Food in Jars Cookbook and Family
Posted in Culture Vulture / DIY / Good Ideas / Places / Portland and Oregon / San Francisco Bay Area / Seattle and Washington | No Comments |
A few days ago I got a package in the mail: the Food in Jars Cookbook, written by my cousin, Marisa McClellan. It is one of the best experiences opening mail, and I’ll tell you why.
Pulling the book out of its bubble wrap slip, I felt a surging pride and joy that doubled when I read the inscription to Leana, Marisa’s mother. Such feeling was unexpected, even from a nostalgic like me, but as I flipped through the pages I started to realize why I felt so much.
What I held in my hands was a piece of family history – the documentation of her journey from childhood when she chose a pen and a wooden spoon as her toys, to picking blackberries roadside, to learning her parent’s recipes and embarking on a research experience that has firmly placed her as one of America’s most expert canners.
Reading the light-hearted recipe introductions, I get to know Marisa better. As a kindred documentarian it was touched to see such a useful book interwoven with such tender personal stories.
The stories don’t detract from the workhorse nature of this book. Food in Jars has recipes for jam, jelly, condiments, pickles, granola – and other jar-compatible foods that make it easy to store away the season to enjoy throughout the year. Batches are sized for use in small home kitchens, and aren’t over complicated for novice canners or cooks.
The implication of this, in practical use, is that you always have something tasty in a jar to transform plain ingredients into a rather time-friendly and nonetheless impressive meal. Dollop a jar of peach salsa on to some chicken thighs and bake. Add a tablespoon of plum jam to your next salad dressing. Canning Marisa’s way enables inspired dishes with minimal preparation or ingredients. Nearly every recipe has at least a few ideas along these lines in addition to being tasty on their own. (I’ll admit I could eat her cantaloupe jam by the spoonful.)
My mother is gaga for crepes – she even made them instead of cupcakes for school birthday celebration. That meant most of my childhood pancakes were made with Mo’s mix, which we all looked forward to getting in the mail.
On the east coast we found blackberries in Valley Forge Park and picked raspberries at our CSA, but the jam never lasted long enough to make it into a can. We canned tomatoes every summer, but it was Marisa and her mother that introduced me to canned jam.
Leana’s delicately spiced blackberry jam cheered up even grumpy mornings. There was a particularly tough morning while I was in Portland doing research – it was cured with a bowl of hot oatmeal and her jam.
Marisa’s parents are responsible for a number of memorable preparations in my childhood household, and Marisa’s penchant for delicious canning has been a part of establishing my own kitchen as a young adult. I had never really put the two together until this book arrived.
The Food in Jars Cookbook allows everyone to share her well-organized wisdoms about food. The book has multiplied her repertoire of recipes. It allows me to bend over pages rather than bookmarking them and hoping not to get blueberry syrup on my keyboard. The interesting combinations of fruits and vegetables – like zucchini bell pepper relish – will excite a cook’s imagination. Food in Jars encourages readers to pay closer attention to the seasons, an ideal consequence of canning.
This book extends the family and makes the traditions that Marisa grew up with and honed part of the greater American foodway. That’s why I got such a rush to open her book. I’m pretty darn sure you’ll feel good opening this book too.
Lucky for us West Coast folk, Marisa is already here to personally introduce us to her work. She makes her way from Seattle to Portland to the Bay. In San Francisco she’s doing a signing at Omnivore Books on the 21st and as of this posting there was still spots left in her apricot canning class June 20th .
Disclosure: I know by the nature of our personal connection I cannot be objective, but when it comes down to actually using jam recipes I reach for Marisa’s tips more often than not so my experience is also based on trail. I was provided with my copy of her book but that was not a determining factor in this post.