Vermont

How Jam, Why Jam

I think I’ve imagined owning, managing, and working for the opportunity to shape something since I was a kid. Shortly after graduating college with my Art History and English degree, I started thinking about the land in Vermont where I grew up. At the time I was involved in the arts, working in artist studios as an assistant and making art at home myself. But ultimately I was interested in more of a curatorial and artist support role, specifically building an art residency. I was thinking art residency on the farm in VT.

I moved up to Whidbey Island from Los Angeles to work at Hedgebrook, the women’s writing residency, as a cook and start learning about what it took to run an artist residency. Food is a big focus at Hedgebrook. They use it to create this ultimate environment for creativity. Several months into the job and at an art residency conference in Seattle, I heard this talk about non-profits and the future. Basically the speaker felt like a hybrid for/non-profit business model was the future of art institutions and this really hit a nerve for me.

Meanwhile food became more and more of a mental and professional focus for me. I kept thinking about the land in VT and thinking about what skills I needed to gather to work with that piece of land. I started to apply to BGI a couple years ago, but the financial load ultimately stopped me. Well, that and the online Graduate Math Course and test really bummed me out. So how do you start learning about business and the multitudinous subjects encompassed? I decided I wanted to take the learn-as-you-go approach. Start with something small, something familiar and within my skill set and voila, you get a tiny jam company.

 

Distracted and Recipe Writing

This is an odds and ends post I think. It's Sunday evening. I've spent the day by myself both resting and doing laps around the house, laundry, defrosting sweatbreads and lamb tongue for dinner, dishes, napping, drinking a glass of mead, and costing out jam recipes I made last year. On Thursday I started a big feeling post about my mother's land back in Vermont. It's the farm I grew up on. I've had the property on my mind for years, but only very recently did I start sharing my dreams and designs for the property with my mother. She is a wonderfully practical woman so I have always thought that I needed a business plan and financial backing before I could come to her with my ideas. She is also (I am learning) very supportive and interested in putting the Vermont land she lives on back to work. This is a very big deal and it involves an intimacy with my home and my mother that is all new to me. Writing about a possible business with my mother back on the land where I grew up is a ball of emotion on the large side. For now the whole thing is sitting in my draft box so I can think more. I had a torrid love affair with a box of Seville oranges and my new copper jam pan.IMG_0690

Now my mind just skitters about. I look online at prices for commercial kitchen rentals here in Seattle. I continue to contemplate whether or how to start producing jam commercially on a level that allows me greater selling opportunities rather than continuing with the grassroots-friends-and-family-suggested-donation approach I currently take. In my head I imagine all the math I must do to establish how much every angle of a micro-jam business costs. Last weekend, I looked at the recipe for Blackberry and Damson Plum with Lemon Basil. Using conservative, ie, high, prices for the fruit, honey, and jars, I came up with a rough cost of goods per jar. Just for the ingredients I calculated a $4.67 cost per 6 oz. jar. I know that's a high price, but I actually found the numbers and their tangibility encouraging.

Then my brain ratcheted to another ongoing question of mine concerning the jam I make. What are its uses again? I spent the next couple days eating jam on toast. People tend to imagine bread first when they think of jam. I rarely eat jam on toast so I wanted to experience my preserves in their natural habitat. At first I loved my morning plate of bread slices, each adorned with a different jam flavor. Good stuff I thought, but by day three, the sweetness of the jam got insipid and I found myself heading for the tartest flavors I could find amongst my stores.

Once I ran out of bread I turned to my two current favorite cookbooks for thinking about fruit and cooking, Pam Corbin's Cake Handbook from the River Cottage Handbook series and Nigel Slater's Ripe. The recipes for Seville Orange Polenta Cake and Banana Bread in the River Cottage Cake Handbook stuck out to me. I decided to combine them into a cake. For my first take on this idea I used a Banana Bread recipe subbing preserves for the mashed banana. Testing out different kinds of honey last year I accumulated more batches of lemon marmalade than I could eat which made it the natural choice for the cake.

IMG_0706

IMG_0707

How did it turn out? I am terrible at answering this question. At work it's my job to decide if something tastes "right", but when it comes to eating food at home I am so much less picky. Even more so when tasting sweets. I adore cake. Almost anything baked and sweet I love. Taste Notes, here goes: (Oh, I frosted the cake with a combination of creme fraiche and lemon marmalade.) Taste was good, sweet!, definitely lemony with a touch of that marmalade bitterness. I found the texture disarmingly soft, a zero-to-one-chew-needed-before-swallowing kind of softness. Keep in mind, this was my reaction after eating the cake several hours after it came out of the oven. The cake's mouth-feel improved and all the flavors integrated more by day two. By day four the cake was gone. I think it hit its peak on day three. This isn't unusual for cakes. At my work we currently bake a molasses spice cake that definitely improves with age. I want to make my Marmalade Cake again, tweak it some, maybe you'd like to work on it too? Here is my recipe for now:

