But you know who was doing it before it was cool? That's right. Your grandma.
Grandma had a hell of a pantry, didn't she? Those basement shelves were positively dripping with the spoils of her gardening victories.
Thing is, Grandma didn't throw many dinner parties. Mine didn't, anyway. Her jars were for subsistence and not much else, and that, darlings, is where times have changed. Canning is no longer for staid green beans and stolid peaches in light syrup. Au contraire. It's chic, darlings.
I put up plum jam, but accented with cardamom and rose water. Smeared into a pre-baked pastry shell (an admission: I even use store-bought pie crust sometimes) with a little rosemary and soft goat cheese, it bakes into a sumptuous tart.
For my pickles, I add ginger, fish sauce, shallot and star anise with a good sprig of cilantro and a wedge of lime, and you know what? They add a whisper of Vietnamese flavor when julienned and stuffed inside a fancy sandwich—a shortcut to a banh mi baguette. (And yes, you can serve your guests a sandwich!) Sound tempting? My Banh Mi sandwich post will show you how to make one of these bad boys yourself.
But say you don't have time or proclivity for butchering and canning an entire albacore tuna, but you fancy the idea of entertaining from your pantry. Then what?
Don’t tell the radical homemaker, but you can get by with store-bought stuff. And this doesn't mean you have to do the semi-homemade walk of shame, presenting your adoring guests with a shaky smile and a "pie!" made of canned oddities. We've all been there, honey, and while I'll never judge you (I love you for who you are, really), Grandma would give you that "Disapproving Look" and shake her head while doing that tsk tsk thing. There's a better way.
Here's a quick example of what to do instead, as a pre-dinner snacky thing or alongside cocktails:
- Go to your pantry (or cupboard, shelf, bottom of your linen closet, etc.) and fetch a couple cans of good solid white albacore. I'm not talking that cat-food-cheap stuff—splurge the extra dollar and get something that resembles the original organism.
- Drain the tuna and throw it into your food processor with half a stick of butter, a good pinch of salt and pepper and the juice from half a lemon.
- Whizz it up until it's a smooth pâté, then stir in a spoonful of rinsed capers, a spoonful of minced shallot and a few pinches of chopped fresh parsley. This is fantastic with some crackers or a crudités platter.
Canning is a cool way to have a little control over what you eat, but if it's not really your bag, that's okay—you don't have to go all crazy with it. Even just a little jar of quick fridge pickles will taste better than store-bought ones. You can make the jam and then just freeze it instead of putting it into the jars and all that. If you really just cannot be bothered, though, here's a pro tip: Keep your pantry stocked with the stuff that’s the closest to whole, recognizable food, with the least amount of sugar and seasonings. Then just add your own flavors
—such as the ones I suggested for jam and pickles above. Your guests will hardly know the difference—and even Grandma might approve.