We sat down with the woman behind East Van Jam‘s line-up of personified fruit spreadables, Natalie Ferrari-Morton, to find out more about her seasonal, personal and fictional inspirations. Sate your curiosity by paying her booth a visit at the upcoming Got Craft? fair on May 5th and 6th.
What seasonal ingredient are you most excited to be using this spring? Rhubarb is a real treat because its readiness really signals the change in season. As Vancouverites who put up with the rain all winter for the reward of such a pleasant summer here, it brings with it the promise of renewal! And, well, the actual rhubarb is great too!
What seasonal ingredient do you most look forward to each year? I love them all! But if we’re really going to dig into it, it’s gotta be figs. The ‘season’ is far too fleeting, but they really are a little love affair. They are elusive in their availability; I am sure I’m not alone in dubbing it ‘fig week’ when they are ripe in the backyards around the city! Once they ripen, they demand our attention because forgotten for even a moment too long they are worth nothing but a strange tactile experience under foot. Juicy and sweet beyond comparison, they really do seem like the original forbidden fruit!
A flavour combination or application that surprised you? I was really excited to discover that elderflower and rhubarb are a match made in culinary heaven. The floral lightness, it turns out, is a perfect match for the heady tanginess that is rhubarb. I don’t make this flavour regularly but dream of it often and make a limited batch when I manage to catch the flowers in season.
A flavour combination or recipe that turned out disastrous? Beer jelly with coffee beans! Don’t try this at home folks!
An unusual use for jam that you encourage/recommend for the adventurous eater? My oh-so-very-tart Corvid Currant jam with breakfast yogurt and granola. The intense tartness is a wake up call for your taste buds! Also, I am especially excited about how perfectly Monsieur Hopricot tastes in a ricotta cheese sandwich with avocado!
Your last unexpected source of inspiration? Absurdly, I was inspired to investigate old preservation methodologies by a small mention of jam-making in Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ of all places! What piqued my interest was the implied understanding that jam will preserve longer if you do not add any water during the cooking process. (A thin layer of vodka and cheese cloth was all you needed!) Science has propelled us forward, but I don’t doubt that was a legit way to put up the harvest.
Three living personalities that you would like to create a jam for? I’d love to memorialize my Dad cuz he’s done a lot for the city and is in general just a really good guy; that guy who I see all over East Van in short-shorts and knee high socks – he’s at least 70 and looks like the most fit and spry 20 year old; and lastly, a representation of ‘the Chinese grandma who collects cans’ in alleys all over East Van. I mean to celebrate this ‘person/people’ with great respect as I do feel they are doing us all a great service by correcting our laziness and redirecting recyclables in a way that is more efficient, but I’m worried that it would be a challenge to tell that story in a picture and so few words. I do not want to come across as insensitive or politically incorrect.
In your opinion, which of your jams to date best personifies their inspiration? Hands down, Serene Nectarine. She is a character I aspire to but is not based on me. She is based on a long-time friend and colleague whom I used to have the pleasure of working with. She has always reminded me to practice loving kindness when in any doubt of how to respond in any situation. She is calm, cool, collected and loves a good meditational session working in the garden.
How many of your jams are inspired by real people? There are seven who are based on real people – the rest are imagined. I’m not telling which is which!
Have you ever had anyone dispute one of your jam personality choices? Surprisingly, I haven’t – at least not to my face. I always expected to hear from the Catholic community about St. Claire Plum because she is so obviously a tad deviant with her coy look. A nun holding the East Van cross brings together the culture of the old country Italians who emigrated and settled predominantly in East Vancouver. A little marginalized and little defiant in their ranks on the east side of town (less affluent), they worked hard to become business people, food growers and distributors — proprietors of all kinds. I was nervous to represent a part of the community I am only on the outskirts of (half Italian and born to parents who call themselves recovering Catholics!). I think of her as an homage to a modern woman in traditional garb finding her own path and feeling a sense of pride in where she’s come from AND where she’s going.
How much trial and error is involved in the creation of a jam? The margin for error isn’t all that bad. Tests happen in very small batches so if it really sucks, not too much goes to waste. BUT, if you batch-up before really nailing the ratios, you can shed a tear or two over the waste. I have learned the hard way for sure!
How many jams do you currently have in your own pantry? I usually have about 3-4 jars open in the fridge at any given time. There is no reason not to! In the pantry, well, that’s another story! I probably have about 10 different flavours available!
What other brand of jam occasionally sneaks into your kitchen? Every now and then I buy a jar of another brand just for market research, but honestly, after almost five years making jam professionally, I still really like mine the best! And I don’t say that out of sheer immodesty, but I actually really prefer the texture, flavour profiles and dialled-down sweetness of what I make and put out there.
Your favourite nut butter? I make my own roasted walnut with Himalayan pink salt and it is the BOMB!
Your favourite local bakery? Oooh, that’s a tough one! Can I pick three based on different neighbourhoods? Out west I love Bigsby the Bakehouse for the amazing sourdough and friendliest, most unpretentious people. For mid-town I love Beaucoup Bakery – all the fancy beautiful things I would never make myself and they know how to do friendly like the best of them! And in East Van? Batard Boulangerie. Amazing selection, always a bustling atmosphere and a little bit of the East Van edge I can’t live without.
Sidenote: what’s your current music jam? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) Right now I am loving a whole slough of kickass female artists: Jamilla Woods, Ibeya, Lowell, Jonelle Monae…I could go on, but you did only ask as a side note!