December 9, 2004
June Taylor extracts the pectin from a bag of meyer lemon seeds and membranes
When cabin fever set in at the CUESA office last week, we decided to hop on BART and take a quick afternoon field trip to the East Bay to visit June Taylor of June Taylor Company. Touring the Still-Room – the future retail space and beautiful kitchen where her conserves, marmalades, syrups and other fantastic treats are created – we learned first-hand about the art and craft of preserving, and about June’s relationships with some of the farmers who sell at Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Along with an amazing array of farmers, our market is blessed with talented artisans and we have long admired June’s work. Our trip provided a fascinating window into her philosophy and process.
June has been making jams for over 15 years (beginning with an experimental grapefruit Meyer lemon marmalade) and her business model is built on personal relationships with small farmers and her customers. Because she uses only fresh organic fruit in her products, June’s production schedule is at the mercy of the seasons. In spring, flats of Lagier Ranches’ fruits must be quickly transformed – blackberries, boysenberries and Bing cherries into conserves and syrups, and sour cherries laced with brandy syrup. In mid-summer, Kashiwase’s pluots, nectarines, and peaches become delicious preserves. Early autumn brings apples and pears from The Apple Farm, and winter yields all varieties of citrus for marmalades.
The Still-Room is a small warehouse kitchen but without a cavernous atmosphere – it has an intimate, yet open-air feel. Light floods the kitchen through two large sky lights, and color-corrected overhanging lamps illuminate the work space in the evening. Natural light is important to June’s work, as appreciating color is an important component to enjoying her products. June relies on her keen, multi-sensory observations of fruit, rather than her ability to control it. This observant nature has led to what many customers perceive as unusual flavor combinations in her products but June sees as perfectly natural – a Strawberry & Rose Geranium syrup, a Blackberry & Lemon Verbena conserve. June figures that when lavender and strawberries reach their height at the same time, they are natural candidates to compliment each other in flavor. These combinations are also derived from her inherent resourcefulness and in creating new products from what is left over. No fruit laden syrup remaining after poaching is ever poured down the drain!
When we arrived at The Still-Room, June had just finished making Meyer Lemon marmalade, and explained the process to us:
June’s largest vessels
After the fruit has been sourced, the time consuming work of preparing it begins. The rind is separated from the flesh, and some is set aside to add to the mixture. Peeling and segmenting the lemons not only provides the freshest raw material, but also allows her to remove the membranes and seeds to create her own pectin. Pectin is a natural, jellylike substance found in plants, but exists in higher quantity in citrus fruit and apples. It is soluble in hot water but become viscous when cooled. At the right pH, pectin will form a gel with sugar. This is what helps to “set” the marmalade in the magical alchemy that is preserving making.
June places the membranes and seeds in a muslin bag, which she then hangs from the center of her 20 quart pot as the fruit and rind are cooked down with a little water. If the fruit needs more pectin, she can ”milk” the bag by kneading it to extract the substance. Once the lemon has been cooked down it is measured and the appropriate amount of sugar is added. An individual recipe is written for every batch June cooks, because the balance of sugar and acid differs depending on the variety and properties of the fruit.
After adding the sugar the mixture is cooked off, and when the set is achieved, it is hand-poured into glass jars. She averages about 8 jars of marmalade for every pot, and will run 3 or 4 pots for a given batch. June’s art is incomparably different from commercial production, in which frozen fruit and powdered pectin are cooked in enormous quantities, and distributed by machines into an assembly row of jars.
June is creating a home-made product in a commercial marketplace. Once the work of crafting is complete, she must also attend to the business side of her operation. Labeling, marketing, shipping and, of course, coming to market to sell, are all a part of June Taylor’s exhausting schedule. Selling at the farmers market is important to June, as it allows her to connect directly with customers and the farmers whose fruit she buys. Sampling her syrups, preserves, and poached fruit is one distinct advantage to buying at the market, and hanging from June’s stall is a board listing the latest creations coming out of her kitchen.
In 2005 the Still-Room will also be home to classes on preserve and marmalade making. When they are announced you can be sure to find information here. June sells every Saturday at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Her website is www.junetaylorjams.com.