the Bay, the Mother Jam

Instead of making Blackberry Jam I'm in San Francisco. I arrived on Saturday. I'm on vacation from chocolate work at Theo in Seattle and I'm marking my birthday, which is today! It's a low key day. I walked 2.5 miles from where I'm staying to get a coffee. That might sound either high or low key to you. It's high key if I think about the internet-exclaimed, coffee related opinions I spent too much time reading through this morning before making my caffeine pilgrimage. But it's low key when I have the time to walk 50 minutes to sit and drink. I'm at Haus in the Mission because I wanted the comfort of its unvarnished pine cocoon. I must be craving slices of the forest. Looking around as a tourist in San Francisco, the city feels more urban than my current Seattle home. But even as a stranger here, I'm seeing so much I like. One of those elements being JAM-ness. And I haven't even tried to collect the evidence that the Bay Area is a/the center of preserves. It's just really apparent. Well, I guess the 'apparent' part comes from the preserves-shaded glasses I wear. I look into shop window and the packages of hand-rolled crackers and cotton sacks of heirloom beans fade beside the shelving for preserves. In the space between caramel sauces and 5 oz. jars of honey there are the marmalades, butters, and jams from June Taylor, Blue Chair Fruit, Jam, Frog Hollow, INNA.

I met one the owners/makers (it's a two person company) of Jam (welovejam.com) at the Sunday Inner Sunset Market. I perused their market stand with my friend Jason who eats sugar so he tried several samples from the jars on hand. I chatted with the jam-maker while Jason tasted. Jason worked on finding which plum varietal jam he actually wanted to buy (the welovejam.com website says that if a preserves jar doesn't list the fruit variety then you should run!). Jason loved what he tasted and the Jam owner had a lot of flavor himself. He was very opinionated and possessed a healthy sense of pride in the product AND when I asked him about the vogue, the market and energy for preserves making in the Bay Area, he answered by saying that he was the first. He started the trend. Our interaction reinforced several ideas for me.

1. The "We are the BEST" marketing approach is powerful! I think it's kind of impossible to be the best (at least for very long) in a realm like arts and crafts. Better to be really fucking good and enjoy what you're doing. The "best" things seems so high stakes to me because if you aren't the best (a status sanctioned by a combination of the critics and the fans) then it's kind of awkward if not straight up embarrassing. Instead of being confident you just come across as blind. The "best" game relies on the sanctity and anxiety of  "what do they know that I don't?". Many people are cowed in this situation. They're sheep-like and repeat the emphatic opinion as their own. (Like the guy I heard in the Ferry Building yesterday saying Scharffen Berger was the best chocolate maker in the country. His friends nodded along. I work for a U.S. chocolate maker that claims that "best" title for themselves too.) Or, people are purely student-like, "okay that's the best, got it, got it..." But knowing about the best feels like you're getting in on something. It's got a serious pedigree association. Knowing about the best gives us the chance to be part of the best. That's pretty exciting. And I totally went for it when I listened to the Jam owner. As I stood in front of his market stand ready to be influenced, trying to suss out what I was seeing and hearing, Jam's relatively low prices for artisan preserves had me initially wondering about the quality, but when the owner stated with deep, slightly patronizing conviction that his product was the best, I had this scrambling moment of "shit, I better get on board with this or I might never know the best!!".

2. Sometimes one person's opinion is another person's opportunity AKA Rules are meant to be broken. a) I've picked up a lot of jam jars in the last 4 days. I tip them side to side to see how much the preserve moves in the jar. I'm checking the set. Soft set rules! I'm still astonished by how well-accepted soft set preserves are by consumers in this artisan jamming market. I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve a pretty solid set with my preserves so every time I tip a jar and see the contents do a lazy slosh to the side I get a feeling of wonder and relief. It's an invitation to worry less about set and cook with even more flavor focus.

b) Difference is branding. Blue Chair Fruit thinks a jam lacks balance without lemon juice included. My background in restaurants leads me to agree with this. Acids brighten and pop flavor. INNA Jam cooks differently. They are fruit focused first and last which for them means no lemon in there. They don't work with citrus at all. And they are comfortable using a commercial fruit based pectin. All the way on the other end of the spectrum are the folks at Jam. They don't want lemon or commercial pectin in their jams. It's just fruit and sugar. When I compile all these opinions and self-imposed rules the sum total isn't confusing. The message to me is: do your thing!

My thing is honey preserved fruit.