Austin has no shortage of delicious local food products, and Confituras Jams is one of the most well known. Launched in 2010 by Stephanie McClenny, Confituras—which is the Spanish version of the French word confiture, meaning preserved food—features small batch preserves in interesting flavor combinations like bourbon caramel apple and ginger pear. McClenny's one-woman business quickly started winning awards (including Good Food Awards in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015) and garnering write-ups in national magazines like Saveur.
Now, McClenny, a former pediatric nurse, is set to open a brick-and-mortar jam and biscuit shop in South Austin by the end of the month. She talks food, community and entrepreneurship with Kettle & Brine.
How did your love of making jam come about?
I've always loved cooking, and in nursing school I took care of an elderly couple to make some money. I'd go to the grocery store with the wife, and we’d cook elaborate meals. I really enjoyed that. After that job, I kept the cooking bug. I had a food blog from 2008 to 2009, and one thing I wanted to learn was how to can. I’m self-taught. I'm a product of the internet—I watched a lot of YouTube videos. I also helped create an online canning group that's still together today. I just love the endless possibilities of what you can put in a jar. Jams are like little jewels in a jar. Plus, we were raised without a lot of money, so putting something up is a comforting thing for me.
Seems like you launched Confituras right as the Austin food scene was taking off.
We started during the recession, and we hit at the right time when folks were starting to prize things made locally. On a whim, I decided to see what it would be like to sell jam. Before that, I had been just making it for myself and for friends and family. So we set up at a farmers' market to see what the interest would be. We'd prepared for months for the market, and we sold out all 150 jars in three hours. From there, I just wanted to see where it would take us. For the first couple of years I was still working full-time as a nurse. I quit nursing to do this full-time in 2012.
What makes Confituras different from other jams?
We pay attention to the ebb and flow of the seasons of our local area. Texas is a large state, so we can reach out to the corners of the state to get blueberries or lemons. But we are lucky to get strawberries and thyme at the same time. Sometimes it is a miss, but usually it is a hit. We like to experiment with different flavors, but it's always first and foremost about the fruit. We don’t over-sweeten or over-flavor. We also try to support local farms, which I feel makes us special. It's a fulfilling, self-sustaining way to do business.
How much jam do you produce these days?
We can produce up to 200 or 300 jars a week during the high production seasons. We are currently waiting for apples from the Panhandle. As soon as they are delivered, we will be working. We sell in 15 to 20 stores around town, including the flagship Whole Foods Market. We also do the downtown and Sunset Valley farmers' markets and get a lot of online sales.
What is a typical day like for you?
I get up very early, like 5:30 or 6. I take care of my mother, who has Alzheimer's, so once I get her on the bus to the senior center, I start my work day. I meet with staff once a week to talk about what’s coming up, whether it's jam production or making decisions about the new shop. Right now, we are cleaning, organizing and testing equipment in the new shop. Then I'll make a few deliveries to stores around town that sell our jam, or I'll meet someone we are doing an event or workshop with. Since this is a small business, I'll make post office and bank runs. There are a lot of moving parts, but they all fit together at the end of the week. I always go to sleep with a smile on my face—you can’t beat that.
What is your at-home cooking ritual?
I love serving meals family style, as it fosters interaction and community.
Tell us about your new brick-and-mortar shop.
We'll serve jams and biscuits in the front, as well as sell other local food-related goods, and in the back there will be a community kitchen. There will be room for production of local food goods and for local organizations to do functions there. We are also going to do other events, like farm days when a farmer comes in and makes meals with whatever they bring. And we can rent the space out to folks for private functions, pop-ups and business meetings, so it's a multi-use community space.
And after the first of the year we are also going to start an incubation program for female-owned businesses, where we will bring someone in to build a business plan, show a sliding scale for rent, figure out retail versus wholesale—all stuff I had to learn. It's important for us to do that and to give back in that way.
To learn more from McClenny, come to our Confituras Sugar & Spice workshop at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16. Buy tickets here.
Jam photos by Casey Woods Photography.