Food Artisans: Anarchy in a Jar

Food Artisans

A different New York artisan every week.

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[Photograph: Stephanie Klose]

Laena McCarthy, proprietrix of Greenpoint-based Anarchy in a Jar, grew up making jam and other preserves with her mother and started her company when she sensed "a desire from my friends and neighbors for food with context, with a story, made by someone in their community using good ingredients." She explains that the attention-grabbing name "was originally tongue-in-cheek, created in the early days of conceptualizing the company—when I was still jammin' through the night with friends and unsure if it would fly or be successful."

Though her business and production practices have become more streamlined since she launched a year and a half ago, McCarthy maintains that her preserves have kept their anarchic spirit by being "pure, natural, intensely flavored, and free from food tyranny, as I like to say."

Her jams differ from others on the market in a couple of ways. First, her cooking process is quicker than normal, which allows the fruit to retain what she describes as "the beneficial properties, texture and flavor, making for a bold and fresh taste." The fresh fruit flavor is aided by her use of Pomona's pectin, a widely available jelling agent that doesn't require sugar to set, unlike traditional pectin that can call for up to equal amounts of sugar and fruit. Less sugar means more flavor from the fruit itself. In addition, McCarthy often incorporates local produce, herbs, and spices, some of which she helps grow on her boyfriend's rooftop farm in Long Island City. (Keep an eye out for hot pepper jelly and green tomato chutney later this year.)

One of her signature flavors, grapefruit and smoked salt marmalade, has a bright, citrusy flavor that's juicier and more spritely than traditional marmalades. McCarthy explains that she uses just the zest of the grapefruit, rather than the whole peel, believing "that the buttery texture and flavor of the grapefruit is best when the zest delicately enhances the sour citrus juice but doesn't add too much of the dry and bitter taste of the white pith or the chewy, rubbery texture that comes with large pieces." She calls her concoction "an 'American' marmalade, since it's less bitter than British marmalade and less sugary sweet than French marmalade."

Find a full list of products, stockists, and information about McCarthy's jam-making classes at her website, AnarchyinaJar.com.