Customer Review

207 of 241 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great as coffee table food porn. Frustrating as a cookbook., January 25, 2011
This review is from: The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook (Hardcover)
I'm giving this book three stars because I can't do what I'd really like to, which is to give it both five stars and one star at the same time. It is a beautiful, well-written yet disempowering, inspiring and infuriating collection of recipes and information.

Full-page photographs occupy nearly every other leaf of this massive volume; open it anywhere and you're almost certain to be assaulted by an intoxicating obscenity of color and texture that will tweak your salivary glands into involuntary action.

Less attractively, The Blue Chair never stops working very, very hard to sell you a particular fantasy lifestyle. In this respect it's evocative of early Martha Stewart, because the author herself is packaged in a panoply of pretty poses along with the fruit spreads. She appears over and over again -- picking fruit, holding fruit, cutting and stirring fruit. Always her clothing is impeccably matched to the fruit she is picking or the blossoms she is snipping. Always her hair is perfectly coiffed. Never is there a hint of effort or haste or dissarray. These images are so brazenly fantastic that I can't help feeling manipulated.

But perhaps I'm just in a sour mood? After all, isn't there a place for fantasy? Must I ascribe such dark motives? Might it all have been meant in good fun?

Maybe. But what most seriously damages this book for me is the sheer impracticality, often bordering on impossiblity, of so many of the recipes. The author runs her jam company in an affluent city, in one of the best areas of the country for fruit growers. It makes perfect sense for her to base her company there and to make the best of the amazing ingredients she has access to, but she does not seem aware of how fortunate she is to have such resources. Out of perfectionism or mere obliviousness, she's written a book the browsing of which is an exercise in frustration. If your local grocery or farmers' market doesn't offer bergamots, pluots, apriums, green almonds, olallieberries, boysenberries, elderberries, geranium blossoms, fresh currants, citrons, crabapples and quinces, then broad swaths of the recipes will be impossible to carry out. Others will come withing range only as compromised approximations, unless you can obtain preciously specific varieties of fruit like Rangpur limes, Flavorella plumcots, Santa Rosa plums, Montmorency cherries, Flavor King Pluots and Tempranillo grapes.

This is definitely not a bad book. The first forty-odd pages convey a nuanced understanding of the differences between various sorts of jams, jellies and marmalades. Jam-making techniques and processes are described in sensual terms that prepare the reader to understand and react to what they'll be seeing and hearing and smelling if they should actually decide to make some jam. Those early pages alone make the book worth a serious look. But my primary expectation of any cookbook is that it be empowering, that it help me prepare and enjoy foods that I couldn't have enjoyed without its help. In too many ways, this book provides the opposite experience. Browsing the recipes is like being teased on a playground, taunted with visions of fun that is largely out of reach.
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Comments

Tracked by 6 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 20 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 4, 2011 12:11:17 PM PST
S. Mckenzie says:
Thank you for your comments. This is exactly the sort of information I need in deciding whether or not to invest in a new cookbook. I haven't yet made up my mind on this book. I do live in a region that is ridiculously abundant in fruits and vegetables. Nevertheless, ingredients like quinces or pluots would require a special trip to Whole Foods or other pricey stores rather than my local farmer's markets.

Posted on Feb 17, 2011 3:48:44 PM PST
Outstanding review! You truly should write a book w/such great skills in bringing your reader into your experience. Kudos to you!
(And this is just the sort of info I needed about the cookbook.. what a bummer)

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 1, 2011 2:03:18 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 16, 2013 10:35:48 AM PST
P. Strayer says:
Hmmm...I think there's plenty here for anyone to justify buying this book. I just made my first three marmalades and am feeling elated. I know what you're saying about the photos, etc. - I had a similar reaction - but on the other hand, this is NOT Martha Stewart. This author lives in an apartment, and the photos are of fruits and fields. As for specialty fruits, yes - that's cool. It's just a plus, though. There are lots of recipes anyone in any part of the country could make - if you can buy lemons and oranges, and strawberries, and peaches, you'll be able to make a lot of jam and marmalade - more than enough to justify buying the book. I especially love the photos of foaming, etc. - I never would have been able to let the pot get that hot for that long without all those useful photos.

