I’ve long said that if you like making pickles, then you only really need one book on pickling – Linda Zeidrich’s “The Joy of Pickling”. In fact, I refer to it as ‘my pickle bible’. But I recently discovered another less known gem and I am revising that statement. If you like making pickles, “The Joy of Pickling” is essential, but if you love making pickles, then you also need “The Complete Book of Pickles & Relishes” by Leonard Louis Levinson.
Originally printed in 1965, the book begins with a updated (for 1965) reprint of an article Levinson published in the July 1957 issue of Coronet magazine on the history of pickle manufacturing in the US. It delves into all the various terminology commercial pickling uses (it really is everything you always wanted to know about pickling), before going into the details of what one needs to know in order to make pickles at home. In addition to the usual tips for preserving food, there’s a handy list of pickle fails and what caused them, a list for relating bulk to weight of many fruits and vegetables (so handy!), suggested seasonings for different products (a gem right there!) as well as a list of the 100 best American towns and cities for pickle making because of the quality of their municipal water (yes, Charlottesville is on there!) There are tips on how to best display your pickles for entering into the local fair as well as a section of recipes on how to use your pickles in dishes. And while all of this adds much charm and usefulness of the book, this book is also full of recipes – pickle recipes, relishes, chutneys, mincemeat and catsups and more.
Oh, the recipes. I could spend hours sitting here telling you about them all. Instead, take a look at the back of the book jacket:
64 relishes. 60 recipes for fruit pickles and spiced fruits (prunes! mangos! bananas! and more!) 22 catsups – not just of the tomato variety (for which there are at least 6 recipes, not including the green tomato ones), but apple, cranberry (2 kinds!), mushroom, walnut and peach. “Around the World in a Pickle Barrel”. Mincemeat! Chutneys -which I could have used a few years ago when I had been asked to teach a canning class specifically on chutneys and was hard pressed to find the sort I’d been asked to find. Turns out the chutneys I was looking for were in this book the entire time!
Although published 50+ years ago, the advice in this book is still doled out today in canning and preserving books – cautions against using table salt, recommendations to use only commercial vinegar with a 5% acidity level as well as cautioning about using “Grandmother’s recipes”. Food preservation technology is always changing, although funny, fermenting, which is referred to as ‘brining’ in this book, the oldest food preservation technique around, hasn’t really changed much over the centuries. Canning and sealing of jars certainly has though.
A Pittsbugh native, Levinson includes some Heinz recipes among his collection (particularly in the catsup section). By day, Leonard Louis Levinson was a Hollywood writer, with 1,000 radio and television scripts credited to him, as well as a number of plays, short stories, magazine and newspaper articles. It would seem that pickles were merely a hobby of his (“a gratifying” one he writes. I concur wholeheartedly.) Written with a sense of humor, this is the sort of cookbook one can sit down and read if you’re so inclined. Out of print, I understand the book is fairly easy to track down on Amazon. I managed to score my copy at a recent cookbook swap hosted by Cville Swaps. I’ve admittedly been a bit giddy about it ever since.
“The Complete Book of Pickles & Preserves” is so packed with information, it’s hard to digest it all, even after reading it cover to cover multiple times. As much as I love to sit down and read a good cookbook, getting inspired along the way, the true test comes when I begin to use it. I have no doubt that as canning season unfolds, I will find myself reaching for this tome quite a bit, especially for the “Suggested Seasonings for Different Products” section. I teach in my canning classes there are certain rules in canning that are hard and fast, but the easiest thing to change that makes a jar of pickles your own is the seasonings and the type of vinegar used. I have never before had what I thought was a good reference for mixing up the spices, but with this book on my shelf, I do. I’m so excited I can barely stand it. Pickling season cannot come fast enough this year.