The brilliance of McClellan is that she manages to show that something so many people find fussy or complicated - preserving food in jars - is actually quite simple. She explains formulas, but without getting into unnecessarily detailed or scientific analysis. She lets you know when you can play around with flavors when when certain amounts of salt, sugar, or acid are there for food safety reasons.
Food in Jars has plenty of pictures of important steps so you know what to look for, and McClellan pipes up with tips and techniques she's figured out from years of canning. Her cheery, can-do (pun intended!) approach to canning is both comforting and inspiring. At her best, she essentially reminds novices that many things in the kitchen come down to common sense and judgment. For example, on the subject of whether jam is set or not: "If you're feeling uncertain about your set after you've filled all your jars, take a peek at the remnants of jam in your canning pot. It is sticks and sets to the side of the pan, take heart! The jam should eventually set in the jars as well."
The advice in Food in Jars goes beyond the recipes or formulas, and the "small-batch" element of the title is an important one. Far from insisting that you need a canning kettle, McClellen describes how she concocts her own from a stock pot and a cake rack.
The sheer variety in this little book is wonderful. There are the classics you want to make like Peach Jam, Blueberry Jam, Whole Peeled Tomatoes, and Bread and Butter Pickles, of course. Also filling its pages, however, are some new favorites to wow your friends and family like Oven-Roasted Peach Butter and Pickled Brussels Sprouts. Best of all, there are several recipes each for using those fruits and vegetables, like berries, tomatoes and peaches, that really are best for a short time each year. Food in Jars also offers tasty ways to channel that prolific garden delight that is zucchini.
For those who want to create gifts of food in jars but aren't so interested in traditional canning, McClellan offers up her dad's pancake mix recipe, flavored salts, and homemade vanilla extract, as well as several recipes for homemade granola.
If you want to finally get started "putting up" the best of the season, Food in Jars is an excellent introduction, tutorial, and companion.