Tuesday, July 23, 2013

5 Quick Questions with Kevin West, Author of Saving the Season: A Cook's Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving

Saving the Season is the kind of cookbook that reminds us of a beautifully written novel or a stellar short story: it drops you into someone else's world for a long, dreamy while and the voice rings real and true throughout. Read it to learn how to preserve all the stuff that's coming in this summer -- the recipes are precise and will make you feel like a pro -- but in your reading, you'll also be able to understand your food and its history so much more. 

It's lucky for us that author Kevin West is going to be in Memphis this Thursday evening at Booksellers. Stop by around 6:00 and grab your copy and get it signed or stock up on a few signed copies as holiday gifts for all of the serious home cooks you know. This one is sure to become a classic, y'all. 

This week, Kevin was kind enough to answer a few of our burning questions -- and to share his cream-style corn recipe (detailed below), which we know we're going to have to try very, soon.  

1. TCV: You're back in Tennessee this week! What do you remember most, think about, or miss when you think of your time spent here?

Kevin West: I can't think of Tennessee without thinking of my grandparents' farm in Blount County: the red clay banks of their long, long gravel driveway; the view of the Great Smoky Mountains from up by the barn; throwing rocks in the pond; the prickly feel of picking okra in the early morning; the taste of sun-warmed tomatoes pulled off the vine; the silly pleasure of eating corn on the cob and picking your teeth at the table even though you know better; the smell of cedar shavings when Papa whittled. 

The farm is gone now, but the time I spent there when I was little shaped me to the core. More than any other place, that "rich spot of earth," to use Thomas Jefferson's phrase about his beloved Monticello, is where I come from. That's what I miss most.

2. TCV: What would you suggest that a beginner try to can, preserve, or pickle first?

KW: Start with whatever is coming in from local gardens and farms. At this time of the year, I'd advise folks in this part of the world to think seriously about putting up some peaches in syrup, wild blackberry jam (if it's not already too late), pickled green beans, and canned tomatoes. 

3. TCV: Please tell us a little more about the idea of preserving certain things for the occasions and meals you plan to create later on for certain people or events. I loved that part of your book -- that's pretty much what food is all about to us, too: time spent with the people we love. 

KW: One of the pleasantest aspects of canning work is that there is time for your mind to wander while your hands are busy. My mind usually wanders in the direction of what I'll be eating next, so standing in the kitchen making preserves is when I plan out future meals. For instance, I like to pickle onions every year in late spring when they are about the size of ping pong balls, and it's sort of a fun thought experiment to dream up a dish to use them in each of the 4 seasons. 

As for who gets what jar as a gift -- don't worry. Once your family and friends find out about your preserving habit, they'll let you know about their favorite jams, pickles or relishes--hint, hint.  

4. TCV: Simplest recipe (Southern-themed or otherwise) that you love and crave and make all the time and want to share?

KW: This time of the year, I cannot get enough cream-style corn. The way I make it is to cut the corn off the cob and very gently stew it with some butter until it's warmed through and bubbly. Then I stir in some caramelized shallots and a handful of basil (especially that purple opal basil) cut into a fine chiffonade. A double serving of this corn with a sliced tomato and a few grilled zucchini drizzled with olive oil makes as fine a summer meal as I could want. Even if you don't have shallots or basil, corn cooked this way is still wonderful in its unadorned state.

5. TCV: We have an abundance of tomatoes right now -- there are about 50 of them just washed and waiting on the kitchen countertop right now and more to come. What do you think we should do with them? 

KW: It depends a bit on the type of tomato. It they are the plum-type, then I'd suggest putting them up as crushed tomatoes -- the standard, old-fashioned "canned tomato" approach. if they are bigger, juicier beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes, I'd turn them into a sauce and reduce the sauce a bit before canning. 

But whatever you do, be sure to set aside a few of the biggest, prettiest tomatoes for a tomato sandwich! 

(TCV: We'll take that advice for sure! Here are our simple tomato sliders, which may morph into big old lunch sandwiches tomorrow.)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this great interview!

The Yogi Vegetarian said...

A book after my own heart! Does he have anything about what to do with all the zucchini we have right now?

The Chubby Vegetarian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Chubby Vegetarian said...

p. 157 has zucchini dill spears!

we made this into muffins this week (add 1/3 c canola oil, skip choc. chips, do choc. frosting instead!) it was an excellent dessert:


:) TCV