Meet BC's Artisan Jam Makers
Image by Julie-Ann Cassidy
Carrot jam with orange and green cardamom is an unusual and delicious combination
With the artisan jam business growing, BC entrepreneurs are creating delicious spreads that will have you ditching your go-to supermarket brands
British Columbia grows darn good fruit. When summer arrives - particularly in the southern interior of the province - farms, vineyards, and orchards become bough-heavy with bright clusters of berries, soft-skinned stone fruits, and juicy grapes.
For some, the abundance simply means darn good wine. For others, BC’s warm weather crops provide the sweet ingredients for jams, jellies, and spreads. This time of year, artisan jam makers all over the province are creating small-batch, gourmet products for a hungry clientele.
Small-batch Jam Making: A Labour of love
The flavours are diverse, but the philosophy of many of BC’s jam makers is the same: use fresh, hand-selected ingredients and only produce small batches to keep the quality high.
Heather Cameron of Missing Goat Farm has been making jam for 20 years. She credits her success to using the best fruit she can get her hands on, and "a lot of it." Each of her jars contains a half-pound of organic fruit and no pectin, a thickening agent common in store-bought preserves. She uses "far more fruit than sugar, and everything is certified organic. Gourmet jam," Cameron says, "is made with care using fresh, wonderful ingredients."
Similarly, for Angela Dean and Julie-Anne Cassidy of Vancouver’s Sticky Spoon, jam making is all done in small batches. Even though their business has grown to require hundreds of pounds of fruit each week, the partners refuse to compromise and use only fresh, local ingredients in the season they’re available. "Fruit is always our first ingredient," says Dean, "and all of our jams are made in small batches, by hand, by the two of us."
Using what’s in season has led Dean and Cassidy to create unusual spreads, like Carrot Jam with Orange and Green Cardamom. Sticky Spoon also produces a kiwi jam made from – believe it or not – British Columbian kiwis. "It is a little known fact that kiwi fruit grows in BC," Dean notes. "People are always surprised to hear that. Our jam has a lovely tropical flavour that is refreshing in the wintertime," and it’s still 100 per cent local.
Smuckers is for Suckers
Producing in large batches makes using top-notch ingredients tough. Kraft and Smuckers, Cameron notes, use "jam grade berries – the berries that farms can’t sell because they’re past their prime." Because these manufacturers produce as economically as possible, pectin and sugar tend to feature prominently. Producing for the masses also makes it difficult (read: expensive) to experiment with flavours. Visit a farmers market, however, and you’ll find creative combinations attesting to the superiority of the small-batch ethos.
Not to undercut the nostalgic value of good ol’ grape jelly, but you don’t need it anymore. Forget Welch’s. You’ve got fresh, new flavours like Missing Goat’s Organic Strawberry and Black Pepper or Rhubarb Rosemary jams.
Artisan Edibles, too, surpasses predictable blueberry, raspberry, or cherry. It's created Champagne Rose Petal and Raspberry Cardamom jellies, and a delicious Apple Fig Ginger Chutney that tastes good on everything.
Pat and Henri Anderson of Cowichan Valley’s Valhalla Farm are about as far from grape juice concentrate as you can get. They’ve been making jam for over two decades, combining fruits and herbs they grow themselves to make award-winning spreads. Their jams – including a Black Fire Jelly that has both blackberries and habanero peppers – evolved from old European recipes and plenty of experimentation.
Preserved BC Sunshine, manned by Karin Brauch and Julia-Marcella Seadon, has a laundry list of award-winners that put supermarket options to shame: Apricot with Vanilla Bean, Wild Blackberry, and a couple of spiked marmalades that are downright dangerous.
Brauch’s recipes, too, result from combining old-world techniques with locally available ingredients. Her friend, Linda, grows rhubarb for Brauch’s jams in her East Vancouver backyard and every August; Brauch and her family hand-pick the blackberries that go into Preserved BC Sunshine products, getting them at the height of the season to "capture the taste of sun-ripened wild berries." Her family must love her very much.
Try it at Home
Thinking of trying your hand at artisan jam? The ladies of Sticky Spoon – creators of Cranberry Apple Citrus and Spiced Autumn Plum spreads – have this advice:
"Forget the pectin! Use very good fruit in its season and trust your instincts."
Images by Julie-Anne Cassidy