Deep Cuts are appreciations of older favorites.
I first found my way to Kevin West's blog, and later his book, when John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote about him in Lucky Peach. I read the blog in one sitting, something calling to me from his kitchen in Los Angeles. I could smell the wild eucalyptus, see the citrus trees in their winter bloom through his window. I had dreamed of moving to southern California for those very reasons, although in practice I hate being there for more than a few days. But if you can preserve a season, a moment, in a jar for later, as West advises and even implores us to do, why can't we also bottle up the best parts of a city, or a coast, or a year?
This book does it. With 220 recipes organized by season, it could easily be the best compendium of jams and pickles out there. But what's really fascinating about this book, what keeps me opening it again every season, is that it has so much more. It's got the practical how-to's, and the scientific background info, but West also thinks nothing of breaking up the Summer chapter with Pablo Neruda's Ode to the Tomato, or a personal essay about gathering ramps in the West Virginia spring. The STS philosophy is that ephemera is meant to be collected, preserved, whether it's family history or an interesting moment at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market. He gives us the best of L.A., the best of rural Appalachia - without the endless traffic and assholes.
Of course, not everything in life is worth saving. Choices must be made and lived with. If anything, I would have liked more jam and fruit, and less pickles, featured in this book. I find that a decent jar of pickles will last me months, if not longer, while the fruit preserves may be gone in days. My favorite thing with the jams is all of the different flavoring ideas and combinations he gives, especially when he incorporates herbs or teas. The writing is crisp, and the practical information is invaluable. My one real criticism is that my shelves and freezer have been overflowing since this book was released. Maybe there are some things that aren't worth preserving, but before STS, how were we supposed to find them?
make this one thing:
Lord Grey's Peach Preserves
- 5 pounds ripe peaches
- 4 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 5 Earl Grey tea bags, divided
- Cut a small, shallow X in the bottom of each peach. Working in batches, blanch in a large pot of boiling water until skin loosens, about 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water; let cool. Peel, halve, and pit. Cut into 1/3 inch slices. Combine with sugar and juice in a large bowl. Let stand for 30 minutes.
- Place a small plate in freezer. Transfer fruit mixture and 4 tea bags to a large heavy pot. Open the remaining tea bag; crumble leaves slightly; add to pot. Bring to a boil, stirring gently, and cook 15-20 minutes. Test doneness by scooping a small spoonful onto chilled plate and tilting plate. (Preserves are ready if they don't run.) Remove tea bags. Skim foam from the surface of jam. Ladle jam into 2 clean, hot 1-pint jars. Wipe rims, seal, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.