So today marks the 4th consecutive week I've taken my "Saturday" (Tuesday), to do some work on Diaspora, by canning the summer fruits here in NYC. It's been a good meditation; testing flavors, tempering the influence of buttressing flavors, and the impatient, nagging watching of proper set points. There's plenty of science to jam making, but also a fair bit of in the moment considerations, and there is the art part of artisan* that comes into play. It's fun to be getting to toy around with products that aren't citrus, even if it keeps the apartment a little warm (NYC apartments aren't known for their ventilation nor their AC units, and our pre-war is especially true in this case, along with being encased in enough brick to be the inside of a thermal oven).
Rather than work on classics, I've given myself the permission to work on new, and decidedly more northeastern flavors. In past years, I've gone to the fruits that I worked with in California -- nectarines, plums, peaches, and briar fruits like raspberries and blackberries. Part of it was familiarity -- i love the acid in those fruits, the flavors, the brightness, and that they can take a little less sugar than some other fruits. But unlike their California brethren, things out here and not like they are out there; the strawberries (short of the Tristars, which are fiddly AF to process), the worst California peach is still more aromatic and sharp than the best NY/NJ/PA peach, and finding varieties of some fruits is still an exercise in aggressive backtracking.
But holding one geography to the standard of another is silliness, and for someone whose entire proposition is a taste of place, it wasn't the right thing to do, to hold East Coast growers to West Coast standards (the humidity alone makes it rough to do a lot of stone fruits, as do spring rains). And luckily, this year a new grower (to me) arrived at Union Square who made the turn a little bit easier. I knew Wilklow Orchards from other markets -- many market staff professed a love for their fruits, and a couple of my greenmarket grains regulars also mentioned running to different markets than their norm to go and get their produce. With so much of my professional life running around Union Square, I hadn't had time or inclination to check them out at their other markets. But when they replaced Red Jacket at Union Square, it ignited something new -- when someone puts blackcurrants, gooseberries and sour cherries at the forefront of their display, even behind strawberries and rhubarb, it was a good hint something could work.
For a month and change now, I've annoyed their staff with questions about cultivar, their IPM practices, and about their timespan for various oncoming fruits (no gages, but there will be damsons), and they have been stellar; talking out, making calls to Fred to inquire, and generally being pretty generous with their time and energy. In the meantime, I've been doing smaller overall doses, which has refined the method, and engaged with different fruits than I have and generally been experimenting more than I have in recent years. Gooseberry jam, blackcurrants, and sour cherries have occupied most of my time, and some new ways of formatting the jams has made me happier with the outcomes than my previous years efforts.
Jams aren't profitable, per se. The economics of it make it egregiously expensive, even on a mass scale, to make jams in a small way. For us, its been about showcasing, in a small way, the idea of what we do. When you can make things taste so distinct from what you can find on a supermarket shelf, you can create inquiry. You can generate pleasure. And you can excite tastebuds and other things. This season, I've been able to re-engage with the things that I enjoy about this process, and hoping to figure out the direction this project is taking.
When I make jam, I listen to music. It helps pass time, create a mood, a space. And that's something that the pop-ups were not quite capable of doing; they were productive, a crazy build up of energy and explosive activity, but not the type of space where we could jive with people, talk, and partake in their enjoyment. While I'll still be doing a pop-up or two in the near future (September!), I want to start doing something more regular, something with an ability to create an environment that generates the types of things we want to do in Diaspora -- a little music, a little food, and a lot of convivia. A Sunday night dinner party has been the idea for a spell -- and figuring out where the jams come into this picture will just be a matter of time.