In the three years since I started writing about jam and preserves, this is the longest I’ve gone without posting anything here — three months. I’m mostly taking a winter’s rest from preserving, though this past week I did make a batch of lingonberry mandarin marmalade using the last of our wild lingonberries from Alaska and some organic Page mandarins that I found at the Berkeley Bowl. I’d gone there hoping to find some organic Texas Rio Star grapefruit, which is, to me, the holy grail of grapefruit. They had about a half-mile of citrus bins and three different kinds of Texas Rios, but none of those happened to be organic. I’m still searching, but because of the mandarins my trip to Berkeley was not . . . um . . . fruitless.
Even though they are tiny, Page mandarins are great for marmalade because they are both seedless and thin skinned. They don’t have the rough, pithy skin of some mandarins that makes the fruit easy to peel and eat out of hand but less than ideal for slicing and cooking. I’m not going to write out a long recipe here, because I used Grow It Cook It Can It’s recipe for Valencia Orange Marmalade with Apples and Cranberries, subbing lingonberries for cranberries and mandarins for oranges. (The recipe also calls for making your own apple juice, but I used good quality bottled juice from the grocery store.) This is the second year in a row that I’ve used Caroline’s recipe, and there’s really no improving it. I got great results both times, even with my modified ingredients. It’s one of my favorite marmalades ever.
One of the reasons I haven’t been posting here is that I’ve been spending a lot of time working on getting a business license so I can launch a very small, legal jam company. And I’m not there yet. (You can see from the photo above that I am determined to sort this out, because I recently and optimistically purchased 1200 jam jars — all that my Subaru could safely carry.) Last year, I wavered back and forth between pursuing a commercial license and waiting for the California Homemade Food Act to pass — which it did — so I could consider registering my home kitchen to make preserves. I’m going to spare you most of the details, because there are way too many of them, but trust me: I put on my lawyer hat to investigate all the aspects of both options, and I now know so much about the ins and outs of making legal jam in California that I could write a book that would make your eyes glaze over.
The short version is that a commercial license would require my business to be a lot bigger than I want it to be — more overhead costs, more hoops to jump through. On the other hand, the cottage food law, while a great step forward, imposes some unnecessarily extreme restrictions on jam makers. I’ve been negotiating those obstacles one at a time, but last week I ran smack into a wall that I would have hit no matter what kind of license I wanted to get: It’s not okay for any kind of California jam business — commercial or cottage — to make preserves using backyard fruit, unless there’s a way to officially designate that backyard an “approved source” for ingredients. In my county and most others, there’s not yet a mechanism in place to certify a backyard garden.
I understand the reasons for the “approved source” rule. Contaminated water sources, animals running amok — all kinds of things could lead to trouble with neighborhood produce. For my work, however, I’m talking about single, well-established trees bearing healthy fruit that’s never even touched the ground. (Sometimes I drop a lemon, but these things do happen.) I follow a long list of safety practices for sourcing and preparing the fruit that comes to me from local backyards.
More than one person has asked, “Why don’t you just get your fruit from the farmers market — or just say that you did?” Here’s the main reason: Despite what I said above about chasing Texas grapefruit and being seduced by store-bought mandarins, if you have been around here before, you know that I have a passion for neighborhood fruit. Conserving beautiful, backyard fruit that would otherwise go to waste would be one of the main features of my little business. In fact, I very nearly chose the name “Backyard Preserves” for the business, and went so far as to snag that domain name before choosing something else. A business based primarily on commercially grown fruit just isn’t interesting to me — nor is one that’s based on a big ol’ lie.
What we need now is an appropriate — and inexpensive, please! — procedure for registering fruit trees or for giving a business owner authority to assess and track their own sources so they’re traceable if a problem later arises. I think the County of Marin is working on this, and I believe the issue is already well-established on the radar of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, the intrepid nonprofit that is largely responsible for getting the cottage food law passed. It’s just going to take a little more time. Sigh.
Meanwhile, there’s better news. I am leaving for Europe in a week, including three days in Paris!
My friend Nicole at Arctic Garden Studio pointed out the necessity of visiting La Chambre aux Confitures, above — a shop dedicated entirely to jams. In fact, I have collected from my Facebook friends a wonderful list of necessary spots to visit. If you have a suggestion for Paris in February, please drop a note into the comments.
Based on recommendations and the kind of things I love to do, the Père-Lachaise cemetery is also very near the top of my list. If you can’t visit, I’ve discovered there’s a lovely, meandering documentary film about it . . .