The Glass Pantry
by Georgeanne Brennan

1994. 143 pages, 60 recipes.

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"On a warm summer evening, pouring a small glass of winter's vin d'orange or sipping the syrup of spring's brandied cherries is an elegant testimony to one's own creativity and imagination, yet the initial preparation requires little more than putting the fruit into wine or brandy months earlier."

Poor Man's Capers

Cayenne Walnuts

Tarragon Vinegar

Lavender Syrup

Vegetable and Herb Relish

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Even if you're someone who would no more think of taking up home canning than you would consider knitting your own socks, you could easily convince yourself that some day you really might make some of the preserves in Georgeanne Brennan's The Glass Pantry . Who wouldn't have an urge to make Vin de Cerise after seeing the accompanying photo of this ruby-red essence filling a cut-glass bottle topped with a delicate cluster of little glass cherries? It's understandable that you might fantasize about making the Rose Geranium Jelly, even if you don't like geraniums as flowers, let alone as food. Pictured here, the golden-hued jelly looks irresistible encased in little jars topped with artful scraps of unbleached linen and twists of twine.

As far as looks go, The Glass Pantry is an unequivocal "10". It shares the same good genes as other cookbooks that its publisher Chronicle Books produces. It's blessed with smooth, glossy paper stock, impeccable art direction, and voluptuous photographs.

Preserved foods, once a necessity, used to lined the larder of every home. Now they're luxury indulgences that line the shelves of chi-chi food emporiums. The Glass Pantry captures both the newer lush, upscale image of canning while dealing with the practicalities involved. (When I first started home canning ten years ago, most canning books were no-nonsense guides with the all the je ne sais quois of a USDA publication.)

Brennan's recipes range from magnificent frivolities such as Zante Grapes in Armagnac as well as variations on the classics like Plum Jam. If you've never canned before, and you decide you absolutely must make that Navel Orange Marmalade, you'll find a good section on basic canning terms, techniques, and equipment. Brennan also has plenty of recipes in the book which don't require canning. There are simple infused oils and vinegars and tidbits like candied rose petals and dried apricots. Her delicious Cayenne Walnuts only take a few minutes to make. (It's the unexpected pinch of powdered ginger combined with the cayenne that makes these nuts so good.)

The first thing I tried from the book was the Poor Man's Capers. When I read Brennan's claim that pickled nasturtium buds tasted just like capers, I headed straight out the back door. The thought that one of my favorite condiments was hiding every single one of the bright nasturtium flowers that run riot over my garden every summer was thrilling. The process was easy enough: pick, then pickle. Did they taste like capers? Well, maybe this is what unripe capers taste like: sharp and sour. Although I still prefer the subtler tang of real capers, these buds add a tonic jolt to salads and quesadillas.

The Glass Pantry is so visually satisfying that you may never bother to act on fantasy of making that Vin de Cerise or the Rose Geranium Jelly. On the other hand, these photos might just galvanize you into canning action. Of all my skills (not that they're legion), home canning is the one that has earned me the most acclaim for the least amount of effort. Since most people under seventy don't know how to can (although this is changing), they assume the process is much more difficult than it actually is. When I say, "It's really not that hard", they think I'm just being modest. I bask in their flattering misperceptions.

(There's more on my own canning odyssey in my essay "Can, Do" in the Sweet and Sour section of Cravings.)