This Sunday will be the last King Farmers Market of the year, and my last farmers market ever as a vendor.
Oof, that's a strange thing to write. Even as I sit down to write this, a sense of indecision courses through me. It's been the defining emotion of this year for me, at least when it comes to Plum Tree Jam. I don't feel indecisive about ending my time at the farmers market as a vendor, but I do feel unsure about how much is appropriate to share. I want to be sure that I am sharing with you because I want to be open and honest, and not because this is the internet and you're supposed to overshare. I should clarify first and foremost that we're not going away—we're just stopping all farmers markets.
I think I'll start with the why. Portland Farmers Market—which is an umbrella organization that runs many neighborhood farmers markets around Portland—and the Hollywood Farmers Market were both wonderful organizations to work with and be part of, but I only ever made money as a vendor if I worked the booth myself, and even then the money was quite minimal. That meant Saturdays, Sunday, and sometimes weekdays with the bulk of the day devoted to standing outside in all weather hoping that enough people bought enough jam that I'd be able to pay my booth fee and walk away with a bit of profit. Sometimes that happened. Sometimes it didn't. I worked the markets in freezing temperatures, gusting wind, torrential rain, blazing sun. I heard the rudest comments, felt guilt about the price my jams, watched people make "yuck" faces when having a sample, and, wonderfully, I was sustained time and time again by sweet, thoughtful and just downright kind comments. But, more on that later. Back to why I've decided to leave the markets when I love them so dearly.
After having my baby last December, my feelings about the value of my time shifted dramatically.
Babies! They change things! Why didn't anyone tell me this?!
My husband works a traditional job, and I do the bulk of Plum Tree work in the in-between times—weekends, naps, nights—while shlepping our baby along with me when I am able, or leaving him with his Dad when I can. I am grateful for what we have worked out, because it means that I am able to be with our son every day. But we quickly ran into the feeling that not having a day to be together as a family was taking a toll. My weekends were just insanity, and it was tough to allow for that insanity—producing jam, and doing the farmers markets—when it didn't bring in much money (or, sometimes, any).
Here comes the overshare: in 2017, pre-baby, I worked 7 day weeks (as most of my fellow small business owners do!), often 12 hour days, and paid myself about $4,000 for the year. It was my 4th year in business and it was the most I'd paid myself since starting Plum Tree. *pause for cringe*. It probably goes with out saying that I do not have a background in business.
Plum Tree Jam was not built with huge profit dreams, it was built on the following two wishes:
1. To support local, small farms doing good work and to pay farmers a fair price for their produce.
2. To make a truly good, small batch, pectin-free handmade jam that celebrates and honors the beautiful fruit—specifically berries—that we're so lucky to have here in the Pacific Northwest.
"No one is doing this!" I thought. "Someone needs to do this! We live in Oregon, berry heaven! Why is no one making truly great berry jam?"
Four years in, I have slowly come to the realization that maybe no one was doing this because it is possibly a completely, humorously crazy thing to do. Berries are expensive—as they should be! Pectin is a cheap way to make your fruit go a lot farther, so if you are going to make berry jam and try to turn a profit, you should definitely use pectin. Even though (to my taste) it yields a less richly flavored delicious final product. Lastly, you should probably not try to make a pectin-free berry jam in small batches by hand. Hire a co-packer so that you can scale up. But of course, that's another reason to add pectin to your jams—ensure the set. You can't very well tell a co-packer to "eyeball it" when watching for a set, or to adjust cooking times based on how the berries are with each season, with each picking by simply watching the jam closely as it simmers and checking the set when it looks like you should check it. I don't think co-packers are willing to work by "feel"—though in fairness, I haven't looked into it.
In summation, his whole endeavor is a bit nuts. Adding a baby to the mix put me over the limit. Something had to give, and sadly, it has to be the presence of Plum Tree Jam at the farmers markets.
I've never made much money doing this, and that's always been OK! But to spend hours and hours over the weekend standing in my tent when I could be home with my kid, with no promise of money at the end of it just became unsustainable for me.
Oh man. This is getting long. But please read on!
This is where the boring stuff that you already know about how hard it is to be a working parent (a particular cheers to all my working nursing mamas out there—you are divas and hustlers and superwomen)—ends and the love letter begins.
Here is something I hope you know, but I'm going to say it in case you don't:
Our Portland-area farmers markets, especially the little neighborhood ones, are places of true heart.
Let that sink in. How many places can you say that about? It has been an absolute honor to be a part of the fabric of these special, warm, unique communities for the past three years, and I will miss it fiercely. I've made some incredible friendships, especially at the King Market, which (as you all surely know) is my very favorite. I'm probably not supposed to say, that but I'm already saying way too much so there you have it. It's where I met my best farmers market (and now real life / life long) friend Joanna, from SMALL Baking and so it'll always be my favorite. It's also just a perfect market—small, but big enough that you can do all of your shopping there. True community. Heaven.