Citrus Marmalade Cake

Sift together the following and set aside: 3 cups almond flour + 1/8 t salt + 1/2 t baking soda

Combine the following in 1 bowl and once mixed add to dry ingredients: 1 c citrus marmalade + 1/4 c honey + 4 eggs + 1/2 c yogurt + dash of vanilla extract + zest from 2 lemons

I baked this is in two cake pans in a 325 degrees Fahrenheit until done. Isn't that a maddening direction? Til'Done! No, but seriously my baking times will differ from yours and yours and yours. Just make sure to peep in the oven after 15 minutes and move the cakes around to ensure even baking. It's almond flour and honey so be extra vigilant, these ingredients brown quickly. These cakes should not take longer than a 40 minutes to bake.

Let the cakes rest for several minutes before you pop them out of their pans and place them on cooling racks.

While they rest, mix together the Citrus Marmalade Frosting: 2/3 c creme fraiche + 1/3 c citrus marmalade + 1/4 c honey.

Once the cakes cool completely, ice them up! Remember, this cake improves with a little rest time. Taste it over several days and see how it changes.

Refrigeration isn't necessary, just store covered in a cool place.

When the fruit couldn't wait I took a picture.

This past summer, I took a lot of photos of fruit and honey boiling down to jam. Steam and bubbles obscured any chance of my phone's measly camera capturing 'the action'. I'd pull the pot of jam off the heat and try to capture the dynamics of a jam in progress, the shimmer and gloss of sugars condensing and concentrating. Really I was trying to capture the excitement I felt for the jam in the pot on that particular day and more generally, with each camera-on-jam attempt, I held up the excitement I felt for this honey preserves project.

I've been working on making honey preserved fruit products and recipes since May of this year. The idea of Stovetopletters was that it could serve as a spotty, but spontaneous recording device for the work I did in the kitchen. I like to write. It's what I studied in school but for me it feels more comfortable to be studious about food and unbidden about writing.

Still, I have all these jam related pictures, pictures meant to accompany posts that I didn't write. As I clean up after the coming out / launch party I threw this last weekend for my honey preserves project, part of the tidying entails going through roughly 2.5 seasons (May-November) of food photographs. Here they are with abridged explanations, otherwise known as captions.

Preserves layered in a late May birthday cake.

20121119-145909.jpg

All the parts of a three day marmalade combined in one bowl before the cook down that transforms the juice, the honey and the fruit slices into a beautiful marmalade.

20121119-150200.jpg

On my way to the Queen Anne Farmers Market.

20121119-150340.jpg

An everyday work lunch brightened by a jar of preserves.

20121119-150539.jpg

With jam making goes scrubbing. It only took an afternoon of jamming to do this to the wall next to my stove. Also, this was the hottest day of the year in Seattle and I had bought waaaaay too much fruit at the farmers market.

20121119-150926.jpg

Thank goodness for these ones. You know, bees!

20121119-151205.jpg

I transported the fruit home home by bus. Waiting on the 49, thinking about Tomato Preserves and Strawberry Nectarine Jam.

20121119-151423.jpg

Sometimes it's hard to remember to put some away for the winter.

20121119-151639.jpg

Then the tomatoes in our Seattle P-Patch ripened and I made Tomato Marmalade with oranges and lemons.

20121119-151928.jpg

Two of us rode our bikes to Edel's house, picked up her Vanagon and drove to Christine's yard where we picked plums and prunes. The prunes ripened in our apartment and I spent the next three weeks making plum and prune preserves.

20121119-152440.jpg

20121119-152535.jpg

I loved making this jam. I picked the apples from the tree across the street from my Capitol Hill apartment building. The plums and prunes are from Maple Leaf.

20121119-152900.jpg

Sharing jam with my family in Vermont. That is a Vergennes Laundry wood-fired oven croissant.

20121119-153108.jpg

My father passed away in October. I had to wait a couple days before I could leave Seattle and get back east. On my parents land in Vermont, they had apple, plum and pear trees. While I cooled my jets in Seattle I made this jam to honor my father's passing. Vanilla, Apple, Pluot, Pear with Lemon. Considering my dad's personality, the jam turned out appropriately, the flavor was layered, the texture complex.

20121119-154103.jpg

I used the peel to infuse in some ginger liqueur to be used in next year's preserving cycle. More presently--I thought to myself as I ate the rest of the orange--full-fledged winter, citrus, and marmalade season are coming!

20121119-154931.jpg

Here is the ginger liqueur in process.

20121119-155059.jpg

Setting up a store of kinds in my apartment. My first jam tasting, Jam Party!

20121119-155238.jpg

Dessert or breakfast? I now have one jar open of every jam I made this year, which is a number over 30. I've got some serious eating to do. If you are in Seattle, feel free to contact me if you want to lend a hand. You bring the ice cream, yogurt, scones, gluten free toast, etc, and I have the jam.

20121119-155605.jpg