Crafting · Food Preservation · Gardening · Miscellaneous

Overdue Books

I got quite a few review books last fall that I had the intention of reviewing right then and there, but then I got hit by the freight train of life and they languished on the shelf for quite a long time. But now that I’ve got a breather in between school terms, it’s the perfect moment to share these gems. And they’re actually timely, as the theoretically slower winter months are made for curling up with a garden or preserving book, and dreaming up big plans for the year ahead.

Modern Pressure Canning

I can’t resist new canning books, so I was pretty excited to see a new tome on pressure canning, as they’re a rare breed. Most of the new canning books are waterbath canning, which is fine, but pressure canning meals, veg and meat doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The book has a fresh, updated look and feel and it contains recipes of all kinds – vegetables, fruit, meats, meals, etc. It follows USDA recommended guidelines, which is a requirement that I look for in all books on home canning, as it means that I can trust the recipes from a safety standpoint. The book is really aimed at a beginner with pressure canning, and to be honest I was a bit disappointed that there was an entire chapter on fruits and not a chapter on ready-to-eat meals. In my opinion, fruits are best done in a waterbath, which I think is easier and quicker (and is perfectly safe due to their acidity and density). Although there were a couple of recipes I was excited to find and that I haven’t really seen anywhere else – bacon jam and garlic broth. I’ve certainly added those to my short list (just as soon as I can afford to buy five pounds of bacon in one fell swoop). I’d say the book is worth it for veterans for those two recipes alone, and it’s a must-have for those just getting started in pressure canning.

Gardening Across the Pond

This was hands down one of my favorite books of 2018, and that’s saying a lot, as I read around a hundred books for leisure each year. At close to 200 pages, this excellent read for students of landscape architecture (amateur like myself, or professionals) or fans of all things British, lives up to it’s subtitle – “Anglo-American exchanges from the settlers in Virginia to prairie gardens in England”. Starting in the seventeenth century and working toward the modern day, Richard Bisgrove unearths an engaging picture of how American and British gardens evolved symbiotically as plants, methods, techniques and ideas were shared across the pond. There are lovely photographs throughout the book, which really bring the history to life, and the book itself is a beautiful dark gray hardcover, with a tasteful dust jacket, so it makes a wonderful addition to either a showpiece bookshelf or coffee table, in addition to being a delightful read.

Walled Gardens

I read this one in tandem with Gardening Across the Pond, which really made each book more the richer. I have a mild obsession with the walled vegetable gardens of British manor houses and estates, and which have been emulated to a lesser degree at “great houses” here in America. After a fascinating look at the history of walled gardens and how they came to be, the book then profiles key gardens in England through five eras – pre-eighteenth century, 18th 19th, and 20th centuries and the current modern period. The photography is stunning and the history is rich. I love walled gardens because they combine form and function so well – these spaces were (and in the best cases, still are) highly productive spaces that provided the vast majority of fruit and veg for the houses and estates they supported. But they were also stunningly beautiful – espaliered fruit trees along brick walls, riots of edible and medicinal flowers, tidy rows of produce edged with low box hedges and perfectly symmetrical gravel or brick paths… I could wax poetic on the merits of a well ordered food garden. All of the gardens profiled in the book are lovely and fascinating, but I’m particularly enamored of Tatton Park with it’s brick watch tower and fernery (a greenhouse to grow ferns and other exotics), and Gordon Castle – the head gardener’s house is a brick beauty built right into the garden wall. Forget the castle, I’d be happy enough in the small house in the garden (though I daresay this head gardener’s house is quite a bit larger than the one in live in today). This book has the amazing ability to root one solidly in history, while also inspiring the marriage of form and function in our modern gardens today.

Natural Dyeing with Plants

Last summer when we visited Old World Wisconsin, one interpreter was demonstrating the process of dying fibers with natural materials, and the hue created from dying white wool in walnut hulls was beautiful. Since then, I’ve had the idea in my mind to plant a garden full of dye plants. It would be the perfect complement to my herb and vegetable gardens, and would be a fun way to customize plain fabrics with natural colorways. But as I have no idea how to turn raw materials into natural dyes, it’s fortunate that there’s an entire book devoted to the process – Natural Dyeing with Plants. This book is an excellent how-to guide on how to grow specific dye plants, harvest them, and process them for fiber dyeing, inclusive of wool, silk and plant-based fibers such as linen and cotton. It also has a fascinating chapter at the beginning on the history of dyeing, which I found quite interesting. People a hundred years ago knew so many things inherently about how their daily goods were produced, that we lack today, and books like these help bridge the gap. Whether you’re interested in picking up in a new craft, or want to revive the oldways for a more kinetic lifestyle, this book is a great addition to the library.