Our farmers markets brim with gorgeous produce, but they are also an incubator for little businesses like mine. If you want the best of the best, if you want to support local small businesses, and particularly women-owned small businesses, shop at your local farmers market! Every week, without fail, I knew that if I could just drag my tired patootie to the market, I would leave inspired and refreshed.
Food-making goddess-diva-geniuses (and fellow market vendors) like Nikki from Hot Mama Salsa, Lola from Umi Organic, Caroline and Julie from Ground Up Nut Butters, Sarah from Marshall's, Joanna from SMALL Baking enriched my life on a weekly basis with their delicious, soulful food and their kind, strong, fierce spirits.
The farmers market community of food makers is truly one of collaboration and support—kind people, with a lot of heart and a lot of hustle, making and growing the very best food they can, honoring our home and land and trying hard to stay true to their ideals.
I will forever feel grateful.
For a while—I counted myself among these incredible superhero women. And even though I won't be standing next to them as a fellow vendor, I will be supporting them as a shopper week in and week out, and I encourage you to do the same. Good food is not cheap. It shouldn't be, it can't be. but it IS worth your hard earned money. As Wendell Berry so famously said in his essay The Pleasures of Eating, "eating is an agricultural act". It truly is! As a consumer, you are a participant in the food system of our country. You have power and choice! If you're able, choose to shop at your local farmers market. I promise you will be richly rewarded. You'll make friends, you'll eat with the seasons, you'll pay more attention to your meals, you'll cook more, you'll eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, you'll learn about new foods—it just feels good.
Lastly, you may wonder what this all means for Plum Tree Jam in general?
I don't know yet, honestly. Here's what's true: I am still making jam. You can buy it here on the website, and in a wonderful few shops around Portland, like Powell's and Tender Loving Empire. I will miss seeing you all at the markets as a jam-seller, but I'll hope to see you there as a fellow shopper. Thank you for sharing this journey with me, and for loving good food. Happy Thanksgiving, jam lovers! See you at the market.
Jellies have captured my heart this year. Their crystalline translucence, their delicate gel texture—it's pure nature magic. As ever, I don't add any pectin—the set is achieved thanks to the naturally occurring pectin in the fruit, which is why my jellies are made with high-pectin fruit like apples, quince and red currant.
Quince jelly is perhaps the oldest jelly, dating back to the 7th century and likely made by simply boiling the juice of the fruit with honey. When cane sugar made its way to Europe in the 13th century, it quickly became preferred over honey for its neutral flavor and lack of excess moisture. 300 years later, Nostradamus described a quince jelly's color as "so diaphanous that it resembles an oriental ruby." Our jellies are made in the same way that the one he describes surely was, and we feel similarly mesmerized by them.
Achieving set is relatively easy—the fruit has so much pectin that it is just a matter of time. However, achieving a perfect set is a challenge. I prefer the jelly with what I'd call a gentle set. I want your spoon to pierce the top of the jam, to pop through it like a bubble, to make you think a bit about surface tension. But then to slide right through and just barely wiggle as you spoon it onto your bread—yielding, walking a line between hard and soft, so that they melt like butter on a hot-out-of-the-oven scone.
These new jellies are a celebration of the harvest, of local fruit treated with great care—of elegance, process, and history. They are a challenge and a joy to make, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
I am very sad to say that Plum Tree Jam won’t be popping up at Portland-area farmers markets anymore—or at least for the moment. The markets have been a wonderful, inspiring, renewing constant for us for a few years now—rain or snow or 100-degree days, we were out there with the best of 'em—but they just don’t make financial sense for Plum Tree Jam. And yes—as you might imagine—the catalyst for this realization was the birth of my sweet son last December. The markets were a break-even endeavor for me, but they were a wonderful way to be part of the local food community and to meet so many Portlanders who care about good, local food and supporting local agriculture. However, now that I have to juggle the demands of Motherhood—and the tug on the heartstrings that I feel every moment that I am away from my baby—along with Plum Tree, I feel that every working moment must really, really count. To stay in business and keep making the very best, handmade, pectin-free jams I can, and to continue to buy fruit that I believe in from people I (and you, too, I know!) admire, means that I have to make enough money to stay afloat. It's just the cold, hard truth and it's been a hard realization to swallow. It was with a heavy heart that I parted ways with my booth at the Hollywood Farmers Market, and my beloved King Neighborhood Farmers Market. I hope that my market friends and customers will understand. Local Portland people can always order via my website shop, and I am often happy to make deliveries. We will also continue to pop up at larger local events like the Portland Night Market, Craft Wonderland, and the like. Following us on Instagram is the best way to stay in the loop. You can also find our jams all over town at delectable shops like Tender Loving Empire, Made Here PDX, Alder & Co, and Elephants Deli.
Please continue to shop at these wonderful markets, and we will see you there as a fellow shopper!
