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Featured Farm Craft: Christiana in the Kitchen

How long have you been preserving the time-honored traditional craft of making jam?

I’ve been making jam for almost 30 years.

What (or who) inspired you to learn this skill?

My mom taught me how to make jam when I was around 12 years old. I grew up in the Los Angeles area, but our family lived like homesteaders. Everything was home made; our clothes, bread, eggs from our chickens, etc. Every summer we would pick flats of berries from our garden and my mom would make boysenberry jam and syrup from our harvest. I loved the process of making jam and preserving fruit. The smell of berry jam cooking on the stove always takes me back to being a girl in our kitchen making jam with my mom.

What ingredients do you like to use? Do you incorporate any of your own or local raw ingredients? Do you use pectin, no pectin or both depending on what jam your making?

I like to keep my preserves simple; using fruit, sugar and the addition of herbs or other flavors that compliment that particular fruit. Using fruit from my own fruit trees and garden, I also work with local farms to supply weekly fruit deliveries. Working with local farms allows me the confidence to know where my fruit comes from. All my preserves are seasonal and I sell only what I create from that season of fruit; berries in the spring, stone fruit in the summer, pome fruits and figs in the fall/winter.

I only use pectin in my blueberry jams, because the natural pectin in blueberries is low. Most of my preserves are cooked for longer times in order to release the natural pectin and to create a deep fruit flavor. Not using pectin does create softer preserves, but I prefer the flavor of a long cooked jam. I cook most of my jams in French copper or French stainless jam pans. French jam pans have a larger cooking surface and depth. The heat distributes evenly so you get a faster cook time.

What do you enjoy most about the “crafting of jam” process?

I love the history of preserving fruit through jam making. It’s a time old tradition that is used all over the world and I feel like I’m going back in time when I’m making jams. I also love how sustainable jam making is. I primarily use fruits that may not sell at the market, so there is no waste of produce. I’m able to create a shelf stable product from fruits that are not pretty enough to sell.

Another part of jam-making I enjoy is creating new flavors of jam. I love to combine herbs or spices to craft jams that are a step beyond traditional flavors. Like my Fig Fennel Bay, or Strawberry Orange. Sometimes I’ll make limited edition flavors like Blueberry Tarragon or my latest favorite has been Raspberry Rose.

Are there multiple uses for your handcrafted jams? Can people get creative and add them to breakfast, dinners or deserts?

My jams were initially created to accompany cheese boards, so they pair well with different cheese. My Fig Fennel Bay is perfect with a baked brie and my Spicy Tomato is heavenly with a sharp English cheddar. Recently, I have begun creating recipes so you can use my jams in other ways. I have a recipe for Apple Butter Glazed Ribs that uses my Spiced Apple Butter. I’ve also created cocktails that use my Blueberry Lime and Fig Fennel Bay Jams. I love seeing people use my preserves beyond a PB&J or toast!

Where can folks find your jam at the present time? Do you sell it online or local pick-up only?

Currently I sell my jams in local shops, wine bars, and restaurants in the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. And in January 2021 I launched an online shop so those outside of the Central Coast area can enjoy my preserves. It’s been so fun to connect with new people through my shop and social media accounts.

Do you have a favorite jam that you make? If so, is there a favorite recipe you would like to share that might inspire others to make their own jam or try your works of jam out for the very first time?

Honestly, I really love all my jam and I’m so proud of them! But if I had to pick a favorite I would say it’s my Peach Rosemary Jam. This is the jam that caused me to start my business. I would give it away as gift and people would tell me “you should sell this!” So I began buying 20 pound boxes of peaches from a farmer in the Central Valley of California. I love this jam, it’s sweet and with subtle flavors of rosemary. It’s amazing with chèvre or brie or I’ll use it as a base for grilled chicken.

I get a lot of questions and messages on the art of jam-making. I always encourage people to start simple and get to know the process. This recipe for Simple Strawberry Jam is pretty easy and once you understand the basics then you can get creative and add flavors like whole vanilla bean, basil, or a splash of balsamic at the end of cooking.

Simple Strawberry Jam

1 pound strawberries, mashed 1 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

In a nonreactive pan combine all the ingredients. Over medium high heat stir to combine until the sugar in dissolved. Bring to a boil and stir constantly. Boil until fruit and sugar reaches 220 on a candy thermometer or until a drop of jam mounds on a chilled dish. Once jam is cooked skim off foam and ladle into 2 half pint jars, wipe jar rims and add 2 piece lids and rings. Cool completely then store in the fridge.

What resources or materials do you recommend to others interested in learning the process of jam-making? (If you offer classes or workshops, feel free to share info.)

There are so many resources for making jam. Ball Canning has a great website. I highly recommend the following cookbooks if you are looking into learning more: “The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving” by Ellie Top & Margaret Howard and “Foolproof Preserving” by America’s Test Kitchen.

