Bonnie Shershow founded her jam company on the simple belief that jam should be a complete reflection of the fruit it contains and nothing else. Her many jams grace the shelves of specialty stores along the East Coast and have been lauded by “Food and Wine”, “The New York Times”, and the “Washington Post”. We took a moment to talk to Bonnie about the process that goes into making her jam, the challenges of growing a business, and, ultimately, her view on what makes great jam.
What inspired you to get into the food industry?
I grew up in a house surrounded by fruit trees and berry bushes. As fruit ripened, pots of boiling and bubbling fruit would magically become sparkling glass jars of beautiful colors. As I grew older, I began to join my mother in these fits of cooking. After moving to the East Coast, making jam became moments of quiet pleasure in the midst of some of life’s chaos. As the chaos grew, so did the amount of jam, and I began to look for an outlet to move the product from home to store. Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge agreed to let me brew the batches and to sell the jam, fulfilling both the requirement of a commercial kitchen and a commercial venue. I was in business with one small store. Eventually, over the course of the next 13 years, other stores signed on.
Describe a typical day in your production area?
Planning for production begins with orders that come in from distributors and stores. I begin my search for great fruit from vendors I know and then book a date in my commercial kitchen. I line up jars, lids, fruit, and helpers.
Explain the process that goes into making one of your products.
After gathering all the various components of the ordered jams, a group of helpers and I begin loading kettles for the days cooking. Each batch takes at least 2 hours. The fruit heats and begins to exude juice, and that’s when I add the small amount of sugar that will help bring out the flavor and preserve the jam. I cook the jam until the temperature is 210°, add fresh lemon juice, and test carefully for the mixture to reach the correct gel stage. Then, quickly, with a lot of help, we pour the hot bubbling jam into jars. We seal the jars, turn them briefly upside down to sterilize the lids, paste on the label, date and number each batch, and pack into boxes. We fill out a sheet documenting each stage of the process and every fruit so that we can trace each element if necessary. The wonderful thing about Jams made without pectin is that the product has to reach such a high degree that the jam sterilizes the jar and no extra boiling is necessary—a very nice result of the no-pectin-process!
What was the biggest challenge you overcame in getting to this point?
The biggest challenge was, and is, figuring out the financial aspect of the business, which is a very complicated equation.
Do you have any aspirations for growth?
Yes! I want as many people as possible to enjoy great jam and to realize that no pectin and less sugar add up to a better tasting, healthier product. Lots of buyers think that jam is overly gelled sugary product with a hint of fruit flavor. I hope they will experience jam as our grandparents and European neighbors enjoy it, with less sugar and no pectin.
What advice do you have for new food purveyors?
Make the very best product you can—cutting no corners in quality. Believe that your product is the best out there and then plan to take a long time to reach the goal that you set for the business.
Do you feel like you’ve “made it”? If so, in what moment did you feel like you had “made it”?
Hmmm. I think that concept has never been part of my plan. I want to continue to make the best jam I can and keep expanding to have as many people as possible enjoy it.
What is your favorite thing that you make?
Because my jam has no pectin, I like using it as an ingredient. I love making the jam and then I like getting creative in using it. I spread it on dough in a tart pan and turn it into an Italian crostata. I use the apricot-orange or the peach-ginger to glaze a chicken or I mix it with a little olive oil and fresh thyme to spread on a filet of fish. I like filling cookies, making martinis, flavoring mustard and salad dressings, layer with yogurt and granola—the list is long.