This past summer, my final summer in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, I had the pleasure of working as an apprentice to a professional jam maker. That’s right, all this guy did all day was pick fruit and turn it into jam. All of the fruit—strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, plums, peaches, apricots, apples, and more—was sourced from within about thirty miles of Charlottesville, located in the heart of central Virginia. In addition, my jam overlord refused—indeed, blasphemed—the use of pectin in his jam. Pectin is, essentially, gelatin from apples instead of animals. Commercial jam companies use pectin to get away with using less fruit while maintaining a spreadable consistency. Skipping the pectin and instead using the “Modified French Method” of jam-making, we managed to cram more than a pound of fruit into each eight-ounce jar of the best (and probably most expensive) jam you’ll ever taste.
This experience was not only a lot of fun, spending summer mornings in the foothills of the Blue Ridge picking berries and getting paid, but it also taught me a lot about the philosophy of local food. Refrigeration, preservatives, globalism and mass-marketing have distanced consumers from the farmers that source their food. It’s sometimes hard to believe that some of the stuff Bon Appetite serves actually came from the Earth. My work as a jam-maker reinforced the holistic importance of local and organic food; not only does it simply taste better, but it also stimulates the economy and fosters a real sense of community and interdependence between consumers and farmers. So, next time you’re at Fro-Gro, splurge on the marginally more expensive local produce. You’ll be glad you did.
For a list of jam flavors we made this summer, and links to other jam-related stuff, check out: http://accordingtodaniel.com/jam/?page_id=193