“My great-grandmother was a balaboosta, and that’s what she wanted me to be more than anything,” explains Cathy Barrow soon after we start talking over soul-satisfying, warm-from-the-oven white chocolate-cherry scones made with corn and oat flours and accompanied by homemade butter. The Yiddish word describes a woman who is a perfect homemaker, confidently able to sustain her family (as well as lucky friends) with, among other skills, her cooking talents.

Cathy BarrowCathy started canning with her great-grandmother and mother when she was a very young child. She continued in college, making at least a few of her favorite preserved foods—her mother’s mango chutney, a few jars of jam and some pickles.

After college, her many interests led Cathy to become what she calls a “serial careerist,” spending time as a retailer, marketing pro, event planner, consultant and landscape designer. Always a passionate cook, along the way some things started to happen that eventually led her to where she is today, although she admits she didn’t have a master plan.

Fifteen years ago, she married Dennis, mostly a vegetarian whom she describes as being very aware of food and food sources, something she wasn’t yet. “He made me think about what I was bringing into the house, what I was cooking.”

Then, in 2007, she was affected by reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s book about her family’s yearlong attempt to eat only locally grown food. After economic factors forced Cathy’s landscaping business to close in 2009, things really came together. She started preserving on a small scale and blogging about food, creating Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen as a place to share her passions: cooking, baking, preserving and visits to local farmers, producers and markets for locally sourced seasonal foods.

After just five months, Cathy was invited to be one of the first 100 bloggers on the new Food52 site. Since then she’s appeared on “The Chew” and NPR’s “Morning Edition,” written in the New York Times and Washington Post among other publications and taught cooking in her home and around the country, with a four-part class planned for the Smithsonian this summer.

Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical PantryAfter three years of work, she published Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry in the fall of 2014, finding quick success with her modern primer on canning and preserving with step-by-step instructions, beautiful and helpful photographs and recipes that show you “how to create a fresh, delectable and lasting pantry—a grocery store in your own home.” Using what you preserve is important to Cathy as well, so there are recipes like rugelach using homemade apricot preserves. Interestingly, the book’s photographs were shot over four months because the food, as Cathy describes it, “was grabbed from farms and markets when it was perfectly ripe,” just the way it’s supposed to be when you preserve it.

By this point in our interview, I had already confessed to my own fear of canning. Cathy had laughed, saying that her editor at the New York Times calls her “the angst-free canner,” and she promises me that it’s much easier than I think it is. “Cooking is how you make it. Science is how you save it,” she says encouragingly. “If you do it once, you will never again be afraid.”

Canning has been done for hundreds of years, and the incidence of food-borne illness or death from home canning and preserving are very rare. It has to do with pH levels and acid. High-acid and low-pH foods like pickles, fruits, jams and juices are a good place to start because you’ll never get sick from them, Cathy says. ”Eventually, they will mold, and if you’re French, you scrape that off and eat the rest. If you’re a nervous American, you just throw it all away.”

Before leaving, it’s time to see Cathy’s own pantry, a room in the basement that’s the size of a small bedroom. Three sections of metal shelves are filled, with fruit preserves, juices and jams in one section; mostly savory tomatoes, varieties of pickles and some candied jalapeños in another; and supplies of pots, bowls, strainers and utensils in the third. I find the orderliness comforting and inspiring. It’s a pantry I could make good use of!

On my way out, Cathy remembers that I expressed a fondness for pickles and hands me a jar of seven-day sweets that I open as soon as I’m in the car. Each crinkle-cut slice is full of flavor, sweet with just the right vinegar tang and satisfying crunch. I can’t help thinking about your great-grandmother, Cathy, and how proud she’d be of the balaboosta you’ve become.

Photos courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.