By Susan Marquez
April McGreger, aka “The Farmer’s Daughter,” didn’t start out to be an expert in canning and preserving foods. The Calhoun County native went to Millsaps College where she majored in English and Geology. She even went on to University of North Carolina where she went to graduate school in geology. But she always liked food – the preparation and the serving of it. “I worked in a restaurant the summer after high school, and while in college, I worked at Hal & Mal’s and Iron Horse Grill in Jackson.” While she was in graduate school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, she learned about a new restaurant run by women called Lantern. “I walked in and surprisingly got a job!”
April’s graduate work took her to Italy, where she studied a volcano. “When I came back, I was cooking everything I had eaten in Italy. My boyfriend couldn’t help but notice that I seemed more interested in food than geology. He asked if I had thought of food as a career. My answer was ‘no,’ but that did plant a seed.”
She began looking into what it might take to get into the culinary field, but April realized that culinary school was too expensive. “I bought the book The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America by Michael Ruhlman and devoured it.” The information in the book appealed to April, who said much of it already came naturally to her. “I ended up staying at Lantern for six years, the last three as the pastry chef.”
Through her relationships at the restaurant, April met area farmers. “My family farmed sweet potatoes in Mississippi, so the local farming scene was important to me. I have always loved going to farmers’ markets.” April began hitting up the local farmers’ markets in the Chapel Hill area and taking advantage of the seasonal glut of fresh produce so she could can it for use throughout the winter months. “I also traveled a lot, and I would always visit markets in other parts of the world. After seeing what others were doing, I felt I had something to offer. The quality of the preserves my mother and grandmother made were exceptional, and I had learned from the best.”
The Complete Guide to Canning & Preserving was published last spring and has been for sale in supermarkets, bookstores and other places where magazines are sold. The magazine format publication features a forward by April, followed by sections that cover canning 101, jams and jellies, preserves and marmalades, pickles, relish and chutneys and more. She even covers pressure canned broths and soups, brined and fermented foods and freezer favorites. Designed for the beginner as well as those who have been preserving foods for some time, the publication includes canning toolbox essentials, special ingredients that may be needed, and how to prepare jars for canning. The publication includes 127 recipes, which allow for variations, as well as step-by-step how-to illustrations.
“This publication should serve as a guide,” says April. “I read a lot of magazines, and my mom has always bought tons of special issue publications like this one which she uses for information, so it was a format that was very comfortable to me. There is an approachableness to the format that people seem to like.”
Many of the recipes April had were for larger amounts, going back to her Farmer’s Daughter days, so she had to scale them down for home cooks. “I look at food prep in terms of technique and ratios. All had to be exact and precise.”
Centennial Media has an agreement with Simon & Schuster Publishers that if a special publication does well on the newsstands, it will be republished in book form. The Complete Guide to Canning & Preserving has done exceptionally well, perhaps partly due to people staying home and cooking more amid the pandemic. The publication will be released as in book form in Spring 2022.
“I was very proud of how it came out,” says April. “I got a great education in the magazine world while doing it and look forward to doing more of these in the future.”