Culinary Triumph: UMaine Extension Volunteer Allison Carroll Duffy’s Journey from Preservation to Publication

Allison Carroll Duffy, UMaine Extension volunteerIf someone had told Allison Carroll Duffy years ago that she would one day become a published author, she would have found it hard to believe. Duffy, an experienced gardener, cook, and mother of two, as well as a dedicated volunteer with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Master Food Preserver Program, has transformed her passion for food preservation into a literary journey. After joining the program, she secured a book deal and now showcases her expertise and deep love for preserving food through not only volunteering but also through the written word.

“I actually started food preserving on my own years ago, but I was kind of fumbling my way around a bit and decided I needed some additional training, so I found the Master Food Preserver Volunteer program and that is what helped me,” she said. “I really enjoyed the program and got a tremendous amount of knowledge from it and I have been volunteering with the program ever since.”

Duffy, who holds a Master’s degree in Gastronomy from Boston University, has been a volunteer with the program for more than a decade. Her love for preserving food began long ago but really flourished shortly after her first son was born in 2009. Wanting to keep herself busy and to provide him with healthy and nutritious meals, which included less sugar and fresh flavor, she began exploring and learning the art of canning and preserving.

“I love to cook and I love to garden, that is what hooked me about preserving initially,” she said. “Then it all changed a little bit when I had kids. I took the Master Food Preserver Volunteer course when my youngest was a year old. I was really interested in providing healthy food for (my family) and being able to make jams with less sugar. That was important to me.”

It was during the Master Food Preserver program where facilitators introduced Duffy to Pomona’s Universal Pectin, starting her love for using sugar- and preservative-free citrus pectin that does not require sugar to jell. The program, which offers hands-on education on safe home food preservation, was the perfect platform for Duffy to share her expertise with others. Master Food Preserver Volunteers play a crucial role as volunteers and resources in the community, offering the public research-based information from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“There are just a lot of people interested in learning how to preserve. It is a fun opportunity as a volunteer to get to meet people in that direction. (And) it is nice to be able to provide answers, teach classes and connect with people. I enjoy doing it,” said Duffy.

After successfully completing her Master Food Preserver Volunteer course, she eagerly embraced the opportunity to showcase her expertise in food preservation through appearances on local television shows. These televised presentations allowed her to reach a wider audience and share her knowledge and passion for preserving food in a dynamic and engaging format. Through her television appearances, Duffy not only demonstrated her culinary skills but also inspired viewers to explore the art of food preservation in their own homes. It was during one of those televised news shows that her dedication and passion caught the attention of a representative from Pomona’s Universal Pectin, who saw her potential and turned her preserving techniques and recipes into a book.

“It was a jumping off point in a lot of ways,” she said. “I was preserving before the class but then the class not only greatly increased my knowledge and abilities but it also was the pathway for me to grow into the food preservation world – a professional direction. Through my experience with the Master Food Preserver Volunteer program, I did a few shows at a local news station and then through that I received a book offer.”

The book, titled “Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin: The Revolutionary Low-Sugar, High-Flavor Method for Crafting and Canning Jams, Jellies, Conserves, and More,” not only features Duffy’s favorite recipes but also her tips and tricks for preserving food safely at home. It also highlights the importance of food preservation in reducing waste, promoting sustainability, and highlighting the bounty of Maine. The book has been released twice: once in 2013 and a second edition in 2021, and Duffy hopes to write and release a new book in the near future.

“It is really nice to see the excitement in people. The fact that they want to learn something new, they want to learn about their food and how to preserve it, how to grow it. It is really rewarding to be able to help people do that,” she said.

As Duffy embarks on her new journey as an author, she continues to volunteer with the program, sharing her knowledge and inspiring others to explore the art of food preservation. She hopes her story is a reminder that following our passions can open doors we never imagined and make a positive impact on those around us.

“I am thankful for the class. It was a great opportunity for me. At a time when I was trying to figure out which direction I was going and had little kids,” she said.

She added, “I would tell people to 100% take the course. It just really builds on what you learn in the introductory workshops and you cover not only canning but you cover freezing, dehydrating, fermenting. You cover lots of different methods of food preservation and it really goes in-depth and hands on. And it connects you with people and the world of food preservation. It is really pretty incredible.”

Duffy’s journey serves as a prime example of how the program’s influence reaches far beyond the preservation of food.

“We love to see how the Master Food Preserver Volunteer program has influenced Allison’s life and career throughout the years,” said Kate McCarty, food systems professional with Extension. “We feel so fortunate to have found such a dedicated and skilled volunteer in Allison—she’s so good at sharing her passion for cooking and preserving food, and I know her work has inspired so many others to incorporate these sustainable practices into their lives.”