v smiley preserves

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.


Bosc Pear, Bearss Lime, Vanilla Marmalade Recipe

For the last several weeks in the jam kitchen I’ve inhaled the steam of lime, pear and vanilla bean condensing into marmalade. I’m deep in producing several hundred jars of my Bosc Pear Bearss Lime Vanilla Marmalade. Say that fast three times in a row! It is a soft, sweet, and warm marmalade with little zaps of sour and bitter interjected when you bite into the lime rind. I love sampling this preserve to people. And it makes a lovely gift, orange jelly dashed with wisps of green lime rind.

Originality in preserves is a fickle creature. It’s easy to end up muddling flavors in the name of creativity. A cook I know has a thing about cinnamon. “Overused!” she cries. That’s usually my sentiment on vanilla in preserves. Vanilla falls so gracefully into so many flavor brainstorms. Oranges with plums and cardamom, oh, and then I’ll just tie the whole thing up with vanilla! But this bossy, know-it-all voice in my head always interjects, hey lady! that’s the easy way to bring a jam flavor together. In my imagination where ingredients have personalities, vanilla is a sound manager type, someone who takes the tart voice of a blueberry and in the name of balance just mutes the fruit’s special zip right out. But sometimes vanilla in a preserve is more than a tidy bow on top of a flavor and sometimes vanilla steps out of character and lets all the ingredients inside sing at the top of their lungs together.  That’s how I think of Bosc Pear Bearss Lime Vanilla Marmalade. The (Persian) Bearss Lime by the way is the very pretty name for the lime you commonly find at the grocery store. Also, Bosc Pear season is winding down here in the Pacific Northwest so grab those pears soon. Allow almost a week for them to ripen in your home so they are drippy with flavor for the marmalade. Lastly, feel free to substitute another pear for the Boscs if they are unavailable.

Bosc Pear Vanilla Lime Marmalade

2 lb 14 oz Bosc Pears (make sure they are very ripe)

1 lb 1 oz Limes (allow them to ripen to a nice gold-green color at room temperature)

2 lb 8 oz Blackberry Honey

5 oz Lemon Juice, strained

1 vanilla bean pod

Day 1:

Make the pear juice. Cut pears into eighths, place in non-reactive pot, cover with water to one inch above fruit. Pears should float freely in water. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low-medium, cover, and maintain a lively simmer for 3 hours. Check on the fruit every hour. Use a spoon to press on the cooking pears. When the liquid has become slightly viscous pull the pot off the heat. Place a metal mesh strainer over a non-reactive bowl and pour pears and water through the strainer. Cover straining fruit with a lid or plastic wrap and allow to drip for 12 hours.


While the pears cook in water, prepare the limes. Working lengthwise (as though you were making lime wedges), cut limes into quarters. Working widthwise, cut each quarter into thin slices. Your slices should look like tiny pie slices. Place sliced limes in non-reactive cooking pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to lively simmer and cook limes for 5 minutes. Drain and discard the lime cooking water. Return the lime slices to a non-reactive pot and cover with water to one inch above the limes. Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat, cover and cook the lime slices at a lively simmer until the fruit is softened, about 35 minutes. Pull the pot from the heat and let rest 12 hours.

Day 2:

Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwise. Scrape out the bean’s contents and deposit them along with the scraped pod, strained pear juice, lime slices and their cooking liquid, honey, and strained lemon juice into an 11-quart, non-reactive and wide preserving pan like an enameled Dutch oven or—if you have one—a copper jam pan. If you do not have a large pan, split the mixture in two and cook in your standard stock-pot in two rounds.

Over high heat, bring the pot to a boil. The mixture will cook at a high heat until it sets. I like to determine set by having several spoons ready on a plate in the freezer. Cooking times vary depending on the pan and your stove. The cooking mixture will proceed through several cooking stages. When it reaches the foaming stage start to run a heatproof spatula along the bottom of your pan. Don’t over-stir! This slows the cooking process. As the foam disappears, the bubbles get smaller, and the sound of the pot changes to a low, dull roar, stir more often to prevent sticking.

Test for doneness by pulling the pot off the heat and placing a small bit of the mixture into one of your frozen spoons. Allow the spoon to cool in your freezer until the underside feels “room temperature”. Tilt the spoon. If the mixture has formed a skin and moves sluggishly down the spoon then the marmalade is set and done. If the mixture runs down the spoon easily, return the pot to the stove and continue boiling. Remove the pot from the stove each time you check the set. Check the surface of the jam in the pot after it’s rested off the stove for several minutes. If you notice a skin has formed on jam’s surface, this is another sign the marmalade has set.

If you are canning the marmalade, follow the jar manufacturer’s instructions or if you want to eat your marmalade right away, simply extract the vanilla bean from the mixture and place in glass jars and let cool. Store marmalade in the refrigerator if you aren’t canning it. You can eat the marmalade immediately, but I recommend waiting a couple weeks. The flavors continue to develop and will be in full display several weeks after you make the marmalade.  

Taking Stalk

This morning I visited the Rose Geraniums in the garden. I read the fresh sheet from Billy's Gardens (in Tonasket, WA) with my breakfast which made me think about the preserving schedule for the next couple weeks. Quince, glorious quince, will come in from the orchard soon and then I will start dismantling the Rose Geraniums one sprig and stalk at a time to make Quince Rose Geranium Grappa Marmalade, one of my all time favorite preserves to make and eat. Amy has taken beautiful care of the two, now gigantic Geraniums that have grown all summer in preparation for quince season.

In the pots this weekend, strawberries and Pluots cooked down to make jam for my co-worker Alex's pop up brunch this coming Sunday at Vif, the adorable, go check it out now if you haven't, coffee and wine shop on Fremont Ave less than a block north of The Book Larder and Dot's. Alex and I work together at the Whale Wins and he and the sous-chef of the Walrus and the Carpenter are presenting a 3 course brunch on Sunday the 15th. There might be a few seats left...check out vifseattle.com. The Strawberry Pluot Honey Jam comes near the start of the meal, with a scone naturally.

What else?
Before heading into cook dinner at the Whale Wins tonight, I stop by Marx Foods in Lower Queen Anne. Marx is an online and local Seattle specialty food store. Marx puts the products to a panel of tasters so I'm bringing 8 jams and marmalades for them to sample.

And...I finally finished and submitted my application to the Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, which connects to my final piece of news. The bike trailer. For my birthday, Amy, my sister Moira, and my brother in law Andy gifted me a honking 300 lb. hauler of a bike trailer from an Iowa company called Bikes at Work. Amy assembled the (as she calls it) "puzzle" this weekend. The finished product is a utilitarian kind of dazzling. It's pretty and useful! Now I can get the jam to the farmers market.

I'm still figuring out how to use the Squarespace app and sprinkle the pictures into the text. The last one is the nightly view I see when I emerge from the jam kitchen.