Book Review: Saving the Season by Kevin West
Reviewed by Karen Miles
Curled up with a good cookbook lately? With its lovely blend of food preservation how-tos and engaging narrative, Kevin West's Saving the Season performs beautifully both in and out of the kitchen.
West grew up in the South, and he draws on a tradition of "putting up" food and remembrances of his Gran preserving Papa's tomatoes in quart Mason jars ("as good in January as they had been in August"). "Putting up used to be how plenty prepared for want," he explains. "Nature's bounty is abundant but fleeting. I wanted to save the season, and preserving is my way to do it."
The book is arranged by seasons, with useful appendices for popular fruit varieties, peak seasons by region, and comparative pH ranges of common foods. Over 200 recipes for jams, jellies, marmalades, preserves, pickles, relishes, cordials and cocktails include enticements such as Pickled Asparagus with Tarragon, Chunky Cranberry Jam with Nuts and Ginger, and Salsa Verde with New Mexican Green Chilies. The directions are clear and concise, and the photos (though not overly abundant) are stunning. (West was a style writer for W magazine for 13 years, and his good eye shows.)
My favorite thing about the book, though, is the narrative—the stories behind the recipes, the reminiscences, anecdotes, and reflections about food culture and the reasons behind food preservation. So the book is engaging and beautiful as well as practical, like the produce that inspires it. It's also perfectly timed, given the current renaissance in putting foods up.
You certainly don't need to grow your own produce to put Saving the Season to good use. West isn't a gardener but an urbanite who appreciates good food. In fact, his personal foray began when he impulsively purchased an entire flat of strawberries at his local farmers market and tried—unsuccessfully—to make strawberry jam. Now a Master Food Preserver, certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension, he can most definitely nail that jam, as well as a good read.
Here are three recipes from Saving the Season for you to try: