Author interview - Marisa McClellan

Marisa McClellanMarisa McClellan is a full-time writer, teacher, and blogger at Food in Jars (three times nominated by Saveur magazine for a Best Food Blog award, and winner of Best of Philly from Philadelphia Magazine). She lives in Philadelphia with her husband. Marisa's blog is indexed on EYB, as are all of her cookbooks, including the just released Naturally Sweet Food in Jars (enter our contest for your chance to win a copy and see book tour details World Calendar of Cookbook Events). We caught up to the busy Marisa to discuss Naturally Sweet:

This is your third cookbook plus there are more than 1,000 recipes in the EYB index of your blog, Food in Jars. How do you get your ideas for new recipes?

I start by thinking through different combinations of produce, spices, sweeteners, and styles of preserve. This process works best for me with another person. For this latest book, I called my mom while I was driving from Philadelphia to Boston for a event. We talked through hundreds of combinations and she took notes for me. In the end, we came up with enough ideas for this book, plus more. Then I take those ideas into the kitchen, to try and make them work in real life. From there, only the things that work and taste good make it into the book. 

With all the recipe testing you must need to do, how many preserving jars do you get through in a year?

Hundreds and hundreds. I don't know exact numbers, but more times than I can count, I've filled the back of my Subaru Forester to the very top with boxes of jars. 

Do you have a preference for which canning jars you use?

I'm an equal opportunity jar user. Any jar that has a reliable closure mechanism that makes it into my apartment is fair game. That includes Weck jars, those that seal with lug lids, and even the vintage bailing wire-style jars. However, the bulk of what I use are mason jars with two-piece lids, simply because they're the most affordable and widely available. 

And which lucky people get all the preserves that you make?

Truly? It is very rare for someone to leave my apartment empty-handed. I'm always pressing jars of preserves on people who come through my doors. I take things to my local food swap. And whenever I start to feel overwhelmed with preserves, I pack up little assortments and leave them hanging on the doorknobs of my neighbors' apartments.  

With having so many preserving projects, how much when you are doing regular cooking or baking are you thinking "How can I use all that food in jars?"

I am ALWAYS thinking about ways to use up the things that I've made. I'm actually hoping that that will be the theme of my next cookbook -- How to use up everything that you've put up! 

Are there any recipes you have created to use up preserves that you thought "That's genius!"?

My favorite trick is turning jam into a tangy braising medium for chicken thighs or a pork shoulder. Essentially, I use equal parts jam (use a sweet one like peach or cherry) and apple cider vinegar and add a goodly portion of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. It works well on the stove top, in the oven, or in a slow cooker. 

You do a lot of cooking classes and demos (listed on the Cookbook Events Calendar). How did you come by your teaching skills?

I did a lot of community theater as a kid, and while I wasn't an exceptionally talented actor, I found that I was innately comfortable standing before large groups of people. I firmly believe that if you can manage yourself in front of an audience and you have a topic you care about, the teaching just flows. At least, that's how it's been for me.  

Many people are put off home preserving by fear of food safety. How do you help people get over these fears?

I always start by explaining to people how hard it actually is to kill anyone with a home canned preserve. Most people show up for a class thinking that the chances are good that they are going to cultivate a deadly neurotoxin in their basement. Once I explain (using science!) the conditions required for botulism spores to germinate into something dangerous and how specific and relatively rare (in the context of the things we typically can at home, at least) they are, people breathe a little more easily. I also try to teach everyone who comes to a class the points in a recipe where they can improvise and where they need to stay tethered to the specific instructions. My goal is always to cultivate understanding and curiosity, rather than fear.  

1 Comment

  • rivergait  on  3/23/2016 at 2:39 PM

    Owning 2 of Marisa's books already, I look forward to her next idea of "How to Use Up What I've Made". Beyond toast, I have discovered jalapeno jelly makes a great glaze on BQ chicken, mango chutney mixes well with mayo for all sandwiches and fruit salads, and zucchini hot dog relish is essential for potato salad.

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