Review: The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook

September 23, 2010

"[Once] I became hooked on jam making, several years of intense experimentation ensued. I slaved away in my tiny kitchen, gradually developing my own techniques in my quest for perfect results. Over time, I grew to understand fruit. I also, through the course of these several years, formed my own vision of what the ideal textures were for different jams and marmalades."

-Rachel Saunders, author of The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook

Jam making evokes a warm, cozy feeling inside me. A deep craving for my nana, her housecoat, and a pot of bubbling red raspberries. Visions of glass jars poured full with magenta and milky white steam, the thick smear of orange marmalade on Irish brown bread, a purple jelly stain on my mother's favorite tablecloth.

Rachel Saunders' The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook stirs up those same memories. It's a thick-skinned, weighty tome about all things jammed, jellied, and preserved. A bible for the fruit lover.

What Saunders does between the binding of this beautifully photographed book is marry nostalgia, the art of preserving, and modern sustainability.  Hundreds of pages are detailed with descriptions of the process, the science behind the techniques, with special attention given to dozens of individual fruits. Saunders explores not only the unique characteristics of each fruit, but how flavors bloom and enhance with the addition of herbs, spices, and spirits. Her background in art history and French culture adds yet another dimension to preserving: aesthetic. Throughout the book it's clear that Saunders recognizes that beauty and nurtures it with each vivid photograph.

At least half of me loved reading the book as I would a textbook, to learn all there is to know about preservation. The other half loved reading it as a walk through four seasons, each one with its own unique essence. There's an emphasis placed upon freshness, a gentle urging for the reader to use local, seasonal ingredients for best flavor. This concept is carried over from Saunders' own jam company, Blue Chair Fruit, which uses ingredients from local and organic farmers for small-batches of the highest quality. It makes sense, then, that the cookbook is laid out as a monthly progression of recipes from winter Bergamot Marmalade to spring Rhubarb-Rose Conserve with Cherries to Early Summer Peach Jam with Green Almonds to fall Quince and Candied Ginger Jam.

All together, The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook is a recipe: one part technique, one part unique flavor combinations, and two parts heart.

-Andrea Mitchell, Foodista staff and blogger at CanYouStayForDinner.com


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