San Francisco

Post Party Notes

Playing for Favorites.

I woke up the morning after the jam party, the coming out event I put on for my ongoing project with honey preserved fruit, wanting to continue the party. Over the course of the previous afternoon and evening, as people came and went from my apartment, I settled on the pecan shortbreads (an Elana Amsterdam recipe from Gluten Free Almond Flour Cookbook) mounded with crème fraiche and topped with jam as my snack when I sensed my energy flagging. I tried a different jam each time. The jam jars, all 33, were still out on the shelf as I got ready for work the following morning. Wooden tasting spoons stood clustered and at attention in mason jars placed around the room. I used one to spoon scoops of jam for today’s crème fraiche and shortbread breakfast. With a hangover from yesterday’s party giddiness (nerves not alcohol) now settled in my stomach and at the back of my head, I didn’t have much of an appetite. I ate out of utility, finding energy for the work-day, but tasting the jams gave me a small reenactment of yesterday’s pleasure when friends gathered sampling all the jams and taking home their favorites.

Some of the choices surprised me. Tomato preserves, from the simple Tomato Jam to the Tomato Marmalade (Orange and Lemon slices) and Tomato Plum Preserves had stymied my summer subscribers. I still owe one subscriber an email outlining uses for tomato preserves. Bacon, sourdough bread, chevre, and more bacon come to mind. For the party, between Amy and I, we cooked 6 pounds of bacon to set the sandwich bar up with a vengeance. When eaten with bacon, the Tomato Jam tastes like the most luxurious ketchup. Maybe there is a genetic component to adoring tomato preserves? They baffled my whole family, but certain folks at the jam party couldn’t ferret out enough jars of Tomato Jam to take home with them.

Keep the Color.

Oxidation….gross or just the sign of natural preserving methods? I made a lot of Apricot Butter in July, using the 30-pound box of apricots I brought from Mair Taki Farm to play with different infusions and flavors. I made flavors like Rose and Apricot and Espelette (a Basque chili) and Star Anise with Apricot. Now November, and despite liberal use of lemon juice in my recipe, the very top of the jarred Apricot Butter is darkening. The same happens to the Golden Raspberry Jam and the Aprium and even the Strawberry Orange and Strawberry Pluot though with the strawberry jams it’s harder to discern the darkening because it shows less against the red jams.

I held onto two jars of marmalade from Rachel Saunders’ Marmalade classes at the Pantry last winter. The marmalades are made with sugar and they too have darkened though not nearly as significantly as my Apricot Butters. I can’t decide what I think about oxidation. It’s a question of aesthetics versus process. I don’t worry about the color changes in the red hued jams because the shift is so subtle, but with a brilliant orange colored jar of apricot, does part of the enjoyment come from the color? And is something lost from the eating experience when the orange fades to brown? Or is the great integrity of naturalness—the honesty of letting it all hang out—lost from the jam-making process when I add the smallest bit of powdered citric acid to keep the color?

The natural in naturalness is complicated. There is a fair amount of fuss involved in making simple-looking, simple-tasting, simple-intentioned food. Thinking about the jam I want to make, I have to wonder how disruptive a little citric acid is compared to when I take three days to make 8 jars of marmalade or when I cut apples for a preserve into three different size categories to achieve spreadable jam still redolent with fruit chunks. Does a jam taste the most like the sum of its contents when you throw the contents into a pot and cook them down or when you carefully develop all the parts of the apple flavor by including apple juice, apple pieces, and apple brandy, each prepared separately and then combined to cook down into a jam? In other words, is the addition of citric acid really just a piece of good technique that maintains a fruit’s golden character?

No-Name Jam.

Earlier I was thinking about people’s favorite jam flavors. So far, Tayberry Jam wins hands down. The name, Tayberry, is exotic and nostalgic at the same time. Just what is a Tayberry, people ask in a tone that says, “I feel like I know this but can you just remind me?”. Tayberry, by the way, is a Scottish cross of black raspberry and blackberry. In the days following my project-launch-style jam party, I’ve thought about names, business names specifically. The quest is part of a larger question of what to do next with my project. For being so fond of words, I’m surprised by how stumped I am for a business name. Good, even decent ideas are few. My wish to avoid kitsch, cuteness, Latin, new-age (wu-wu), thesauruses, words that require a dictionary, ampersands, and sentimentality, might just about wipe out all genuine choices because the truth is I love all of the above. Just not for my business name. Don’t worry, I’m not going with No-Name Jam! For me, a seafood restaurant chain on the East Coast takes all the association with it on that name. No, the ideas that come to mind are always one or two words preceding the word preserves. The other day when I came home from work frustrated about the game of knowledge tossed around in a restaurant kitchen, I wanted to name the jam project, Wide-Eyed Preserves. But does wide-eyed make you think of innocence or a scary movie? And is innocence a positive? It seems to me a name must be both concrete in imagery and positive in association.

This is where the Tayberry comes back. A couple months ago I wrote a post called Tayberry Heart. I’d just fallen in love with the berry and was struck by its raspberry façade and its blackberry core, that white center to which the berry’s aggregate drupes cling. Now I also love the Tayberry for being the perfect first spokesjam of my honey preserves project. The Tayberry jam is both a safe and spectacular introduction to jam and “good-enough-to-eat-all-by-itself-on-a-spoon” jam eating, which I think is what artisan jam-making and eating, at its core, is all about. Savoring.

But does having the word heart in a name teeter on New Age (wu-wu)? I know, who cares. Heart is timeless and endlessly re-claimable. And (because it’s always best to look over my shoulder and see what other people are doing just to remind myself of both my daily small insecurities and the constant search for relevance) a very cool coffee roaster in Portland Oregon is named Heart!

The search for a name is really a traverse through personal language associations. Heart associated with coffee sounds tender and gutsy, but with fruit preserves, perhaps a more feminine realm than coffee (really? where do I get the idea that coffee is more butch than fruit?), the word heart might just be pretty and sentimental. And what’s so bad about pretty and sentimental….blah, blah, blah.

While I continue to traipse through this, here are some funny and serious ideas compiled during walks with Amy and I and Beans the dog.

Killer Bee Jams

Bee Fruits

Embroidered Fruits

Embroidery Room Preserves

Bedizen Preserves

Foggy Window Preserves

V Be Jammin

Lez’Bee In Jam

Hive Fruits

Wide-Eyed Preserves

Open Jam

Ajar Preserves

Apini Jams

Worker Bee Preserves

Tayberry Heart Preserves.

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.