TWO YEARS LATER - I made enough jam to feed a fortress...I give it away on any occasion...I have stopped making it for two reasons - I still have enough to cover gift giving for at least two more years (and more) AND I am no longer myself eating sugar. When I run out of the jams I've made, I won't be making any more as I no longer consider sugar to be a gift to myself or anyone I care about.

My advice - bottomline - don't make jam. Don't eat sugar. And jam requires just massive amounts of sugar.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 1, 2011 3:59:48 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 1, 2011 4:12:54 AM PST
J. Holmes says:
I generally agree, though the author's type of residence doesn't make a difference to me. I also don't mean to criticize all of the photography; most of it is decorative fluff, but some is very useful.

There's enough valuable information here that it would be a shame if the book didn't exist at all, no matter how off-putting I might find the presentation. I suspect that most of the fault for the problems I have with this book lies with the publisher rather than the author herself. I'm very impressed by Saunders' dedication to her craft and by her generosity with all she's learned, but I remain conflicted.

Posted on Mar 7, 2011 11:56:25 PM PST
fridaybaker says:
This is such a great review. I am thinking of purchasing this book and appreciate the salient points above. However, the review does leave me wondering why exactly I can't make some substitutions, for example; in the recipe calling for Santa Rosa plums substitute a similar one. Would there really be that much difference? Couldn't I, for example, research Montmorency cherries and, upon finding that they are sour cherries, subsititute a differenct sour cherry? I realize that the result wouldn't be EXACTLY the same, but surely it would be quite similar? Or am I way off here? I'd appreciate a comment from the original reviewer or anyone else who has purchased this book.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2011 4:16:28 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 8, 2011 4:17:21 AM PST
J. Holmes says:
Fridaybaker, I'm sure you could make workable substitutions in many cases. The recipes provide little guidance for this (a line in an ingredients list calling for "Tempranillo or other good red wine grapes" is about the most you'll find), but willingness to do some research and experimentation will undoubtedly help a lot.

The book's final chapter is a sort of appendix of information about the various fruits she uses, and it would be helpful in some such situations. The section on plums suggests that Showtime or Mariposa plums can "sometimes" (no hint as to which times) be substituted for Santa Rosas. The section on grapes is dedicated to Concords (which actually are available in my area) but doesn't even mention Tempranillos. You'll need to look to other sources, but that ought to be doable; we have the internet, after all.

Posted on Mar 25, 2011 5:26:45 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 25, 2011 5:28:02 PM PDT
What I find delicious about this review is the wonderful, amusing digression into descriptions of the author's garb - certainly not germane to the functional content of the book, but a delightful excursion into light-hearted cynicism. Additionally, the critique regarding certain fruits and their availability is well taken, although substitution is a viable option. If the reviewer is a student at the Curmudgeon Institute of Death Valley, I give him a C. Otherwise an A.

Posted on May 3, 2011 1:02:15 AM PDT
Dear J. Homes

What you see is the real deal, the "particular fantasy lifestyle" you speak of is not a fantasy. Come on down to the farmers market in Oakland on a cold rainy day and you will meet a finely dressed ray of sun shine, with perfect hair named Rachel. Maybe she is an outlier in comparison to the general population but if you place within her cohort of Bay Area food start ups she is just another foodie following her muse. Ten years of trial and error, error, error, error is a sacrifice not many would make. Yes fruit is regional, yes California has a much to chose from, but that should an inspiration not a source of feeling feel teased. Take this book to your local grower show them there is a demand for fruit that's fragile and does not travel well.
all the best,
Chris

Posted on Jun 29, 2011 12:11:05 PM PDT
This review is both informative and an absolutely delightful piece of writing!

Posted on Oct 8, 2011 12:03:50 PM PDT
Other than licking the spoon making jam is not instant gratification. Learning about the fruit, the pans, the ingredients is part of the process. If you can wander through an orchard, who gives hoot about what you're wearing. This cookbook is on my short list for Christmas. There is a great variety of fruit at the farmers' markets. It behooves the cook to learn, and know the growers, not just the sellers. Two years ago I bought Mes Confictures, and I'm still learning from it. I trust that this book will be the same. Often, the lack of ingredients or particular fruit will lead to improvising and increased creativity. Mistakes can go on pancakes or waffles. Either way, to cook is the point, not what you wear.
P.S. I'm not fond of Martha, and find her products a disservice to people. They wear out faster, don't hold up, and are priced higher, simply because of her name.
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