Not your everyday strawberry jam
Savoy family farm finds sweet - and spicy - success with jam business
SAVOY — Leaning over the stove, Kori Thompson dipped a pair of tongs into a boiling pot. A moment later, she pulled a steaming glass jar of peaches, jalapenos and habaneros from its midst.
"It's like fireworks," Thompson said of "Peach Lava" on a recent Thursday morning.
The extra-spicy jam is one of 11 varieties produced by Highland Ledge Farm in Savoy. The family-run business has experienced an exponential growth in sales since January, when a Berkshire Grown event helped place its jams on Guido's Fresh Marketplace shelves. Since that time, the family has also traveled to roughly 40 fairs, farmers markets and other events, including Third Thursdays in Pittsfield, and sold products to Adams Hometown Market, The Old Creamery in Cummington and Wigwam Western Summit in North Adams.
"We started off by making 10 cases of everything and said, `Well, that'll last us until June or July.' Oh, it didn't even last us a month and a half," said Emily Groner, Thompson's mother.
This spring, Thompson moved home from North Carolina to assist Groner and her husband, Ed, with their rustic Bog Pond Road operation. Growing up, Emily had made jam for her daughter when they were living in the St. Johnsbury, Vt., area.
"The extra I would sell at the farmers market," Emily recalled.
A recent health scare prompted Emily to return to the pastime.
"It wasn't until I had a stroke that we decided that I could do it as a hobby and see how it went," she said.
"It was for her speech," Ed added. "She was having trouble talking, so a business was a good opportunity for her to get out and talk."
Emily has gotten to do plenty of that, in no small part due to the group's outfit choices. Drawing inspiration from the Renaissance Faire and some Scottish ancestry, Groner and company dress in Highland garb at many gatherings. The attire has sparked more than a few conversations and, more importantly, tastings. That's the secret to sales.
"If they taste it, they love it," Thompson said.
"Apple Maple" has been the farm's bestseller. Consisting of apples from Jaeschke's Orchard in Adams and maple from Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock, the jam is a particularly delicious addition to ice cream.
"Tastes like apple pie," Emily said.
"Strawberry-Rhubarb," "Apple Butter" and "Jazzy Razzy" — blueberries and raspberries — are among the 10 other flavors. All are blends.
"You can't come to us for your everyday strawberry jam," Emily said.
Not to be confused with liquid-like jelly, jam is that delectable spread that leaves in chunks and seeds. Don't confuse it for hunks of fruit in a jar, though.
"Jam is ground up. Preserves are not," Ed said. "I had to look that one up myself."
Working out of their kitchen, the family mixes local ingredients in a food processor before loading them into a big pot. After bringing them to a boil, they add pectin to generate that gelatinous consistency, boil some more, add sugar and boil some more. Meanwhile, the jars are also boiling, in order to sanitize them.
"It's not many steps. It's not hard steps. But it's hot," Ed said.
Once the jam is ready, it's spooned into a jar using a funnel. Ed screws on the tops before the jars are dropped back into a boiling pot that can hold as many as 24 containers. Their 10-minute bath is part of the sealing process. When the jars are removed from the water, as Thompson was doing to a batch of "Peach Lava," they eventually make a popping noise. That means they're sealed, staying that way for at least two years. Label application concludes the jams' preparation, which might become a bit less time and labor-intensive upon the arrival of a commercial mixer and commercial pots. The family is also looking to hire help.
"We can't keep up anymore with this quantity of batches," Ed said.
The business has sold 2,400 jars this year. Standard half-pints cost $6, but "Hot Pak" bundles of three three-ounce jars have also been going fast. Featuring "Habanerries" (cherry and habaneros), "Strawapeno" (strawberries and jalapenos) and "Peach Lava," the collection goes for $12. The hot flavors were Ed's concoction. Now, Thompson is proposing ideas.
"I want my own jam," she said.
Some of the jams' ingredients used to be sourced from the family's Savoy property, but the demand for their products has long since surpassed their cultivation capacity. Thompson has enjoyed visiting other farms for supplies, though, and the group still cherishes actually producing their own products. It has been a revelation for Emily.
"We love what we're doing," she said. "That's what we found out."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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