Cookbook of the week: The Preservation Kitchen

Grilled and Pickled Asparagus with Prosciutto and Fried Eggs from The Preservation Kitchen

Grilled and Pickled Asparagus with Prosciutto and Fried Eggs from The Preservation Kitchen Photograph: Jeff Kauck

Confession: The Preservation Kitchen, the cookbook from [node:149003 link=Vie;] and [node:149925 link=Perennial Virant;] chef Paul Virant (co-written with occasional TOC contributor Kate Leahy and photographed by Jeff Kauck), which came out this week, has been sitting on my desk for a long time. Like, possibly months. I think there are two types of people in this world: people who can regularly, and people who have never canned at all. It's not that I haven't pickled some rhubarb or made a refrigerator jam, but I fall squarely into the latter category. Unless Paul Virant comes over to my house and shows me how to process and sterilize jars, I live in fear that I will do something terribly wrong and poison myself and loved ones.

[node:15197391 noterms cck=field_caption; cck=field_credits;]I'm writing today to report that (1) I have finally spent some QT with this cookbook. (2) If any book could inspire me to can, it's this one. (Cherry clafoutis with milk jam is not going to make itself!) And (3), even if I never can, The Preservation Kitchen is a book I will treasure for its inspiring, unusual approaches to cooking seasonally. The first half of the book is devoted to "Capturing the Year in a Jar": pickling ramps, snow peas, beets, watermelon rind, you name it; turning beer and dehydrated strawberries into jams (separately); apricots, gooseberries and peaches into jellies; pumpkins and walnuts into butters; and preserving currants, grapes, asparagus and more as aigre doux and mostarda. The second half of the book, "At the Table," provides recipes that incorporates those preserves. 

It's this section that I am smitten by. Its organized in a way that reminds me of one of my favorite cookbooks, Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques: The recipes are broken down by season, and within each season, they've divided into menus. Cookbooks that are divided by menus are often hilariously rarefied ("Menu for a six-year-old's locavore tea party"), but not so in the case of The Preservation Kitchen. The first menu is "Early Signs": lemon-pickled turnips with baby leeks and picked herbs, braised chicken legs in pearl pasta with swiss chard and pickled stems and pound cake with dehydrated strawberry jam and sweetened crème fraîche. In other words, it's exactly what I wish I were eating at this very moment of the year. The menus glide slowly through the seasons, featuring a grill out (with a recipe not only for a burger but also its bun), an "Autumn Chicken Dinner" (tomato jam–roasted potatoes included) a "Chili Night" (beef chili with chow chow) and more. 

These recipes do not look easy. And the ingredients called for—("pork fatback, cut into cubes and ground in a meat grinder"?)—are at times a bit much. But to flip through this book is to await every turn of the season and every visit to the farmers' market to come.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)