Tea with Eugenia Bone

It’s no surprise that I’m behind on my blog posts.   And there are things to post about in the “Three Clever Sisters” theme:  for example, my Baking and Advanced Baking courses at Cambridge Culinary Arts Institute; going apple picking; upcoming Halloween, recent fabric purchases, etc.  I’ll put all that aside (though hopefully to be picked up later) and try to put down what I remember about my “tea” with Eugenia Bone, author of Well-Preserved.

I’m on the Edible Boston mailing list and immediately signed up for tea once the email announcement came that she would be in town.  Is it fair to say I find her book inspiring when really, very little canning has actually occurred?  What I love is the sophistication of the recipes in her book, along with equally imaginative (yet simple) ways to use them, as well as the detailed explanation she provides which helps put someone like me (who is a bit freaked out by the process) at ease. 

Tea was at Upstairs on the Square, which is a Cambridge restaurant that where possible seems to incorporate as best as possible the local food ethos.  I was there several times in law school and even for a wedding reception where, after pouring drinks, the staff asked if we could toast to Julia Child, who had passed away the day before.  (The bride, being a chef extraordinaire, was only too happy to share the spotlight; I still find it utterly charming, but we all know I have a crush on “JC”–and no, I have not seen Julia and Julia yet). 

Upstairs on the Square has a very lively decor–bright colors and animal prints:  their mascot is a zebra!   And all the more lively was Eugenia Bone.  Lively, enthusiastic, funny–it’s such a cliche I don’t want to even say “zest for life” but you get what I mean.  She’s on a mission to revive canning, and it couldn’t have a better promoter.

What was great about her talk was how pragmatic and accessible she made canning–most canning recipes require huge quantities:  “10 pounds of apples” for instance.  The reason for this is that if you have your own farm, a particular fruit or vegetable will ripen all at once, and it’s a matter of use it or lose it.  But, aside of pick your own, most of us never have such quantities on hand.  The other issue is you can end up spending your whole day canning:  hardly surprising given the amounts we’re talking about, but not necessarily a big selling point.  But any canning proponent has to recognize that while there are some people who will happily spend a whole weekend making jam, appealing to these people alone is not really going to grow your base.

Eugenia’s suggestions were similar to the advice you get anytime you are trying to make a change in your habits–bit by bit, incorporate your new ways of doing things into your life.  But with some great examples.  Say you are making tomato sauce.  Why not double the recipe and can half?  Fire up an extra burner for the water bath and it won’t take you any extra time.  Do this a few times, you’ve got a nice stash of homemade tomato sauce ready to go on a weeknight.  (In some ways, pretty much instant wholesome meals once you’ve come home from work).  This doesn’t just apply to canning.  How long have I meant to make up a few batches of pizza dough to freeze and then defrost for a Friday night dinner rather than watching my husband order Domino’s?  (There’s the planning and the doing, though…)  The other benefit–you can “cook to your palate”–find a recipe you like, and you’ll enjoy it so much more than whatever you can buy jarred at the store.  Since I am quite picky (there are only certain brands of hummus I like, only certain types of cheddar cheese–extra strong, please)–this is a definite plus.  (Picky, refined palate, whatever…)

I may have mentioned that I’m freaked out by pressure canning–my reason is I don’t want to can anything where there’s not enough natural acid to take care of nasties like food poisoning.  This limits me to fruits, pickles, and properly prepared tomatoes.  Maybe I’ll branch out someday, but really, I’ve got enough to keep me busy there.  It was interesting to hear other people’s perspective:  another attendee only wanted to make things she could pressure can–she needed the souped-up power of a machine cooking her food at 240F to make her feel safe and asked if she could use a pressure canner for jam!  I found this amusing, but also thought, it’s too bad that we’re all so scared by this process as we haven’t grown up doing it.  That being said, even though I’ve been eating my grandmother’s jam for ages, I am still a bit nervous myself!

Of course I got my book signed (books came as part of the registration fee, but since I already had one I got a discount) and told Eugenia that I am the Sara that appears with oh-so-insightful comments and questions from time to time on her blog.  If she hadn’t been rushing to get her train back to NY I would have tried to get a picture (and finally put a face to my name on this blog) but alas and alack, another time!

Canning season is pretty much over for this year, but instead of being hard on myself for not having done more, I’ll keep Eugenia’s incrementalist approach in mind (Yes, I said incrementalist.  Casualty of being a lawyer I guess).  This year I canned strawberries and cherries, maybe next year I can do some cornichons (if I can manage to successfully grow them) or pickled asparagus.  Bit by bit!

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