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Marisa McClellan

The Can-a-razzi Is Coming to Seattle

Seattle will play host this week and next to a few luminaries in the canning world, and we couldn’t be more jazzed. Whether this is your first canning season or your tenth, these upcoming events are great opportunities to deepen your practice at the canning kettle.

Put-emUpStarting on Thursday, May 31, Sherri Brooks Vinton, author of “Put’em Up!” (and two forthcoming preserved titles) will kick off her Seattle trip at Book Larder, where she’ll lead a 90-minute demo, both pickled and preserved. Details here.

brook hurst stephens

CAA's Brook Stephens.

Sherri’s next stop is  Puyallup, where she’ll be presenting at the Mother Earth News Fair, a weekend-long showcase of gardening, DIY and all things green. Our money is on Sunday, when Sherri leads a jam demo at 11:30 a.m., followed by CAA recipe editor Brook Stephens, who leads a pickle demo at 2:30 p.m. (You don’t want to miss Brook’s demo — her pickles are to die for!)   Fair details here.

Food In JarsNext weekend, Philadelphia-based blogger and author Marisa McClellan will be showing off her new book, Food in Jars (also the name of her popular preserving blog) at Book Larder. Admission to Marisa’s Sunday morning demo/book signing is free. Details here.

Do you have canning experts breezing through your town? Share the scoop below in the comments section.


Canning Chat THURS 8/19

That’s Food in Jars blogger Marisa McClellan pictured above, and I’m tickled (pickled?) to have her as a guest in this week’s Culinate chat Thursday, Aug. 19 (1 ET/10a PT). Marisa always seems to have the canning kettle fired up, which is why we think she’s can-tastic. Join the conversation!

P.S. We’ll have giveaways throughout the hour.


Why They Can: Q/A With 4 Canning Maestros

Editor’s note: Last year, I contacted four veteran canners and newly minted CAA members to better understand the passion behind “putting up” food. Below, excerpts from my electronic conversations with Marisa McClellan of Philadelphia, Pa. (Food in Jars), Shannon & Jason Mullett-Bowlsby of Seattle (The Lazy Locavores) and Kat Kinsman, managing editor of Eatocracy, who’s based in New York. These interviews were originally posted on True/Slant.

Why do you can?
Shannon & Jason: We believe more folks are wanting to can this year as an offshoot of growing their own food and/or knowing where their food comes from. More people are turning to local producers or growing their own food as a result of the increase of deadly food contamination and the greater awareness of GMOs in our food system. Food we grow ourselves or food we source from local producers we can meet and get to know is safer and better for us. The next natural step in that awareness is the desire to continue this type of food consumption all year long. For this reason, more and more folks are preserving the harvest through canning and other food storing methods.

Photo: Flickr/Linusgraybill

Marisa: I can because I’ve always been drawn to abundance. However, once you fill your home with bushels of peaches and pounds of berries, you have to do something with them so that they don’t go to waste. I can because homemade jam is better than store bought. I can because I love the tangy crunch of a good dilly bean (and I don’t want to pay someone else $8 for a jar of theirs). I can because I like buying from farmers and sometimes I get carried away. And I can because I want the sense of continuity that making my own food, in the same way that women of generations past made theirs, lends to my life.

Kat: My husband, well before I met him, bought a gothic, stone Episcopal church in Sharon Springs, NY and converted it into a home (We Live in a Church). The kitchen is incredible and the local produce scrumptious, so I just started doing this without thinking much of it. My Dad is a chemist, I have an MFA in Metalsmithing, so between the mad-scientist upbringing (he loves making wine jelly and odd edible projects) and the non-fear of potential immolation, it just has always seemed so natural. I love the equipment and the process and having a gorgeous artifact afterward. It’s meditative and calming and I’ll stay up around the clock if I’m inspired.

For how long have you been at it?
S&J: We’ve been preserving our own foods for three years now. We always did a lot of freezing and drying but it has only been in the past three years we became more aware of where our food was coming from and how it was processed. Also, it has been in the last three years that we started growing most of our own food and sourcing the rest of it from local producers. The next logical step was to preserve that harvest we and others had worked so hard for and canning was the answer.

Now we teach others to use canning as a way of preserving their harvests and the food they source. It is an essential skill to know if folks want safe food to eat year round.

MM: This is my third season of active canning and with each year, it takes up a larger portion of my life (in the best way possible).

KK: Officially, this is the second year of my upstate New York canning vacation, but unofficially, it’s been going on for nearly five years, as whenever I’m upstate, I just tend to can.

Who was your teacher?
S&J: Both of us remember canning as kids and in high school. I (Shannon) grew up on a large farm in Ohio and we had a huge food garden. We were always canning and preserving throughout the harvest seasons. Jason grew up in Wyoming where his mother did a lot of home preserving. It just made sense back then to produce and source your own food and then preserve it. It’s just what we did to eat.

More recently, we turned to the same guides our mothers and great aunts used. The Ball Blue Books are an invaluable resource for any home canner. We brushed up our skills with The Ball Blue Book of Canning and the Ball Book of Home Preserves (I think those are the exact titles) and took it from there.

MM: My mom taught me to can. She was part of the generation of baby boomers who became enamored of bread baking and canning in the late 60s and early 70s. Her mother was not a canner, so she taught herself how to put up in the early days of my parents’ marriage, in a tiny kitchen in Marin County, Calif. Although my mother doesn’t bake much bread these days, she never stopped canning jams and freezing homemade applesauce.

