Marisa McClellan is a food blogger, cookbook author, and canning teacher based in Center City Philadelphia. Her books include Food in Jars, Preserving by the Pint, and Naturally Sweet Food in Jars. She has written for publications like Vegetarian Times, USA Today, Parents Magazine, The Sweethome, Food Network, Serious Eats, The Kitchn, Grid Philly, Saveur, Edible Philly, and Table Matters. Marisa also co-hosts a podcast dedicated living a food-focused life called Local Mouthful. Find more of her jams, pickles, and preserves (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at foodinjars.com.
1. How did you get started canning, and when did you decide to make a career out of it?
I grew up in a family that small amounts of seasonal canning. We always ended up living in houses that had fruit trees or blackberry bushes, and so we'd pick the fruit and make jam. It wasn't more than a couple of batches a year, but it was just enough so that I knew how to do it and wasn't scared of the process.
Then, when I was in my mid-20s, I went blueberry picking and somehow ended up coming home with 13 pounds of blueberries. I turned some of those berries into jam and in the process, remembered how satisfying canning could be. I don't know if I ever made a conscious decision to turn canning into my career. It was simply something I did and then wrote about for fun. Then I started teaching and found myself with a contract to write a cookbook. It really was just that one thing led to another and when I came up for air years later, I realized it was what I did for a living.
2. What do you enjoy most about your canning classes?
One of my favorite things about teaching is the process of taking a roomful of strangers and bringing them together. My goal with every class is to create a little community for the time that we're together. I find that people learn better when they're comfortable in their surrounding and so I try to cultivate that for the two or three hours that my classes take. Beyond that, I my hope is always that people leave feeling like they've had all their fears calmed and their questions answered.
3. You have a new book, Naturally Sweet Food in Jars, can you tell us more about this book? What makes it different from the previous ones?
The thing that makes my new book unique is the fact that every recipe in it is sweetened with either honey, maple, agave, coconut sugar, fruit juice concentrates, or dried fruit. Most canning books (including my previous two) primarily focus on granulated sugar for sweetening. However, as people try to move away from refined sugar and opt for more natural, less refined options, there weren't many options for preserves and condiments. My goal was to make it possible for everyone to enjoy a wide array of preserves, no matter what their dietary restrictions.
4. What are your favorite unconventional canning ingredients?
Currently, my favorite unconventional ingredient is coconut sugar. It tastes a little bit like brown sugar, but deeper and with more earthy, caramelly notes. It's great with plums and apples.
5. What do you credit your blog’s success to?
There are a number of reasons why my blog has been a success. I had the good fortune to be writing about canning at a time when people were looking for the information I was offering. I've been incredibly consistent. I post four to six times a week and haven't taken more than a week off in over seven years. I'm a good writer and an able photographer. And I work hard to invest in my community of readers.