of the old recipes in Pickles and Preserves are given verbatim, so that the reader gets the full flavor of the period. Because of this, it is sometimes possible to misunderstand not just the period recipes but also Mrs. Brown's instructions for packing and storing the product.
That is why it is important for anyone working with historical recipes to have some background, to understand the terminology and method described. Methods do change over time, and words take on a different meaning. In old English recipes, for example, the word "boil" is frequently used to describe everything from a hard boil to a poaching simmer to (less frequently) deep fat frying. One knew what nuance of the word was intended by experience and context within the recipe. In the context of this book, conserves called "marmalade" in early American books were very different from the chunky, mostly citrus whole fruit jam we know today. More to the point, imperfect understanding can lead to serious mistakes that, at best, will result in a spoiled product.
Following is a brief introduction to historical preserving methods and the methods that are recommended for preserving, canning, and storing homemade pickles and preserves today.
Canning Methodology Then and Now
Before using any of the recipes in this book, readers should understand something of the technology of home canning, both in historical context and as it exists today. Many methods and much of the equipment that were once considered safe even as late as Mrs. Brown's day (and that may have been relatively safe because home canners were then more experienced and careful-and people had built up an immunity to the bacteria and mold that old methods did not completely eradicate) are no longer considered safe or recommended today. While Mrs. Brown was very thorough in her instructions for these old-fashioned methods, some of which were still in common use at midcentury, some of them were already archaic. Most of those methods are not, strictly speaking, unsafe in and of themselves, but they are less reliable than modern practices.
Here are a few words about the old methods and equipment and why you should not use them.
Wax or paraffin coatings are a very old way of creating an airtight seal on top of solid conserves such as jam, jelly, or meat paste. If properly done, this method is fairly reliable, and it is still used by some home canners. However, it is no longer considered safe by county extension agencies and is not recommended by most canning manuals and extension services. Aside from being tedious to do properly, paraffin seals are fragile and subject to imperfections. Of course, the reader who followed Mrs. Brown's directions exactly, creating a side pocket for the paraffin to seep into by running a silver knife around the rim and gradually adding the paraffin in layers, would most likely have had consistently safe jars of conserve. Followed to the letter, the method makes a fairly safe seal with a minimum chance of spoilage. Silver was not an arbitrary or affected choice: precious metals are a hostile environment for most bacteria and are easily sterilized by a simple dip into boiling water. Gradually layering the paraffin reduces the likelihood of trapping air between the paraffin and the conserve or of having gaps in the paraffin seal.
But carefully creating the pocket around the edges, keeping the paraffin melted and hot, and slowly layering the stuff doubles the amount of time needed to seal the conserve and leaves one with a seal that can be easily broken if the jars are not carefully stored. Also, because the conserve is allowed to cool while still exposed to the air, there is a chance that contaminants might infect the surface before the seal is put in place. It is easier and safer to use jars and lids that are designed for the purpose and to seal them using a water bath or pressure canning system.
Old-Fashioned Rubber Ring Seals
Mrs. Brown also mentions this system, which uses glass jars and independent rubber ring seals. While these jars make a charming presentation and are fine for short-term storage in the refrigerator, they are not recommended for canning. These jars were used primarily in the old method that is sometimes referred to as "open-kettle" canning: the hot jars are packed with hot conserve and sealed with a rubber ring and a clamp-type or screw-top lid. The latter are no longer manufactured, having been supplanted by modern vacuum lids with rubber seals built into them, and clamped seals are no longer considered to be reliable.
The seal was created by the gradual cooling of the jars and conserves, when escaping air formed a vacuum in the headroom of the jar. This method leaves too much margin for error, and there is no way to check the seal to insure its integrity. Moreover, because the conserve is not processed with heat, there is a possibility that contaminants could get into the conserve before the rings and lids are placed. Processing destroys such contaminants before they have a chance to multiply.
