Local Gem: Sheena's Pickles
Meet our favorite pickler, Sheena. Aside from making tasty food, Sheena teaches workshops around town on the arts of pickling and making jams. Thanks, Sheena, for giving us a peek into your world!
Read her interview below:
Q: What inspired you to start pickling? Did you have any role models or learn from someone, in particular?
A: I started pickling after my friend, Victoria (V), gave me a pickling kit for my birthday. The kit included a couple of recipes, pickling salt and jars. I never thought that it would become this big thing, but over the years, it’s evolved into a really great hobby. I’ve enjoyed creating new recipes, working with different seasonal produce and meeting other picklers. I can’t say that I have any role models or even learned from someone. I’m one of those people who learn by doing, so for me, I would find a recipe and just start making it. It became a much-needed creative outlet for me. I also learned a lot from reading books like The Art of Fermentation, and reading blogs like, “Food in Jars.”
Q: Do you have any tidbits of advice for people with passion projects?
A: Keep learning and keep trying to improve your craft. I think anything that requires creativity is always a work in progress.
Q: How do you stay inspired to make and work?
A: People’s experiences and memories of food inspire me to make and work. For example, a friend had me over for a small dinner party. As I was sitting amongst strangers we started talking about pickling and how it's something people did a long time ago to survive in the winter. This gentleman sitting next to me (who had been pretty quiet the whole evening) asked me if I made beets. I told him that I did, and he kindly asked me if I would make him some. Growing up, he had an aunt who had been so kind toward him, and the one thing he remembered about her was she made these delicious beets. As soon as I got back home, I immediately went to into the kitchen and I started experimenting with different ingredients and flavors, not necessarily to make my beets taste like his aunt's, but to help him recapture the memory of a person who had treated him so well and showed her love by making him beets. Beautiful food memories are great inspiration.
Q: What have been your favorite moments of creativity?
A: The best thing is when you can create something that makes people want to keep eating. We all know about jams and how sweet and how delicious they are. However, I make fruit butters. Each batch of fruit butter takes about 10 hours because you slowly cook down the fruit to bring out the natural sugars. In the end, you have this incredible fruit puree that awakens your senses. When I make these fruit butters, I do all kinds of combinations from strawberry–jalapeno to apple–pear. It’s just basically whatever is in season and whatever fruit I feel like using to be creative. Well, a few months ago, I started experimenting with pineapple and came up with a pineapple–strawberry and a pineapple–peach. People started texting me how they were eating it straight out the jar. They weren’t eating it on toast or having it as an ice cream topper; they were sitting at their kitchen tables and eating it straight out the jar!
Q: What have been your most challenging moments in pickling/jamming thus far?
A: Learning how to properly sterilize and process jars can be quite complicated. There have been a few instances where a jar breaks during the water bath process, and my entire product is ruined. There is definitely a level of attention and detail that is required throughout the process. Recently, I made my own homemade mustard and found it to be quite frustrating. On my first attempt, I toasted the mustard seeds for too long, and I ended up with mustard that tasted like burnt popcorn. The struggle was real that day.
Q: When you're discouraged, what do you run to or away from?
A: I think everyone gets discouraged at times, especially when you are doing something that requires a bit of creativity. There is a great quote that says, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” I’ve never been much of a follower and I’m not afraid of a challenge, so I always try to find to find the positive and keep moving forward.
Your favorite band at the moment: I love different types of music and my playlists are always all over the place. This summer I saw D’Angelo and the Vanguard and was absolutely blown away! One of the best musical performances I’ve seen in a long time. Plus, we can all agree that D’Angelo is a beautiful man, right?
Your favorite book at the moment: The Hen Who Dreamt She Could Fly
Your local Austin gem: I can’t express my gratitude for the amazing people at Johnson’s Backyard Garden (JBG). I have truly enjoyed working with them and using their products. There is satisfaction in knowing that everything they sell is fresh, local and organic. I also like the work from Fine Southern Gentlemen. They made a really awesome pickle shirt that I’m obsessed with wearing!
Q: Any industry pointers?
A: Just because someone tells you no doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the world. Austin is full of people who are willing to help and nurture your business. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and even friends of friends for help or assistance.
Q: What's your day job? If pickling isn't, of course.
A: Other than pickling, I do promotion and recruitment for an education non-profit. I get to travel all over Texas helping to put on professional development workshops for middle school and high school social studies teachers.