Slashfood Archives: ‘Putting Up: A Seasonal Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition’

‘Putting Up: A Seasonal Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition’
by Stephen Palmer Dowdney
Gibbs Smith — 2008

You know how your friend’s cousin’s boyfriend’s grandma, like, totally killed a neighbor by innocently giving her a batch of her home-canned beans that oops, turned out to have a touch of the botulism? That’s never going to happen to you. Not on Steve Dowdney’s watch.

This can-vangelist has culled years of his own know-how, as well as the collective wisdom of generations of Southern cooks, into a rigorous, nigh-on religious canning primer. The recipes are solid — almost a shade clinical — but the opening chapter, packed with equipment tips, altitude and pH charts, preparation terms and step-by-step best practices, could be a stand-alone manual, not to mention the only one you’d ever need to buy.

Kat Kinsman dilly beans

Takeaway tips: Says Dowdney, “Canning is not rocket science. Thus far you have encountered terms like acidity, pH, conductivity and density, but these are only the jargon of the trade. Canning is as easy as boiling water, but it’s more fun and far more rewarding.”

He’s right. While it might initially be a shade daunting to pick up pH paper along with your produce, it quickly becomes second nature and adds a level of reassurance that your red tomato relish isn’t going to be anyone’s final bite.

Quality of pictures: Really lovely, but there’s one issue. Some of us are rough on our cookbooks. Yup, we could be a tad tidier, but really — they should be able to stand up to a little bit of shmutz. Not so in this case, or at least in the first edition copy we used. A bit of sugary pickling brine caused the glossy pages to weld together and then flake apart when pried open, leaving the recipes we’d used only semi-readable and the sumptuous images all shredded up.

We’re hoping for a more forgiving paper stock on future editions because really — we’re not gonna get any neater.

We tested: Dilled String Beans, Watermelon Rind Pickles and Hot Chow-Chow

The recipes were all quite straightforward, easy to source and simple to follow. While the beans will still need a few weeks to properly pickle, we’ve been dreaming of the “Dirty Dilly Martini” teased in the headnote every time we spy the jar. Watermelon rind pickles, crisped with canning lime, maintained a pleasant snap and soaked up warm spice notes from a clove and allspice infusion in the cooking, and a month’s jar time with a cinnamon stick.

And the hot chow-chow. Holy heck, that chow-chow. While the combo itself varies wildly throughout the south, this version boasts red cabbage, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and practically a peck of eye-watering peppers. The one element missing? A spoon built right in. Could have used that when a friend stopped by and we downed most of the half-pint jar in a sitting.

Worth the investment: Yes. It’s for your own good. Just keep it neat.

Originally published at Slashfood