Born on my parent’s farm in Vermont I am the child of two 1970’s back-to-the landers. My mother milked cows and made yogurt on our kitchen woodstove, delivering mason jars of yogurt for sale to stores and homes. My father fixed fences, turned the grassland to hay each summer and homeschooled his children. Our school year circled around the growing season. Food lay at the center of life. As a child this produced many discomforts. Mandatory chores, mulching, weeding, wood-hauling and putting hay in the barn made childhood more about labor than play. But the upbringing gave me absolute comfort in the kitchen and deep admiration for food craft. I have had the privilege of cooking in the kitchens of Chefs Renee Erickson and Matt Dillon. And after nine years on the west coast, spent in Los Angeles, Whidbey Island, and Seattle, I have returned home with my partner Amy to the farm in New Haven Vermont. Here, with my mother and Amy, we shall re-grow the farm as it provides inspiration and ingredients for V Smiley Preserves and expand the farm into an agri-cultural hub; seed-saving, arts, education, dining and events.
I like honey. I generally let it rule among sweeteners in my kitchen, but for preserves it’s not the classical choice. Among my restaurant co-workers, I kept it to myself that outside of the restaurant kitchen I cooked, baked, pickled and jammed with honey instead of sugar. In a restaurant kitchen, it’s easy to get caught up in ‘doing the right thing’, knowing the correct method for frying eggs, knowing there’s five ways to fry an egg, and knowing which way your boss wants their egg fried. As a young cook I was very self-aware. I wanted to learn without letting on how much I truly didn’t know. I worried someone would think me naïve for making jam with honey.
I found the 1979 book called “Putting It Up With Honey” at the library. It’s written by California backyard farmer Susan Geiskopf. “Okay,” I thought, “maybe I’m not crazy for wanting to make preserves with honey”. I wondered, what was preserving like before sugar was the everyday staple it is now? Was honey more important for preserving then? Sugar is this magical substance, kind of like white flour. The textures and flavors attainable with these ingredients are inimitable, but when I read over and over in preserving books that you can’t make jam with only honey, I just didn’t believe it.
Preserves stand for potential; fruit harvested and stowed out of utility, out of anticipation, out of imaginings of the sweet breakfast in winter or succulent dinner promised by a jar of preserves. In the hustle of working in a restaurant kitchen, I’ve savored the preserving projects. Preserves are the patient characters in the kitchen and pantry. They won’t be rushed and unlike so much of what we cook in a restaurant kitchen, preserves benefit from sitting for a couple of weeks.
I discovered Rachel Saunder’s “The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook” when she held a round of classes in a Seattle teaching kitchen. Rachel runs a jam company in Oakland, CA. Her cookbook is a picturesque dissertation on preserving fruit. Rachel makes jam, marmalade, jellies, and conserves with sugar. (If you are interested in the subject of fruit and preservation, buy this book.) The cookbook teaches how to make beautiful preserves, the kind studded with chunks of fruit, rich with color, and deep with ripe fruit flavor. I used Rachel Saunders’ work as the springboard for researching and developing recipes that use only fruit and honey and the occasional infusion of spices, herbs, and liqueurs.
Farm, Family, and Fruit
I’ve started V Smiley Preserves with a larger vision in mind that draws together the talents of family and the land in New Haven Vermont where we grew up. It has been years since my parent’s farmstead produced much more than hay. Pasture has filled in with honeysuckle, my father has passed away, the fruit trees have lost their shape. But the patch of purple raspberries still produces after 40 years and my mother, year by year, has replaced the wild roses with currants, gooseberries and service berries. With the help of family and loved ones we are restoring the farm back into full working order; fruit for preserves, but also animals, vegetables, regional seed bank, cookery school, event space, cookbook library…
But first, there’s jam to make. Visit the Store for tastes.