Earlier this year, the Austin Food & Wine Alliance announced their 2013 grant recipients – Confituras, Blacklands Malt, Salt & Time and Skinny Lane Farm. As the primary beneficiary, Confituras has a number of exciting plans to impact Austin’s food landscape, helping to shape and share its story. We caught up with Confituras founder, Stephanie McClenney, to get the scoop on her plans.
AFWF: How did you get into making jams and the art of preserves?
Stephanie McClenney: Cooking has been a love and creative outlet for me for quite some time. Learning to preserve was a natural way of exploring and mastering not only another cooking method, but also the notion of extending seasonality. What started as a desire to can an extraordinarily large amount of tomatoes, has turned into a profound career change that has changed my life – I feel so lucky!
What is the best part of being part of Austin’s food entrepreneur community?
There are so many aspects that appeal to me in terms of being involved with Austin’s food community. The most important is just that – the sense of community I feel. From the farmers we buy fruit from, to the local stores that retail our preserves, to the chefs and other food artisans who pour their heart and soul into their small businesses, to the customers we are fortunate enough to interact with each week at the farmers’ market – it is a total love fest all around!
You’ve said that you’re going to use the AFWA grant to implement programs that will ultimately change the way Central Texas thinks about preserving. What part of that education process are you tackling first and how?
We are beyond thrilled that the AFWA has deemed us worthy recipients of their most generous grant this year in the area of innovation and community in the culinary and beverage arts. We think the AFWA is as excited about our Preserving Austin Project as we are! We intend to start this project by beginning an oral history project interviewing preservers in the Austin and Central Texas area – we hope to share their stories of canning and preserving and show that there are many types of folks who preserve and for many different reasons. We truly believe that canning and preserving is not just a trend. The more that folks care about what they eat and from where it is sourced, the more that seasonal canning will be a natural outgrowth of these tenets.
Can you tell us a little about the Preserving Austin Project?
We hope to move our oral histories into an archive at the University of Texas with the help of Foodways Texas, now in the American Studies department at UT. This way, they will be saved for generations to enjoy. The next step in the Preserving Austin Project is to outfit our VW transporter van to include a recording booth for recording the oral histories, a small demo kitchen to demonstrate and promote preserving the harvest, and vintage canning equipment to display and show how canning has changed through the years. The final step is to take this ‘mobile canning museum’ to schools, fairs, and other events to promote preserving.
Ok, let’s talk jams. Which seasonal offerings are you most excited about? What can festival-goers look forward to sampling at your booth in the Grand Tasting?
Of course we love all of our preserves so it’s hard to choose, but we do get seasonal ‘crushes’ on certain jams. It’s difficult not to be completely infatuated with strawberries in the Spring in Texas! Look for plenty of strawberry offerings at the grand tasting event as well as wine jellies made from local wine plus a few surprises – we hope to see y’all there!
As the beneficiary of the Austin Food & Wine Festival, the Austin Food & Wine Alliance (AFWA) relies on a portion of festival proceeds to support its culinary grant program, educational programming, fundraising events and operations. As a 501c3 nonprofit, the AFWA hosts two signature fundraising culinary events each year with Live Fire! and Wine & Swine. In addition, the Alliance is committed to inspiring and supporting high school culinary students by annually hosting Central Texas’ first Culinary Arts Career Conference with more than 500 students being able to attend at no cost.