Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ashley English Book Reviews & (gasp!) a Giveaway

Summertime meant many things to me as a child. It meant sleeping in. It meant muggy afternoons in a lounge-style lawn chair with a stack of Sweet Valley High books at my side. It meant futile attempts at fashioning a poor-man's Slip-N-Slide out of an enticing roll of Visqueen my Dad kept in the barn. It meant eating chicken patty sandwiches with mustard and dill pickle slices for dinner at 9 p.m. It meant no AC and a teeny, tiny black and white TV with knobs that had to be cranked extra hard to move from one station to either of the other two.

My Summers were lazy bliss. We hardly ever went anywhere, save late-night trips to Kroger (where we lingered in the frozen foods aisle) and Sunday church.

And every Summer, my Mama canned. My aunts canned. My Grandma canned.

I didn't really help, mind you. I was too busy trying to establish a defining mental image to distinguish Elizabeth Wakefield from Jessica Wakefield. (Of course, in the end, I made bratty Jessica slightly less beautiful and called it a day.)

As is prone to happening, at least for me, I look back now and regret that didn't stick around long enough to actually learn something. Alas, in lieu of usable knowledge, I have worrisome flashbacks of tomatoes going through the grinder. I also have one very clear and precious memory of washing peaches in a metal tub out in the barnyard with my Grandma, Betty Jane. She told me how important it was to wash them well and I listened to all that she had to say, because her canned peaches were nothing short of magical.

Years later, these farmgirl things pull at the very roots of my heart. They take me back. I want to make up for lost time and learn them and when I do, I will force Ruby to help. It's for her own good, after all.

For those of you who share my urge to open a jar of home-canned spaghetti sauce in the middle of January, have a look:

If ever a how-to manual on canning could be captivating, this would be it. Ashley English, in all of her quirky-chic farmgirl glory, provides the required litany of necessary nuts-and-bolts tips along with full-color photographs that are day-in-the-country, tie-on-a-vintage-apron gorgeous. She understands and conveys well the sense of community that permeates these old-school pursuits. But best of all, she leaves readers - urban, suburban and rural alike - with the belief that they can do it.

And while we're at it, you may recall my recent fondness for the idea of keeping chickens. I put most of the blame squarely on her. Call me crazy, but I've been sucked in by the charms of those feathery broads. And I've been wondering if I might need a few of my own.

Enter this:

For all of you maybe-wannabe-chicken tenders, consider this required reading. I know it's Summer vacation and all, but today I'm the boss and I'm giving you homework.

Ms. English's beautiful hen tome is the go-to source for learning the ins and outs of keeping chickens happy, healthy, safe and fruitful, so to speak.

In her signature style, which I adored for 1) her fearless and forthright use of the word "poop" and 2) her commitment to telling the whole truth, she paints a very clear picture of both the fanciful fun and the muck-boots work that coop keeping entails.

As for me? After reading this informative and engaging book front-to-back, I think I'm satisfied to continue my theoretical pining for some ruffly girls while I mentally prepare myself for hen poop and early morning feedings.

And while I contemplate my place in the chicken world, I will pull beets and ready them for pickling. I'll troll the web for the best canned spaghetti sauce recipe around. And I'll take notes, so that I can be sure to report back.

For the love of Pete, I nearly forgot! As luck would have it, I have an extra copy of both Canning & Preserving and Keeping Chickens burning holes in my pockets. For your chance to win the double-stacked farmgirl primer, just leave me a comment. Contest ends on Friday, July 2nd, 12 Noon, EST. I'll announce the winner later that evening.*

For another chance to win, head on over to BeachBrights!

*Contest only open to U.S. residents, please!

{All photos on this post used with permission from Canning & Preserving and Keeping Chickens.}