Warning: giving a balanced review of this little book without any of the oohing and ahhing it prompted upon landing in my hands will be almost impossible. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a beautifully presented book – whether it be a work of fiction or fact – and Not Just Jam is just that. I’m also a sucker for food preserving (ugh, I hate waste, and it’s a fun way to get the best out of a suburban veggie patch) with a special interest in long-lasting sauces and chutneys. Not only is Not Just Jam a sturdy hardcover with full-page colour photographs for every recipe, but it’s just the right size and weight to hang on to with one hand while you’re stirring a pot of delicious fruit or vegetables, ready to seal into sterilised jars. It’s the type of book that should last the ages (even with the inevitable sticky and stained page-corners) and be passed down to another generation, filled with recipes that evoke memories of ‘home’ and happy times.
Author Matthew Evans is known as Australia’s favourite tree-changer. As a former chef and food critic, he now lives and works in Tasmania as a smallholder, food writer and activist. He’s the star of the SBS TV series ‘Gourmet Farmers’ and has written 11 books including The Dirty Chef, Real Food Companion, Winter on the Farm and Summer on Fat Pig Farm. With credentials like those, obviously Evans knows his stuff. Not Just Jam is his latest offering, and along with the glorious presentation, Evans also proves he can come up with entertaining and super-simple recipes that will work for both those experienced in food preserving as well as absolute beginners.
The book starts out with some general tips on sterilisation and the science of preserving food, without being over-whelming or scary. Lots of books on preserves will recommend a hundred and one different pieces of ‘essential’ equipment, but Evans just gets right down to basics, proving how simple it can be to fill your pantry with jams, relishes and sauces without the need for expensive gear.
The first chapter does cover jam-making, and my favourite recipes have got to be The Quintessential Raspberry Jam (though our home-grown raspberries don’t often last long enough around children to gain the 1kg required) and the Chilli Jam, which is recommended to use with seafood such as mussels and prawns, as well as plain old fried eggs.
Mint Jelly will be the first recipe I’ll give a go, though. Even those with a black gardening thumb can grow wild mint, and we battle with it in our strawberry patch. There are literally four ingredients in this one, and it’s a great way to use up that crazy mint. Blueberry and Balsamic Jelly also sounds intriguing, especially when it’s recommended to swirl through icecream.
So far as actual fruit and veggie preserving goes, I’m looking forward to checking out the Cumquats in Brandy (because we also have a crazy cumquat tree) as well as the Dill Pickled Cucumbers. I’ve tried these a number of times before without much success, but this recipe looks like a winner. The Indian-Style Salted Lime Pickle and Beetroot Relish are more great examples of basic, yet mouth-watering recipes with only a few ingredients and little time needed to devote to something special.
For something a bit swish, try the Five-Spiced Pear Paste (served with cheese and crackers, oh my), or the passionfruit curd, which I wish I knew about six weeks ago when our passionfruit vine was dropping more fruit than we could eat or give away. There’s even recipes here for good old Worcestershire Sauce and a traditional Tomato Passata.
While I’d definitely recommend Not Just Jam for a Mother’s Day or birthday gift, at a RRP of just $35, it’s well-worth purchasing for anyone with even a passing interest in cooking or self-sufficiency. And did I mention it’s gorgeous?
Not Just Jam by Matthew Evans
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published by Murdoch Books
ISBN – 9781743365816