I love teaching jam making classes and I do offer my classes online and in person, you can find more info on my website. Things are just starting to reopen in California so I am looking forward to having more classes available as life continues to return back to normal. I also love answering any jam-making questions, so feel free to email me at buypreserves@gmail.com

My Homesteading Story

What is the name of your Farm, Ranch or Homestead?

My business name is Christiana’s Preserves.

Where are you located?

We are located on the beautiful Central Coast of California, where the beaches meet farmland and vineyards. It’s truly one of the most idealist places to live!

How and/or when did life as a farmer, rancher or homesteader begin for you?

My parents were urban homesteaders. We were raised in a city but lived with the simplicity of a garden, chickens, home made clothes, grinding wheat for flour, and canning. The simplicity yet hard work of a homesteading life really resonated with me. I’ve always loved gardening, being in the dirt, raising chickens, tending to our fruit trees, baking bread; none of it ever feels like work. It’s definitely labor intensive but it brings me a lot of joy!

Who or what influenced you to become a homesteader?

I’ve always loved working with my hands. My parents, who both valued hard work, raised me and my sisters to work hard. It was really apart of the rhythm of our home and a natural fit for me. Especially when we moved up to the Central Coast where having more space and having the ability to plant fruit trees, garden beds, and raise chickens.

What do you grow and/or raise?

We grow plums, apricots, peaches, and rhubarb for my preserves. We just planted apples and cherries and figs for future products and we are planning out more garden boxes for the tomatoes that I use for my Spicy Tomato Jam. And I work with other local farms to source my other fruits for my preserves.

What traditional methods do you use on your farm to grow your crops and/or raise your animals?

We do companion gardening to help with soil erosion, soil nutrition, and pest control. We are now just starting to compost so we have less waste and it helps our soil. Having chickens is a big part of our gardening because we can give them a lot of our organic scrapes and we get their waste and eggs in return. We are constantly learning and growing new practices.

What resources do you find invaluable to the novice farmer? 

The library! When we were planting our orchard I checked out every book I could find, took notes, made spreadsheets for the spacing and diagrams for what each tree needed in terms of nutrients, soil pH, etc. We also talked with the tree expert at our local Farm Supply and got so much great information. There are so many resources out there and so many people who have so much knowledge and expertise. I think it’s important to not be afraid to reach out for help.

Do you have a favorite farm recipe you wish to share? 

This recipe for fruit leather takes me straight back to my childhood. We weren’t allowed to eat a lot of sugar so this was a very special treat when my mom would make it. And my own kids devour it!

My Mom’s Apricot Fruit Leather

1 pound ripe apricots, pitted and quartered

1/4 cup honey (or add more for desired sweetness)

Juice of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 170 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium sauce pan over medium low heat cook apricots, lemon juice and honey and cook until fruit breaks down and is soft. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth (be careful it will be hot!). Pour fruit puree on to lined baking sheet and spread evenly with an off set spatula leaving a boarder around the edges. Place sheet pan in the oven to dry for about 6 to 7 hours. Rotating the pan hallway through. The fruit leather should be firm to the touch but still slightly sticky. Let cool completely. Once its dry you can cut it into strips, roll up and store in an airtight container.

What is at least one farm tradition you uphold?

Beyond my own jam making business I also preserve fruit in other ways and I pickle. In the summer, I make pickled peaches, salsas, and can plums in syrup. I pickle green beans and carrots. I love the process of preserving food. Canning fruit for the future saves the seasons and it’s a really fun process, especially when there is a large bounty and you can’t eat it all while its fresh.

What inspires you to continue a homesteading lifestyle?

It’s the simplicity and yet hard work of it all. I love working in the dirt, love the quietness of being outdoors in my garden and the simplistic joy of gathering eggs and fruits from our trees. I feel like it’s how life is supposed to be. We hope to expand our farmstead; I’d love to add milking goats for cheese-making, my husband would like to start beekeeping, and we are adding garden boxes for more produce.

What words of inspiration or uplifting wisdom do you hope to impart on the future generation of farmers, ranchers, beekeepers, and homesteaders?

Don’t be afraid to jump into new things! I think so often we think things have to be perfect and aligned before we start living our dreams. My husband and I lived in a condo for 10 years in the concrete jungle of Orange County and I dreamed of having a farm. I kept my dreams alive by planting a container garden on my tiny patio and I learned so much about gardening in that tiny space. Now we live in a rural area and we have so much more space to grow and expand, I still have dreams of a larger property but I’m learning to live out my dreams right where I am. You have to start somewhere, so start right where you are and keep dreaming. Keep taking small steps to make those dreams a reality.

Where can people find you/your farm products online? (Please feel free to share your website, blog, and/or social networking websites.)

People can find out more about me and purchase my jams on my website: christianaspreserves.com I have recipes and resources on my Instagram or Facebook pages.

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