On June 11, the Orange County branch of Johnny Rebs’ Southern Roadhouse hosted four of L.A.’s leading jam makers, helping to spotlight an old school but resurgent craft.
Jam Session emcee Cheryl Carter opened the first Johnny Rebs’ with husband Larry and John Ingle in 1984, dedicating their restaurant to “traditional recipes from the regional South.” Her grandmother canned, and the Jam Session was the first in a series of educational cooking demos.
The event began with autobiographical intros from each jam maker, moving from the left of the “stage” to right, beginning with Mothercluck founder Karen Klemens. Seven years ago, she was pregnant with her son and preserved apricots, saying it “allowed me some independence to make my own food.” Years later, she transitioned to plums, peaches and raspberries, and started selling her jam. As Klemens revealed at the Jam Session, she’s opening Mother Moo Creamery in Sierra Madre, featuring organic cream, locally sourced ingredients, house-made cones, a home preservation center, canning demos, and yes, her jams. She called the creamery the “perfect marriage. I’ll do my own little raspberry swirl and combine it with ice cream.”
Hillary Danner started making jam and teamed with Maria Newman and chef Jared Levy on Jenkins Jellies, which has become most popular for their Hellfire Pepper jelly, which was inspired by a Texas craze. Danner’s house is surrounded by fruit trees and Concord grapes, which all help to fuel their business.
Laura Ann Masura of Laura Ann’s Jams is a former indie rock drummer and handpicks fruit and herbs from local farms to produce “preserves with an edge.” She grew up in Chicago, making pickles with her grandmother and picking enough raspberries to make enough jam for the year, and for gifts. She and her family also utilized tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries and sometimes apple butter. Masura came to L.A. and worked in restaurants. She was going to open a Chicago style hot dog shop, so she started smoking meats and making different relishes, beginning with jellies and jams. She brought them to the restaurant she was working at – Redwood Bar & Grill. Her boss bought a breakfast place, she provided the jams and was promptly named to the Best of LA for 2010 in Los Angeles magazine. She was clearly proud of the award, but said of other jam makers, “They’re not competition, they’re like my sisters…It really is a craft.”
Jessica Koslow of SQIRL was born in Long Beach, worked as pastry chef at esteemed Atlanta restaurant Bacchanalia. As she said, Anne Quatrano “is very much like the Alice Waters of Atlanta, and she really pushed me to think about food in a local way.” She moved back to L.A. and Quatrano called her back to Atlanta to work at Abattoir. She started SQIRL three months ago, explaining, “Squirreling thing away is an old term.”
Cheryl Carter asked about the technical challenges of canning, and Masura said, “Sugar’s your friend and your enemy.” Koslow added, over 220 degrees, you start to caramelize the fruit and “you start to lose integrity.”
Koslow steered the conversation toward pectin, which helps to bind the jam, asking, “Where is that pectin coming from?” Companies sell pectin powders, but she prefers the natural route. In the fall, Koslow makes pectin from Granny Smith apples, and in the winter, uses citrus rinds. Another important factor: “When you make your own pectin, you can use less sugar.”
Koslow prefers to make jam in a hand forged copper pot. She found a coppersmith named David Burns, a “Scottish salty dog,” to produce her pot, which conducts heat well and evenly.
The jammy discussion switched to local, seasonal and organic issues. Koslow said that since we live in California, a land of plenty, she’s able to adhere to the “200-mile rule,” sourcing produce from that radius, which allows her to “know your farmer” and use “less pesticides in the food.”
Masura toured the country, and at the time, the only place she could find a salad was Cracker Barrel. She arrived in California and started to go to farmers markets, quickly realizing, “I forgot what a tomato tasted like.”
When Koslow was living in Atlanta, she went to the famed Dekalb Market – “which is like a Costco” – and saw “98% of produce came from California.” She thought, “That is where it’s happening,” so she moved back to Southern California.
After learning about the different jam makers, we got to enjoy jam samples, including SQIRL Nagami kumquat and chamomile jam; Mothercluck organic strawberry jam, featuring small strawberries with concentrated flavor from McGrath Farms; Laura Ann’s Jam blueberry basil jam; and Jenkins Jellies Hellfire Pepper jam, a spicy jam that incorporates seven types of peppers.
Given the dialogue and product we experienced, it’s clear that jam making is going strong in SoCal.