lidsAs the Wildcat mascot from Lake Highlands High School’s Class of 2005, Austin Dupree was tasked with adding a little flavor to football games and community events.

The experience served her well.

Austin has now started her own business, Girls Who Can, selling hand-crafted jams, jellies, chutneys and salsas, and the response has been overwhelmingly. When she and partner Jesse Bartlett recently took more than a hundred jars to the hip Oil and Cotton Creative Exchange in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District, they sold out quickly.

jars“Last summer a group of us started biking to the farmer’s market downtown to get fresh local produce, and it sparked something in Jesse and me that has really taken off,” Austin told me. “We both were very interested in canning and we bought various produce and played around with some recipes last summer. After our first batch, we knew this was going to be something fun to do and possibly the start of a small business.”

They use the freshest local produce to have the most dynamic flavors, and they use social media to share recipes using the products they’ve produced. Each month they feature something special – Pink Champagne Pomegranate is their Valentine flavor – and they stay in touch with customers to give and receive ideas.

biscuitsAustin learned to cook from her mom, and says her earliest memories of cooking are of “standing on a stool in the kitchen as a little girl at 4. I had on an apron that my mom made for me, and when she was done I could lick the bowl.”

“I have always loved history (Austin studied American Women’s History at Furman University) and this has turned into a fun, hands-on way to explore some of my own family’s history through recipes. I am lucky enough to have a few of both of my grandmothers’ recipe books, some handwritten recipes from my great-grandmother, and an old cook book dating back to the Reconstruction era. None of the recipes have temperatures – because everything was made in a wood-burning oven. It’s been fun to experiment with some of those recipes in particular.”

Austin took a keen interest in the business of food when she worked in New York City and as a cheese monger at Dallas’ Scardello artisan cheese shop.

blueberry cheesecake“That experience really opened my eyes to the world of specialty foods, like jams, pickles, chutneys and relishes, and what exciting twists people were taking on familiar staple recipes.”

Jesse is the business veteran – she already runs Sew Jesse, a custom sewing business – and was able to get them started organizationally, following the Cottage Industry laws and learning to sell wholesale. The girls say their next step is to place their jars in more local retail establishments and say “there is always something more to learn.”

If you’d like to place an order, you can go to their website here or their Facebook page here. They can arrange a “pick-up day” at Oil and Cotton (worth your trip for the other fun things they carry), or Austin may be willing to make a trip to LH. After all, parents John and Regina still live in the neighborhood.