Book Review

A DIY food manual

Stocking your pantry from scratch

December 4, 2009

I’m nearly convinced that Karen Solomon wrote Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It just for me. I already make my own jam, granola, salad dressing, ice cream, and sorbet. But a whole book dedicated to DIY preserving? Just what the kitchen doctor ordered.

Solomon’s goal, she writes, was to create a from-scratch pantry of wholesome and delicious staples, enabling her to ditch the packaged and processed staples she usually bought at the store — mayo, crackers, sauces, and the like.

With pantry organization (and perhaps the Nike slogan) in mind, she organized her book by food category. “Munch It,” for example, has recipes for dips, chips, and flatbreads. “Brine It” does pickles and olives, “Noodle It” covers homemade pastas and sauces, and “Milk It” tackles butters and cheeses.

The recipes range from simple to complicated. I made rosemary-olive oil crackers and a delicious, garlicky white-bean dip quickly and effortlessly, and served them to rave reviews. But my plans for making bacon were abandoned after reading the first few lines of the recipe. Not only did I need three pounds of pork belly, I also needed liquid smoke or hickory sawdust, and seven to 10 days to get it good and bacon-like. A family brunch in a few days was not going to include bacon made by me.

And then there was the s’mores debacle. Knowing I had family arriving for a long beach weekend, I decided to make my own s’mores. The graham-cracker recipe was easy. I mixed together simple pantry ingredients, let the dough chill, rolled it, and cut it. The resulting squares were very good, perfect for a mildly sweet cookie snack.

Homemade marshmallows.

The marshmallows proved to be a bit more complicated, requiring gelatin, molten sugar, Karo syrup, and a candy thermometer. My marshmallow fluff was so thick, it burned out my mixer’s engine. The shiny, gooey mallow stuck to everything. Even when using a wet spatula, I could not get the mallow into the bowl, and the resulting marshmallows were flat and lumpy. I apologized as I distributed them to my family and proclaimed that I would never, ever make marshmallows again.

But the marshmallows melted perfectly. They browned on top, crackled as you bit into them, and oozed sticky, slinky strings of marshmallow over graham crackers, chocolate, and fingers. Everyone loved them. By the end of the weekend, I was actually thinking I might do it again.

This, I believe, is the theme of Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: that do-it-yourself projects can be fun as well as occasionally frustrating, not to mention delicious.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily make all of your pantry staples from scratch from now on. Around the holidays, for example, it might sound delightful to flavor your own liqueurs or concoct your own peanut-butter cups as gifts for friends and family. The rest of the year? Maybe not so much.

So I’ll probably still buy my marshmallows at the store — at least until another long beach weekend rolls around.

Anne Zimmerman is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Related book: Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It

There are 4 comments on this item
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1. by anonymous on Dec 9, 2009 at 1:33 PM PST

Ah, but marshmallows are supposed to be a gooey, sticky mess to make! That’s the joy of them. The batch described in the post sounds a little thick, but in my experience, they aren’t marshmallows unless at least one wall and the ceiling have been “decorated” in the process of making them. Still worth the fight, though.

2. by lafemmeartiste on Dec 9, 2009 at 1:46 PM PST

I have been makin’ marshmallows for years now for the holidays, thanks to Martha! Powdered sugar dusted over the final product cuts down on the gooey (handling) aspect respectably! Using miniature cookie cutter to cut out the seasoned end-result makes a festive shape addition to thick and frothy Mexican hot chocolate! Sure to satisfy even the most stalwart sweet tooth!

3. by Kathryn Chapman on Dec 9, 2009 at 3:14 PM PST

I wish there was a corn free recipe out there for marshmallows. One year I found a kosher brand that did not contain corn and sadly I can not find it anymore. Powdered sugar can be made without cornstarch, but corn syrup I’m not sure how to replace.

4. by anonymous on Dec 16, 2009 at 7:38 AM PST

I made a batch of non-corn syrup marshmallows a few years ago. They don’t roast as well as the others but they are fine in cocoa. Here’s what I have for that: 2 Tbsp. gelatin; 8 Tbsp. cold water; 2 c. sugar, 1/2 c. cold water; 1/4 tsp. salt; 2 tsp. vanilla.
I hope it works out for you.

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