Skills Our Editors Want to Learn This Fall

We’re following the cooling weather and school children everywhere by going back to school! Our editors share the skills they hope to pick up this fall and the books and classes that will be their guides.

School kids in Japan have got it good. The home packed lunch has risen to the level of an art form, and children can look forward everyday to a cast of cartoon characters and clever shapes peeking out at them from their lunch box.

Eileen M. Duffy: Canning and Preserving
There is absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be canning my own food, given the excess of produce at farm stands this time of year. Except I can think of about four: I live alone, so what am I going to do with all those tomatoes (which I love)? Botulism! But I can be careful enough to prevent that. It’s expensive. No, it’s really really not. The tomatoes I canned in the summer of 2011 are still in the cabinet, and the jars I opened had a weird cinnamon-nutmeg flavor to them. But that was my maiden effort. And I use tons of canned tomatoes in the winter. Mostly to make the best pasta fagioli soup ever* (which I enhance with sausage). So, no excuses this fall. I won’t wait too long to get a bushel of my favorite paste tomatoes. I’ll go to the Walmart, where the canning supplies are so cheap I feel guilty, and buy up quart containers for a winter’s worth of chili, short ribs, soup and anything braised. By the time the last oh-so-chic mason jar is put up, I may know what I’m doing. (*The soup recipe is behind a paywall on the Cook’s Illustrated website. I assume you have an account. If you don’t, beg me and I’ll put the recipe up on Edible East End‘s website. Secret ingredient? Anchovies.)

Amy Zavatto: Jam
There’s something about the fleeting nature of fruits that makes me want to make jelly, jam, and marmalade all day, everyday. Except it’s a skill that for a long time intimidated the pulp out of me. Then I got The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, which is so, so beautiful to look at that you kind of can’t help setting aside any fears of exploding jars or unpopped lids or your older sister Laura’s scary tales of canning botulism (thanks, sis) and just say, what the hell; I’m in! I’ve made several really great marmalades and jams from this book — the last one, strawberry-Marsala-rosemary this past July when strawberries were calling my name — and it’s my bible now. I want to make everything Rachel Saunders has a recipe for.  Can you smell those ripe peaches??!!!

Lauren Wilson: Pickling and Fermenting
Ever since I tried to crack the code of making my family’s pickled corn in beans in the city, I’ve caught the fermentation bug. You might even say that I had a bout of fermentation fever when I went to the book store with a mission on a recent afternoon just to buy Sandor Katz‘s trusted modern tomes. There’s a whole universe of microbio possibility, so I’m not exactly sure what my next project will be (recommendations for beginner projects welcome!). Whatever I choose, I’m looking forward to nurturing more than just plants in my apartment as we transition to cooler months.

Carrington MorrisTree Identification at the Brooklyn Brainery.
I look forward to taking this class again and again. There’s so much lying hidden in plain sight that broadens the perceptions. Last summer in McCarren Park we not only learned our lindens from our London planes, but we discovered an enchanted-looking honey locust with thorns so threatening you’d think it evolved among herbivorous dinosaurs, we watched a squirrel build a nest over the heads of hipsters and visited The Tree from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. We learned our pinnate from our palmate from our cordate, our deciduous from our coniferous, how to know a tree by its fruit and in the winter by its bark. Which trees are New York natives and the story behind how the others got here. Which do best in urban environments, and which are best for pollinators. Guide Lisa Nett’s a fount of knowledge and inspiration. If you can’t make a walk in Fort Greene, Williamsburg or Queens, check her out on Tumblr or Twitter.

Rachel Wharton: Wine
My Achilles heel as a food writer is wine. Despite drinking a lot of really good wine over the past few years (at Uncorked especially) it’s not a beverage I feel comfortable discussing or even ordering. Luckily I am usually surrounded by knowledgeable types, and I let them do the work. But it’s something I’d like to tackle. I have plenty of wine dictionaries and bibles I use for reference all the time, but for myself, I’d like to invest in a copy of Kevin Zraly’s Complete Wine Course, which has something like 30 years of really great reviews. Zraly, for those who don’t know, is the founder of Manhattan’s Windows on the World Wine School.

Gabrielle Langholtz: Croissant making
When summer turns to fall, I turn to the oven. But while I can bake plum cake, pear crisps and no-knead loves blindfolded, I know absolutement rien about French pastry. Enter Mille-Feuille bakery on Laguardia Place, just south of Washington Square. Their monthly, two-hour Saturday morning classes cover, as they put it, “the theory of the croissant” — plus hands-on practice of all the steps for plain, chocolat and almond, including folding in all that beurre. Yield: 15 croissants and a lifetime of happy mornings.

Caroline Lange: Keeping a zero-waste kitchen
Maybe it’s not something that can be taught in a class — if only — but one of my new school year goals is to cut down on food waste in my own kitchen. I’ve been lugging my little compost bin to the greenmarket for years now, but I’d like to be more proactive about about using all my bits and pieces: repurposing gray water, keeping scraps for stock, trying my hand at pickling more than cucumbers and freezing my surplus. My main inspiration: Tamar Adler’s gorgeous book An Everlasting Meal.

Anne Goldberg: Bread baking
Like Lauren and her tomatoes, I have occasionally forbid myself buying food that I knew I should be able to produce at home. In particular, I’m talking about bread. While I’m happy to pay good money for a heavenly loaf of miche from She Wolf Bakery or Bien Cuit, I make this a rare treat, and I still feel guilty knowing that I could achieve (if only in my dreams) a similar loaf with a few cents worth of flour, salt and water. My dad always baked his own bread, and this contributes to my feeling that this is just something people do (haha!). So it is that I’ve been collecting bread baking books for many years, including this one, and promising myself each season that it was high time for self improvement, and starting a bread starter. This fall is no exception, except that with school responsibilities off my plate I have the time to pursue a project that will certainly take many months, if not years to master.

Feature photo: Instagram/kirbyandkraut

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