It may be a little too early in the year to mention fruit, when many of our fruit-producing plants are either still to blossom or just finishing setting their fruit. But I always looks ahead to re-stocking his pantry and right now my supplies of jams and jellies are reaching what I feel is a critical level. And I’m relying on local artisans to fill some space.
I actually make many more jars of sweet preserves than my wife and I could possible consume in the course of a year but we like to gift a lot of them. Not only when we visit friends and family, but when people visit us they often leave with a jar or two of something or other. So as soon as the strawberries start coming in you will likely find me in the kitchen again and then throughout the summer and fall with raspberries, blueberries, apricots, plums, and so on. It’s a built-in gene that never seems to let me down for tasty consumption over the winter. But, I have to say that I am a fairly traditional jam and jelly maker and this time of year when my shelves are getting a little bare I like to seek out some non-traditional flavours and techniques.
A couple of weeks ago I did a quick day-trip to Salt Spring Island. The Saturday market in Ganges is already in full-swing and while I went there to visit one specific artisan it’s not hard to find around half a dozen other people who are also jam, jelly and marmalade makers. But I do want to feature Melanie Mulherin of the Simply Salty Kitchen Company. I met her through her Facebook page and her blog was intrigued by some of her novel creations like Pink Grapefruit and Rhubarb Jam-A-Lade, Meyer Lemon and Lavender Marmalade and Candied Jalapenos. When I got to her booth at the market it was literally jammed with people tasting and buying her products, but when there was a bit of a lull I asked her how she got into her business. At first it was a way to make some spare cash, join in the Ganges Market and meet some people in her new community after she and her husband recently moved to Salt Spring. But she told me, “It turned into a full-time job very quickly, and I’ve been able to meet all the goals that I set, being part of this wonderful market and meeting so many great people in my community.”
I also asked Melanie about why she thinks her products are different: “I develop recipes that are unique, putting things together that you normally wouldn’t think of, like the pink grapefruit and rhubarb, for example. I also try to make sure that many of my flavours will go perfectly with cheese, since we have so many great cheeses that are made here on the island, when you put my preserves alongside the cheese it’s something special.”
That’s what I’m looking for when I buy preserves rather than make them myself. I want something different. Of course it has to start with the quality of the product, but then you have to have the creativity that stands out, as Melanie has done with these different concepts blending unexpected flavours together, and the most important factor starts even before you taste the product, with the packaging. I love the Simply Salty Kitchen packaging. The fonts employ the shape of homespun handwriting, along with old-fashioned typewriter face, with both labels and tags for the jars. So the packaging is something that takes up a lot of her time: “I wanted people to see that I care about my product and that I am professional and care about food safety. So I spend hours and hours cutting and pasting and tying labels on the jars.”
Her top sellers right now are her tomato jam, the pink grapefruit and rhubarb jam-a-lade and her candied jalapenos. I had to hold myself back from eating the whole jar I bought from Melanie or else I wouldn’t have had any left for Jo-Ann Roberts to try on All Points West this afternoon. For now Melanie is quite content to sell at the Salt Spring Saturday market but she is also supplying the farm shop at Salt Spring Island Cheese, a natural connection, and when the cheese company opens its new shop in the Victoria Public Market this summer, I have a feeling she is going to get even busier with jamming and labeling.
A few stalls down I started tasting this Seville Marmalade flavoured with Scotch from ‘Stir Crazy on Saltspring’. Lesley Wypkema of the All Seasons Bed & Breakfast makes this preserve, with the bitter orange flavour smoothed and enhanced by the whisky. When I asked Lesley why she started making her preserves, she answered that she really wanted to be part of the Saturday market, just like Melanie, and if you have never been to the market you don’t know what you’re missing.
I’ve also been sent some samples from other artisan preservers in our listening region, who are concentrating on creating products from truly wild native fruits, so from Susan Canning at Wild West Coast Rainforest products in Powell River I have samples of wild blueberry and dewberry spreads, she also makes a Nootka Rose petal jelly and a huckleberry stir fry sauce. Then from up on Quadra Island I was sent some wild crafted fruit butter samples including huckleberry, salal and even fir tip butter from Rod Burns at Bold Point Farmstay…these butters are made with less sugar and a special pectin that makes them desirable for diabetics looking for an alternative. Of course these kinds of products are especially labour intensive to make since you have to factor in the harvesting of the wild products as well…and Rod points out it’s not always easy to harvest salal berries when you might be joined by a bear interested in the same fruit!
Do you have a favourite Made-In-BC preserve? I would love to hear about it in the comments below…
To listen to an mp3 file of my chat with Jo-Ann Roberts of All Points West, click here for the audio link and please wait until the CBC promo plays before you hear my dulcet tones…