Photo: Aida Mollenkamp A version of this interview first appeared on Aida Mollenkamp’s website.
Meet food wonder woman (or funderwoman, as I call her), Delilah Snell. She may be the most prolific person I know, with her hands in numerous activities at once. She’s also a Master Food Preserver (there are only a handful of in the nation). Master Preservers evangelize the lost art of putting up your food, which I’m drawn to because it helps us learn more about where food comes from, how to respect it, and how to make the most with what you’ve got (a good philosophy for life, no?). When she’s not busy spreading the good word about preserving, you can find her dabbling in one of her other activities — be it her store, Road Less Traveled, her preserves line, Backyard in a Jar, her blog, Project Small, or one of the craft shows she has helmed. But let’s hear about Delilah’s adventures in her own words.
Q. Describe the Master Preserver Program. As a MFP, do you feel an inherent responsibility to spread the word about preserving?
A. The Master Food Preserver Program is a part of the UC Cooperative Extension (a la Master Gardener Program). Individuals can apply to get an intensive 12-week course in all sorts of food preservation and in turn, lead seminars, lectures, and hands-on demos to educate the public on proper food preservation and safety. Since I was one of the first MFPs for some time outside of San Bernardino (with my friend Ernest Miller), I have felt incredibly motivated to spread the word about the program and proper food preservation; it has kind of taken over my life and I love it!
Q. DIY has become so trendy in the past few years. Why do you think that is?
A. This is something I get asked a lot. Here’s what I think:
- Crafting: Especially the non-edibles have been enjoying a huge revival for the past 10 years and food crafting is just the latest DIY.
- Green: The eco-movement is now moving beyond simply “buying a product,” as people are now focused on closing the loop by doing as much as they can themselves — the ultimate in locavore-ism.
- Economy: People are finding not only entertainment but fulfilling and educational entertainment in making things; making something from scratch is the new “going out!” It saves money and makes a personal investment in an individual/group/community — a win-win!
- Protest: For some time we have been hearing about the economical/health/social aspects of Big Business. There is a tremendous need for people to voice what they want to consume and by making it yourself you empower and rebel.
Q. Some naysayers argue that food preservation is impractical in a contemporary life. What do you have to say to that?
A. I will be the first to say that, yes, it takes time to make a batch of jam or ferment hot sauce, but I am the poster child for busy and I manage. I think of it as similar to always driving your car a few blocks to the store: when you decide to walk for once, you see the beauty in what was always around you. You gain insight, respect for process and materials, you connect to the history of humanity and creativity while feeding those you love. This is food preservation to me. And, yes, I am a big fan of British Romanticism and American Transcendentalism!
Q. What’s your inspiration for your preserving projects?
A. I am inspired by everything: a trip to New Mexico leads to fermenting Chimayo peppers; a friend’s exploding passion fruit vine leads to a jam; the color of my orange skirt makes me imagine that color in a jar; a conversation about someone’s favorite dish makes me want to capture that for them as a gift. There is always something new around the corner.
Q. What is on your DIY bucket list?
A. I really want to make my own miso — I just got the ingredients!
Q. What resources would you recommend to people looking to learn about preserving?
A. If you can, take a class. Not trying to pimp myself, but take one from someone who can answer all the questions you will have (and you will have them). Hands-on is the best way to learn and in a group you will for sure learn things that you didn’t even think of. If you buy a book, you MUST buy the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I mean, they make the dang jars, so they know best! Also the National Center for Home Food Preservation is the best website for help.
Q. What is a good preserving starter project?
A. Fridge pickles are the easiest thing you can do. And they’re safe. Jams that go in the fridge are also perfect (if you are not comfortable with processing your jars for shelf-stabilization). You can also dry herbs!
Q. How does the food culture in SoCal influence your work?
A.Photo: Aida Mollenkamp Lots of my items are used in cocktails and SoCal is a cocktail place! The car culture of SoCal has also gotten me to think about how to use a car to my advantage (see the Jam Van below)! I am also influenced by the simple fact that we have so much abundance year-round because of the weather — you just can’t beat it.
Q. You work and live in Orange County, Calif., a place which isn’t immediately associated with artisan food. Is there an up-and-coming artisan culture there?
A. I think so. We (in the O.C.) are a little behind. But I am always working on new things so that it always seems like I am a step ahead in some respect — go figure. The great thing about O.C. is that I can utilize wild ingredients, because I often work with a forager and use his items (like in my popular White Sage Jelly) and other goodies that few work with in the region.
Q. Tell us about your famed Jam Van and how it came about.
A. I LOVE the Jam Van!! Since I was 15, I had always wanted a VW bus. So, in essence, this has always been my dream car. We finally bought one over a year ago and one evening, I was looking at one of the VW magazines (you will buy tons of those mags when you buy an old VW). There was a photo collage of how VW buses were used as “taco trucks” in Japan and I realized that this bus could be my “pop-up shop” delivery vehicle for the jam biz. After a remodel and some serious work, the Jam Van was born. It functions as both my regular car and my store when on the road. I love it! Please honk if you see me!
Q. Since you are one of the busiest people I know, it’s pretty much inevitable that I forgot to ask about something. Can you tell us about anything else in the works?
A. Working with small businesses, DIY-ers, and crafters over the years and being inspired by the amazing people we have met in our own journeys, we decided to expand on our craft events with a conference called Craftcation. This is a combination of the past 10 years of our work and people we admire to help change the way business can be done and inspire others to “take the road less traveled” — i.e. to live their creative dreams as a source of revenue. We are already working on taking this national with three other locations scheduled over the next 18 months — fun times.