Digging Deeper with Marisa McClellan, GRAIN Contributor
You teach, write, and blog about all things canning and jars. Tell us a little bit about where this passion began and how you developed it into a business.
I got into this specialty by accident. I worked as the editor of a general interest food blog for a couple of years and through that, became really engaged in the food blogging community. When that job was ending, I started Food in Jars simply as a way of staying active in the food blogging world. I had grown up canning and it was something I did and enjoyed as an adult. I knew that it was a category of food blog where there wasn't much coverage at that time and so I could create a space for myself.
However, I wasn't thinking that it was going to turn into a business or even any kind of income stream. But right around the time I launched, interest in canning and food preservation began to increase. I started by offering classes and doing a little freelance writing, while still working a full time job. Then the book came along and I dropped down to part time work. The summer before my first book came out, I left my job and dove full time into Food in Jars. There are a lot of uncertainties to working for yourself, but it's still the very best thing I've done in my professional life.
Your recipes are always so creative and feature exciting combinations of fruits and flavors. What’s your process for developing new recipes?
When it comes to developing recipes for preserves, I have a number of basic ratios that I work with for various jam, jelly, and chutney. From there, I will swap in different flavor elements depending on the time of year or the kinds of constraints I've been asked to work with. With jams and jellies, I typically reach for just one or two flavor additions, in order to keep things fruit forward. I think the biggest part of my success as a recipe developer simply being willing to try without knowing for sure if something it going to work perfectly. You don't make new discoveries if you're afraid to fail.
What are a few tips you’ve learned along the way you can share with readers who are getting into canning and preserving for the first time? And what about ideas for long-time canners who want to switch it up a little?
The very best advice I have for beginners is about which recipes make good starting places. Many people try to make strawberry jam or cucumber pickles first thing and they are two of the hardest preserves to get right the first time out. I always recommend that people start with blueberry jam (it's a higher pectin fruit and so it's easier to hit the set point) and dilly beans (green beans have more natural structure and so will hold on to their crunch better).
For more experienced canners, I encourage them to try new kinds of preserves. Lots of people get stuck making the same jams and pickles, without ever experimenting with relishes, conserves, and fruit butters. Another good way to stretch your skills is to learn out to use a new kind of sweetener or pectin.
What do you have in the works that you’re particularly excited about?
Right now, my most exciting upcoming project is a cookbook that's coming out in April. Called The Food in Jars Kitchen, it's all about cooking with preserves. One of the things I've learned in the process of teaching classes and writing books is that lots of people want to can, but they're not sure what to do with the preserves once they have them. This book will help folks figure out how to cook, bake, transform, and share their homemade preserves.