KK: I suppose I’d say that the Lee Brothers are my canning muses. I bought their cookbook, along with Charleston Receipts, North Carolina & Old Salem Cookery, a comb-bound book of historical New York State recipes and a million more pamphlets, community cookbooks, etc. The more battered a book, the more I tend to trust it.

What’s your favorite thing to “put up?”

S&J: What don’t we love to put up?? Our pantry is this gorgeous array of colorful jars. The reds, greens, blues and purples are just stunning to look at all crammed in there. We really look at it as a true craft. The food has to look beautiful and taste good. We start early in the season with asparagus, work our way through the various fruit and berry seasons and are often canning our tomatoes and pickles right up through October and November. What isn’t there to love??

We can salsas and pickles, TONS of tomatoes and make enough jams and jellies and whole fruit preserves to keep us stocked up all year long until the next season rolls around. I guess we love it all! Oh yeah… we give a lot of our jars away as presents during the holiday season. This year, I’m betting we’ll be trying some new canned baby foods… we seem to have a lot of expectant mothers around us this year.

MM: At heart, I’m a jam maker above all other things. However, one cannot live on jam alone, so I pickle my weight in veggies and stock away jars of tomatoes.

KK: I tend toward the heirloom recipes — black walnuts, grape catsup, watermelon rind — but last year’s triumph was being able to break out pickled peaches to serve alongside a serious country ham at a New Year’s Eve-Eve soiree at a friend’s house. I felt as if I’d brought summer.


Just a few spots left for Canning Basics class in Seattle

Learn just how easy it can be to make and can a batch of jam from scratch at the Canning Basics with Marisa McClellan: Fruit Jam class.

If you’ve never done any canning because you think it’s too complicated, this class will change your mind and your pantry forever. Each student will head home with the knowledge they need to make their own jam (as well as a small jar of the jam made in class that day). Marisa is a food writer and cooking instructor from Philadelphia, PA who is coming to the Seattle-area to participate in the Canning Across America weekend.


If You Want The Best Jam…


We had high expectations for our Shuksan strawberries from the start.

Tastemaker Jon Rowley and six-degrees-of-Traca Savadago had led our group to the gleaming, paint-red berries as the representative of a certain kind of umami. For Jon, these berries fit a particular sense of the word. They were a food that “has become all that can be, when it is at its peak of quality and fulfillment.” We sliced them with whipped cream for dessert that night, we made two batches of strawberry ice cream, we ate them out of hand…


but Jon had warned us that the berries wouldn’t last past nightfall. The rest were destined for jam.

First I turned to Marisa McClellan’s post on Strawberry-Vanilla jam. I’d had a song in my head ever since reading what she wrote about her day of berry-jamming, the subversively merry Michelle Shocked tune that goes “We were making jam. Strawberry jam! Well, if you want the best jam, you’ve got to make your own.”

I’d planned on making Marisa’s exact recipe, but decided at the last minute I was more comfortable measuring in weights rather than cups. I wound up with Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton’s book Preserved, which called for 6 3/4 pounds of strawberries, 5 1/2 pounds of white sugar, and the juice of two lemons (not quite as precise as we wanted when it came to the lemon, but there you have it.) We chopped the larger berries into chunks, left the large ones whole, and gently boiled them for an hour or so, as the recipe told us, until the volume had reduced by 10 percent.

Then we added the sugar and prepared to boil the mixture until the temperature rose to 220 degrees F, where it was to set. And we waited. And we waited. The hour crept toward midnight, the jam bubbled away, and the thermometer hovered stubbornly around 215 degrees.

I testily started asking around on Twitter, a surprisingly instant font of advice. Our problem, it seemed pretty clear, was that for all our supposed precision, we hadn’t realized it would be a problem to double the jam recipe. If we had thought to research it before we started, we would have learned you’re not supposed to do that.

But we boiled on regardless, as it didn’t seem like a safety issue, and we finally hit the magic temperature. We tested the jam to see if it had set — we found a clear explanation of how to gauge that in Molly Wizenberg’s berry jam recipe here — and finally proceeded with our sterilized jars and boiling water bath. (The book doesn’t call for water bath processing, but, remember, we’re paranoid.)

At night’s end, we were disappointed in the jam’s taste. Those fragile, glowingly juicy berries had disappeared, subsumed into what seemed like an overly sugared, overly cooked-tasting, hot-tub’s worth of jam.

We finished up and went to bed, figuring we would do better next time.

But as strawberry season passed its height and we cracked open our jars for morning toast and jam, something surprising happened.

A few days removed from our memory of the fields, the seasonal abundance, the ripe hit of the just-picked berries in our mouths, the jam tasted darn good. It was sweet, yes, but not as much as most processed store-bought stuff. Taken out of the context of those perfect berries, as just a random jar of jam, it appeared to be that “best jam” that we had wanted.

I was so pleased, I started giving it away to friends, to colleagues, even a jar to (gasp) Thierry Rautureau, the four-star chef who told me once that he cans enough fruit to last him all winter, but saves a single jar from the previous year until the new crops are ready, just to….what? Just to know there’s always one jar there.

Just as our jam wasn’t as disappointing as I thought at first taste, I sure hope it’s as good as I think it is now.

But that doesn’t matter so much. I’m digging up my Ball Blue Book to review basic instructions (as I should have done before hitting the stove this year.) I’ve got canning on the brain. Next week, we want to go picking for raspberries.

And a different verse of that Michelle Shocked song is the one that now just won’t leave my head. It goes like this:

We have a little revolution sweeping the land.
Now once more everybody’s making homemade jam.
So call your friends up on the telephone…
Invite ’em on over, you make some jam of your own


Won’t you join us on our Canvolution weekend?



Rebekah Denn