I used to think of jam—when I thought of it at all—as a nice sweet little something to spread on a piece of toast or put in a peanut butter sandwich. But then I saw this foreign film set in the early 1800s, in a small Alpine community. A young woman spooned strawberry jam out of crock and ate as if she was feasting on the most elegant and delicious dessert imaginable. That’s when it hit me. Jam is a luscious treat, fruit in another form, all its seasonal glory saved and packed so it can be enjoyed when the harvest is just a memory. It’s a culinary wonder really that most of us take for granted because nowadays it’s just so there, so easy to access.
Lisa Battista shares my enthusiasm. She fell in love with the process of putting up fruit this way about 10 years ago and her dabbling turned into her business: Abby’s Kitchen Orchard Preserves.
Formally trained with a baking and pastry certificate from the Culinary Institute of America, she works in small batches, striving to find just the right balance of sweet and tart. “Every batch is different,” she explains. “I have an idea in my mind of the flavor I want and sweeten to taste, not according to a recipe.”
She uses no thickeners, letting natural pectin, heat and time do their work. It can take up to two days to turn flats of berries, bushels of peaches, or baskets of sour cherries into five cases of product. About half a pound of fruit ends up in each 8 ounce jar. And every one I’ve tried is just grab-you-by-the-tastebuds fantastic.
Battista uses local produce as much as possible, often going out to farms and picking it herself. The day we talked she was getting ready to make strawberry rhubarb conserve. “The secret to what I do—and it’s no secret really—is to start with the absolutely best ingredients,” Battista says. She buys more than she can use, freezing some so she can continue her jam when fresh stuff is no longer available. Sometimes she works in some more exotic elements like figs, clementines, and blood oranges.
Towards the end of our conversation we start brainstorming about all the wonderful things you can do with her preserved fruits, once you free yourself from the notion that it’s married to slices of bread. Plop a dollop on ice cream or into a bowl of yogurt. Use a spoonful in a vinaigrette. Mix into a cocktail. Add to a pan sauce or make a glaze for meat or poultry. Put on a charcuterie board. Of course, you might just want to enjoy it straight from the jar.
You can find Abby’s Preserves, named after a beloved dog, and Lisa, at many area farmers’ markets. They’re also sold at Ohio City Grocery.
Photos by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group