Can It: An Interview with Food Alchemist Marisa McClellan

What can happen in a 45-year-old, 80 square-foot kitchen? At the hands of master canner, Marisa McClellan, magic.

Publisher: Running Press
Format: Hardcover
Author: Marisa McClellan
Price: $23.00
Title: Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round
Length: 237 pages
Publication date: 2012-05

When you admit to acquaintances that you can food, they either are filled with admiration, think you crazy, or a bit of both.

But canning, like many other slightly faded domestic arts, has made a huge comeback, appealing to do-it-yourselfers, end-of-days folks, artisanal foodies, and cooks interested in preserving the glories of summer fruits and vegetables. Nor should we forget the cooks who never ceased canning: Mormons, whose religious beliefs include extensive food storage, or people like my husband’s aunt, who tends an enormous garden and cans the results, thus spending far less at the market.

Yes, high-quality, commerically canned food is readily available, but home-canned fruits, vegetables, pickles, and fish (yes, fish) are far better than anything off a supermarket shelf. There's the added advantage of knowing exactly what went into your jar -- ideally, fresh organic food. Think of this in January as you eat pasta sauce made from organic Roma tomatoes you spent a sweaty August weekend canning, or as you tuck marinated red peppers and goat cheese into a midweek luncheon sandwich.

Canning is also marvelous therapy. Ideally, you are alone in your kitchen. Put on some music, then lay out your equipment: canning pot, rack, jars, jar lids, screw bands, funnel, ladle, jar lifter. Put your jar lids and screw bands in a small pot and heat gently. Put the canner on the stove and fill it with water. Now prep your jars: depending on the recipe, you may need to sterilize them (you can do this in the canner), or simply wash them well. Some dry their jars in dishwashers; others, lacking this convenience item, lay their jars in a low oven.

Now prep your food. A word of warning: always follow the recipe. People fear canning due to the potential for botulism toxin, and they have reason to fear. If you're water bath canning, and for today we’ll assume you are, the five percent lemon juice, five percent vinegars, and pure pickling salts are in there for good reason.

Once your food is prepped -- washed, sliced, parboiled, peeled -- use your funnel and ladle in the food. Leave sufficient headspace -- that is, room at the top of the jar -- or you may imperil the jar’s critical seal. Put on the lids and screw on the bands finger-tip tight. You want to be abe to open the jar later on. Using your jar lifter, carefully lower the jars into the now-boiling water bath, put the canner lid on, and set a timer. Allow the jars to process -- that is, boil the living hell out of them -- for the recipe’s allotted time. When time is up, turn off the heat, carefully remove the canner lid, and use your jar lifter again to pull your food out. Place jars on a heatproof surface and allow to cool up to 12 hours. You’ll hear popping, which is good: it means the jars sealed.

After the jars are cooled, unscrew the bands and pick up each jar by the lid with your fingertips. Is the lid secure? Congratulations. You are mistress of the universe: you have created your own little world, and instead of paying somebody for it, you have made something delicious to eat yourself. Label your jar and store it in a dark cupboard. Is the lid loose? Can you remove it by hand? All is not lost. Refrigerate and eat within a week. You are still mistress of the universe.You have joined the few, the select, the practical nurturers: you can food.

I came to canning the way I come to most things: I read about it, then branched out to the internet, where I found Marisa McClellan’s blog, Food in Jars and become dually addicted, not only to canning, but to McClellan’s posts on jellies, jams, pickles, and the many ways to use these products. And where many fine food blogs feature spacious, modern kitchens filled with enviable equipment, McClellan’s kitchen is decidedly modest: small, lacking counter space, with an elderly electric stove. Here was a kitchen I could relate to. When I learned McClellan had a cookbook in the works,

Food in Jars: Preserving In Small Batches Year Round, I had the luck of interviewing her.

1. In Food in Jars, you mention your mother canned a few specific items. What motivated you to begin canning?

I started canning on my own thanks to a blueberry picking trip. I came home with 13 pounds of berries and making jam just felt like the most natural thing to do with my fruit. I called my mom a bunch of times for that first batch, but by the end, I was well and truly bitten by the canning bug.

2. I think all canners have experienced canning failures at some point. In your opinion, what was your worst canning failure?

The bulk of my failures came when I adapted recipes without understanding how it would impact the finished product. For instance, in the early days, I made a lot of jam but vastly reduced the amount of sugar that the recipes called for. Invariably, the jam would not set up. Later, I learned that in order to get a good set using traditional pectin (or no added pectin), you need a certain amount of sugar. When you reduce below a certain amount, you’re always going to end up with syrup, not jam.

3. In your blog, Food 52, you cite Amanda Hesser as an early influence on your decision to pursue food writing. Are there other food writers/cooks/bloggers you find especially inspiring?

Laurie Colwin was another food writer who had a big influence on both my decision to choose food writing and the style I’ve developed. She was actually a childhood friend of my mother’s.That connection, coupled with the fact that she was able to become a writer and tell such beautiful stories about food, helped me see that it was something I could do, too.

4. You write that jam is your favorite food to can. I noticed the book has a definite slant toward sweeter, fruit based products like jams, jellies, and fruit butters -- though as an avowed pickle lover, I want to make everything in the pickling chapter! Do you prefer canning sweeter items, or do savory foods move through your canner, as well? If so, what are some of your favorite savory foods to can?

I really love the alchemy of jam making. When you combine fruit and sugar and apply heat, magic happens. There's something truly artistic about it to me, which is why I love it so much. That said, I do recognize that we cannot live on sweets alone and I do try to balance out my tendencies towards jam with plenty of pickles, relishes and salsas. There's a corn salsa recipe in the book that is one of the few things that I can that my husband will eat (he's something of a picky eater). I make 15-20 pints a year because because he loves it and we use it in so many different ways. I'm also a big fan of the dilly beans and pickled okra recipes you'll find in the book. They're great for jazzing up simple meals or cheese plates for parties.

5. Moving from the savory and sweet, you sometimes post meals you've prepared, particularly dinners. I get the sense your love of cooking is not limited to canning. What are some your favorite fresh foods?

When it comes to general day-to-day cooking, I'm something of a fool for soups and salads.I love every variety of leafy green, as well as squash, eggplant, tomatoes and beans. Oh, and anything dairy. There are always at least five or six varieties of cheese in our fridge.

What advice would you give to first time canners?

Don’t be scared. You can’t kill someone with jam or pickles. Don’t try to can more than three or four pounds of something your first time. Start with a trusted recipe. Read it over three or four times before you start. Get all your tools in one place. Take your time.

7. You're being sent to a desert island. What cookbook are you taking along?

If I'm headed to a desert island, I'm taking Hank Shaw's book Hunt, Gather, Cook. It's an ideal guide for eating well using what's around you.

8. Can we look forward to more cookbooks? I'd love to see more about pressure canning.

It's my greatest hope to write another cookbook. Right now, nothing is settled, but I have a couple ideas I'm hoping to breathe life into over the next few years.

9. What do you want readers to know about your blog and book?

Most of all, I want people to know that both the book and blog are me. There's nothing put-on about my writing and I'm not manufacturing any sort of false, pretty for the cameras existence. This is how I live and what I do. Every recipe I've ever published has been made in my 45-year-old, 80 square-foot kitchen. If I can do it, anyone can.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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