Another very old-fashioned method for creating an airtight seal over conserves is to use a thick layer of purified fat that will solidify at room temperature, such as pure lard or clarified butter. This method was used for centuries, and, before other reliable sealing methods were available, it was considered to be the most reliable way for storing cooked meat and meat pastes such as potted meat, fish paste, or deviled ham. Mrs. Brown describes the method carefully on page 255: the conserve is packed in a glazed stoneware crock and a thick layer of hot fat is poured over the top, exactly the way a paraffin seal is formed. In some cases the fat completely encased the meat-cooked sausage patties were most commonly preserved by encasing them in clarified fat, as were other cooked meats in the days before refrigeration became pretty much universal.
Purified fat is made by heating animal fat or butter until it is completely melted and hot but not burning. It is then skimmed and strained to remove all traces of water, meat, and milk solids. Solids in the fat are far more perishable than the fat itself, and will speed up spoilage. They also cause the fat to burn at lower temperatures. Purified fat can be used for cooking at higher temperatures and for the kind of seal that Mrs. Brown describes because the solids have been filtered out.
For short-term, refrigerated storage, fat seals are a reasonably safe, flavor-enhancing way to preserve cooked meat and meat pastes (for a week or two at most), but do not use them for prolonged storage and never without refrigeration. For prolonged storage, meat conserves should be frozen or canned in jars that are designed for the purpose and processed with a modern water bath or pressure canning system. When freezing meat conserves, a layer of fat on top of the conserve helps prevent freezer burn and will further help preserve the texture of canned meat pastes, but if there is any fat on the rim of a jar that is to be sealed by pressure or water bath methods, the fat will prevent the jar from sealing, so a layer of fat on food that is to be home canned is not recommended, and fat should never be used as a primary seal.
This is an old process used a number of times in the recipes Mrs. Brown presents. Its name is a little misleading, because it has nothing to do with the kettle. In this process, the conserve is packed into sterilized jars and sealed without further processing. The theory was that the heat from the conserve was sufficient to create a vacuum seal in the jar. We now know that this is not always a safe assumption. Moreover, heat processing also helps destroy any contaminants that may have gotten into the conserve while transferring it to the jar.
This system is mentioned frequently in Mrs. Brown's recipes and was still in general use in her day, but is no longer a recommended procedure. Cold-packing is the practice of packing the conserve into storage jars without heating either the conserve or the jar first. Usually the product is raw fruit or vegetables, whole or chunked, over which a heated preserving liquid or syrup is poured. The conserve is then sealed and processed. Cold-packed vegetables and fruits often shrink during processing, causing them to float in the preserving liquid, increasing the possibility of discoloration in the conserve. Cold-packed conserves take longer to process because the conserve must be heated thoroughly in order to destroy any contaminants that may have gotten into the jar during the packing. For those reasons, it is no longer a recommended procedure except for certain pickles that are packed in a strong vinegar brine solution.
Historical Equipment for Processing and Storing Conserves
Most of the equipment that Mrs. Brown describes is still sound for pickling and preserving in modern kitchens, although a few pieces that were once standard have been supplanted by newer technology, and some of the historical recipes describe equipment that is no longer recommended. For example, stainless steel was not as commonplace in 1955 as it is today, and many pieces of old-fashioned equipment, while picturesque, are no longer standard-stoneware crocks with wooden board lids, once widely used for brining pickles, or earthenware crocks for storing meat pastes and fruit butters are just two such examples. Many historical methods and pieces of equipment are still perfectly sound, but if you choose to try any of the historical recipes here, it is better to avoid the picturesque historical equipment described below.
Where a paraffin-coated board is called for in Mrs. Brown's text, use a heavy porcelain plate inverted over the pickle, and make sure it is weighted with a clean, acid- and salt-resistant weight-a very heavy piece of clean pottery, for example, or a thoroughly cleaned stone.
Excerpted from Pickles and Preserves by Marion Brown Copyright © 2002 by University of North Carolina Press
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
What People are Saying About This
It is a pleasure to introduce a new generation of cooks and readers to Marion Brown's charming Pickles and Preserves, and to the remarkable woman who wrote it. . . . With Mrs. Brown as guide, even novices, busy professionals, and occasional cooks can successfully master this rewarding home art.Damon Lee Fowler, from the Foreword
Meet the Author
Marion Brown (1903-1995) was author of the classic Marion Brown's Southern Cook Book (1951, 1968), one of the country's earliest regional cookbooks.
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