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Poorly Edited Blog to Book - Inconsistent and Clearly Untested
on August 7, 2013
I have recently become interested and canning and I took this book out of the library, along with the Ball Complete Book of Preserving and Put 'Em Up!. I liked the idea of the recipes being for small batches of of 3-4 pints, or 3-8 half pints, since my kitchen is small, and my pantry is non-existent. I started by reading through the information on the canning process from the Ball Book, before moving on to the tasty sounding recipes in this one. I skimmed the recipe titles and the chatty little paragraphs that introduced each one, and carefully marked recipes that I wanted to try. Once I had tried a few simple recipes in the Ball Book (considered such a classic and trusted source, full of time-tested information), I came back to this one and tried a few recipes. Specifically I did the Basic Tomato Salsa, Pickled Brussels Sprouts, Pickled Zucchini, Caramelized Red Onion Relish, and Cranberry Syrup. This is when I started to notice the exceptional number of typos, and instances of missing necessary information. In most recipes it seems that the author has cut and pasted text from previous recipes. (Understandable when it is the same phrase "Prepare a water bath...") In some instances, an ingredient is listed twice in a row. In others it does not list the amount of headspace needed, which is vitally important in successful canning. I can only assume that the writer and publisher were in such a rush to get the book out and capitalize on the author's successful blog, that no one stopped to edit the text, or more importantly to TEST the recipes.
I noticed that while I followed each and every recipe exactly as written on the page, weighing or measuring the ingredients carefully, I had wildly different results with the recipes. In the Basic Salsa I had enough salsa to fill 4 pint jars, but the recipe only called for 3 to be prepared, leaving me with an extra pint of salsa to be used immediately. The recipe for Pickled Brussels Sprouts called for 2 lbs of sprouts, which I carefully prepared. Unfortunately, they came no where close to filling the 4 pint jars the recipe indicated, so I had to quickly move some sprouts from the fourth jar into each of the other three jars, AND make an extra half-batch of brine to cover the sprouts. This left me with 3 jars and a partial jar to use right away. The recipe for Caramelized Red Onion Relish also came no where close to filling the 3 jars it said it would. I had only 2.5 jars filled, though I do have to note that the relish was absolutely delicious and was raved about by friends and family. I will be making it again, albeit with a slightly larger quantity of onions, based on my own notes, so I can be sure it will actually fill the jars. Finally we have the Cranberry Syrup. I am from New England, and love the flavor of Cranberry year round. I was excited to make this syrup for use in seltzer and mixed drinks. Sadly the flavor was not wonderful. It tasted primarily of sugar, and lacked the brightness and tartness associated with cranberries. I believe increasing the amount of cranberries, and adding some lemon juice might go a long way with improving this syrup. Sadly, I won't be trying this myself, as I am still learning about canning and am not comfortable creating my own recipes yet.
As a frame of reference for readers who are considering this book, I created 15 different canning recipes in the last two weeks (since I started). Seven were from the Ball Book, and each came out perfectly as described and outlined. I created 3 from Put 'Em Up!, and again, each came out exactly as described. The final 5 were from Food In Jars, and NONE of the 5 recipes I tried came out as described in the book. They lacked vital information and contained numerous typos that should have been caught during editing. While I understand a typo may slip by even a careful editor, the ones I noticed were numerous and glaring. While the pictures are pretty, it does not make up for lack of substance with the actual information. Also, this novel-style binding is highly inconvenient while cooking. One has to either break the spine to lay it flat on the counter, or make a copy of a recipe to use it.
Like many other readers I would urge prospective canners to check out the Ball Complete Book of Preserving instead. The information is excellent and thorough. If you would like to move beyond that, I would also highly recommend Put 'Em Up!, which is arranged by type of food you wish to preserve, and includes recipes for canning, freezing, drying and fermenting. That book was clearly tested and edited before being dropped on the public.