It's not too late to preserve some of summer's bounty. In fact, it's not too late to start preserving, period.
In two new books, the talented writers make it clear there is plenty of preserving -- and cooking -- to be done all year, adding pride and pleasure to your table. Also, with the holidays in mind, surely much will be made of a gift straight from your kitchen -- and your heart.
One thoroughly modern book that is very well done is "Preserving Today," by Jeanne Lesem (Knopf, $23). It is the ninth addition to the wonderful series from Knopf that celebrates the nation's culinary heritage.
Ms. Lesem's 168 innovative recipes are almost secondary to her detailed and knowledgeable presentation for preserving foods the modern way, using modern methods and devices, such as microwave ovens and food processors. Furthermore, when you do it yourself, in quantities that are manageable, you are assured of having it your way: with or without sugar, salt, preservatives and additives.
There are literally hundreds of tips at Lesem's fingertips that should make preserving today a breeze. Personally, I was glad to see her note on the use of paraffin to seal jars. She says: "Forget it. It has outlived its usefulness in home preserving, and it was never very satisfactory anyway."
After her chapter on "Getting Started," Ms. Lesem wades into jams and jellies, pickles and relishes, chutneys and condiments, and sauces and beverages. What you'll notice is her spirited text and dedication to detail. "Preserving Today" should be preserved on your bookshelf for many tomorrows.
The second book, "The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices & Flavorings," by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (Dorling Kindersley, $34.95), is quite different, as you might discern from its title. Ms. Ortiz, whose cookbooks on Latin America, Mexico, Spain and Portugal already are classics, hails from London, as does this book.
Multifaceted and multi-hued, "Encyclopedia" containst a melange of "cook's choice" recipes, cooking and storage tips, what tastes well with what, and an imaginative and colorful selection of photographs. It's really not encyclopedic, but there's plenty of thought for food.
The well-traveled Ortiz also has included a fascinating section titled "Flavors of the World," in which she discusses the culinary customs of many countries and continents, from Africa and the Middle East to Vietnam and her beloved Latin nations.
I found "Encyclopedia of Herbs" just plain exciting to explore.
In "Preserving Today," Ms. Lesem says she was tempted to rename this recipe "Rainbow Relish." "The flavor is the same, no matter what colors you select, [although] you may want to avoid using green bell peppers, only because their color fades to an unappetizing olive drab in cooking." The pickled peppers are good in salads and sandwiches or with meat, poultry or fish.
Sweet pickled peppers
Makes about 5 cups
3 pounds ripe bell peppers in various colors
1 cup coarse (kosher) salt, or 3/4 cup pickling or un-iodized table salt
2 tablespoons mixed pickling spices
1 3/4 cups cider vinegar
1 3/4 cups sugar
Stem and seed the peppers and cut into 1/4 -inch rings. In a large bowl or non-reactive saucepan, put peppers, add salt and water to cover, and soak 6 to 8 hours.
Tie pickling spices loosely in a double thickness of dampened cheesecloth or place in a metal tea ball. Combine vinegar, sugar, spice bag and 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of water in a 4-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil 10 minutes.
Drain pepper rings, rinse in cold water and drain again. Add to the syrup, bring to a boil again, and boil steadily 10 to 12 minutes, or until peppers are tender.
With a slotted spoon, fill hot, sterilized jars with peppers within 1/2 inch of the top. Boil liquid rapidly until syrupy, and pour over peppers, filling jars to within 1/4 inch of the rim. Discard spice bag. Seal, cool, label and store at least a month.
From "The Encyclopedia of Herbs" comes this simple frittata.
Zucchini and parsley frittata
Makes 2 to 3 servings
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 pound zucchini, trimmed and chopped
1/2 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
curly parsley sprigs for garnish
Heat the butter and oil in a non-stick skillet and saute the onion until it is golden and tender. Add the zucchini, tomatoes, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over low heat until the zucchini is tender, about 8 minutes. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat them lightly; season lightly. Pour over the zucchini mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon to mix. Turn the heat to very low and cook until the eggs have set. Run the pan under the broiler to brown the top, if desired. Slide out of the pan and serve hot. Garnish with parsley.
I can't tell you yet how the following unusual liqueur recipe from "The Encyclopedia of Herbs" is going to turn out, but I thought it would be fun to try it.
Orange and coffee bean liqueur
Cut three slits down the side of an orange and insert some coffee beans in each of the incisions. (Select one or two small oranges that will fit into your jar.)
Place the orange in a (sterile) jar and add a handful of coffee beans.
Pour on a mixture of 1/3 sugar syrup ( 2/3 cup sugar to 2 1/3 cups water) to 2/3 tequila and seal. Chill for 3 months before using.