Pros: Very thorough; addresses all aspects of producing enough fruits and vegetables for your own use year-round
Cons: Some information won’t be quite as useful to non-Brit readers
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Edible gardening presents a number of challenges, one of which is making the most of your produce while wasting as little of it as possible. While I’m sure most gardeners are familiar with the annual rite of trying to foist bags full of zucchini off on suddenly-scarce neighbors, we sometimes forget that for many centuries, people relied on the ability to put food by for the winter. There are many ways to preserve your garden’s bounty for the winter months, and how better to get the most out of your effort?
Some books on this topic cover cooking-related approaches to the topic: dishes that can be frozen, jams, jellies, canning/bottling, etc. I much prefer the approach in Piers Warren’s How to Store Your Garden Produce: The key to self-sufficiency (second edition).
Warren tackles pretty much every storage method I could imagine. He starts off with basic instructions for the methods themselves: clamping (storing large quantities of roots outside) and other methods of dry storage, freezing, drying (using anything from an oven to a dehydrator), vacuum-packing, salting, bottling/canning, pickles & chutneys, relishes & sauces, jams & jellies, fruit butters & pastes, and fermenting. This volume isn’t meant as a full-blown wine-making or jam-making resource, so these are only the most basic of instructions. It’s certainly enough to get you started, however, and give you an idea of which methods you might like to take further advantage of.
The other part of the book covers individual types of produce in alphabetical order. Since the focus of this book is supporting yourself on your own produce, Warren discusses some topics you might not expect. For instance, he might mention how best to harvest a vegetable so as to encourage further harvestable growth throughout the season. He discusses planting varieties that will have longer harvest times, or that will produce during different times of the year. He talks about how some plants can be started at different times so as to result in a longer harvest period as well. You’ll even find out which plants can simply be left in the ground once ready, and harvested at will after the frost or even in the following Spring.
Each type of produce includes notes on the types of storage that work best. For instance, the pages on apples include directions for dry storage, jam-making, freezing, making chutney, apple juice, and finally cider. Many of the entries include ultra-simple, basic recipes for jams, pickling, etc.
One potentially useful feature is the section of recommended varieties. For example, the apples section lists out two good varieties of cooking apples, a crab apple, and a handful of eating apples, noting which ones keep particularly well or work best wine-making or the like. However, in some cases this won’t be as useful outside of Britain as it will be for those in Britain (the book was written & published in Britain but is also being distributed in other countries). For instance, I don’t recognize many of the apple or tomato varieties. However, I do recognize a number of the carrot and chard varieties. It just depends on whether a particular kind of produce is available in the same varieties on both sides of the ocean.
The one other small potential snag is a couple of terminology issues. Most of them just aren’t a big deal (what we call canning, Brits call bottling, but the author notes this). One or two types of produce might be listed under a name unfamiliar to you (plenty of people have heard eggplants called aubergines, but not everyone in the US knows them by that term). Don’t let this deter you from buying this book if you’re in the US, however—the information is incredibly useful, and in most cases there are enough informative notes included that you can substitute varieties as appropriate or easily figure out the terminology differences. Also, all measurements for recipes and such are given in both metric and English measurements.
The information in here is remarkably thorough and useful, particularly for a book that looks relatively simple and thin. The author made the right trade-off, in my opinion: rather than trying to make this a fully-fledged book on things such as dehydration, jam-making, and brewing, he concentrated on telling us which items of produce can best be stored and how to go about doing it. If we become particularly focused on jam-making, wine-making, canning, etc., we can then supplement with another book. Because of this, the information in here is simple enough and well-ordered enough that you can find what you’re looking for at a moment’s notice. As soon as your tomatoes, garlic, carrots, kale, strawberries, gooseberries, or peppers are ripe, you’ll be ready to store them!
If you want to become more self-sufficient, or you just want to make better and less wasteful use of your garden produce, I definitely recommend this book. It’s incredibly useful, and I finally feel ready to tackle those cherry tomato plants that are putting out their first green fruits even as we speak!