Meet our new gift boxes
! Tied up with a shiny red bow, they contain 3 2-ounce jars (a selection of our most popular berry jams, from Tay and Loganberry to Raspberry-Rhubarb and Olallie). Also exceedingly festive, our Spiced Cranberry jam
got a minor facelift this year thanks to the addition of Bluebird Alpine Liqueur from our friends at Thomas & Sons Distillery. Plus all the lovely berry jams are in good supply (for now!) and don't forget, we're happy to include a gift note in any order, just let us know what you'd like it to say at check out.
In the spirit of the season, rather than offering holiday discounts, we will be donating 10% of sales (now through December 25th) to FoodCorps
, a national organization that connects kids to healthy food in high-needs schools via hands on cooking classes, school gardens, and healthy cafeteria meals so they can lead healthier lives and reach their full potential. We think they’re doing great work, and it’s an honor to give back in a way that extends beyond just our participation in our local food system. We hope you will agree!
For a festive holiday cocktail! Our friends at Bull in China
, a cocktail supply shop here in Portland, created a couple of seasonal drinks built around our Spiced Cranberry Jam
! Get yourself a jar & get mixing!The New Tradition
1 heaping barspoon Spiced Cranberry Jam
1 oz. Old Tom gin
1/2 oz. East India sherry
1/2 oz. orange curacao
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. Grade B maple syrup
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a sprig of rosemary, if you’d like. Enjoy!
Bog Alley Sour (created by Bull in China for the Starvation Alley Bog Social)
2 oz bourbon
.50 oz lemon
.25 oz Grade B maple syrup
1 heavy bar spoon Plum Tree Jam Spiced Cranberry jam
Add all ingredients into an ice-filled shaker tin. Shake for 15 seconds and double strain into a coupe or a rocks glass. This drink is also delicious in a collins glass (with ice!) topped with sparkling wine or a dry sparkling cider.
I really hope there are other quince obsessives out there. I realize that as I dreamt up this recipe and tinkered in the kitchen, I was laboring under the assumption that there are. Worst case scenario maybe I just eat it all myself, and that's really something that I couldn't complain about. BUT! For now, let's assume that you exist, fellow quince maniacs. So, what is this new "Rosy Quince" preserve that has appeared this autumn in the Plum Tree shop? Read on!
Supposedly, it wasn't an apple that tempted Eve in the garden of Eden, it was much more likely a quince, as apples were unknown in the ancient world. Likewise, the golden apple that Paris gave to Aphrodite as her prize in the beauty contest that kicked off the Trojan War was probably a quince too! The fruit that launched a thousand ships. I had to capture THAT. Years of experimentation with ways to preserve it that reflect it at its fragrant peak had, until this year, yielded only disappointment. In creating this blushing preserve, I set out to capture not the quince fruit itself, but something much more elusive: its intoxicating fragrance. The knobby yellow creature’s romantic, floral, fruity perfume is a scent not quickly forgotten. It is also a scent that seems to easily dissipate with the application of sugar and heat that is necessary if you plan to eat (and enjoy) quince. Finally this year, I whipped something up that gave me—a Lifelong Obsessive Autumn Quince Sniffer—a shiver in the best way. Local quince, rose water, orange blossom water and an absolutely fantastic Quince liqueur made by our friends at Stone Barn Brandyworks. Lovers of the world—of quince and otherwise—this rosy preserve is for you.
Yes it’s true, our prices have gone up a smidgen. The mission of Plum Tree Jam is to be a part of the food system not as it is, but as it could be. As it should be. To be a part of a new food system in America—one that celebrates quality, locality, one that is built on the understanding of the real costs of good food, one that enables farmers to grow great food and earn a fair living doing so. We wanted to do all of these things and make our jams accessible to as many people as possible, and we still do. We’ve realized that in order to do all of these things—in order to continue to support local agriculture by purchasing incredible fruit grown by our wonderful Oregon farmers, and to continue to make the jam in careful, small batches without pectin, all of which takes time and, yes, money—we have to charge a bit more. A dollar or two, not too much. But just enough. Thank you for understanding! We promise to keep making preserving Oregon’s incredible bounty and supporting our local good, slow food system, one jar at a time.
In other news, Spiced Cranberry Jam is back & better then ever featuring a new discovery—local Bluebird Alpine Liqueur from our friends at Thomas & Sons Distillery. More wintery flavors are coming soon, so stay tuned!
Thank you all!
Miranda & the Plum Tree Jam family
Thank you jam lovers, new and old, for an incredible 2016 berry season! With summer winding down and the farmers markets returning to a calmer sort of state—and some even closing down for the year—the time is right for a bit of a getaway. Actually, it's a family reunion AND a vacation, all rolled into one. In Italy, no less! We'll be in the Tuscan countryside for a bit, and we'll end with a few glorious days in the Eternal City. We hope to return re-charged and newly inspired—perhaps you'll even see our travels influence in new jams in the coming months! Because of this great adventure we feel so lucky to embark on, orders placed after Sept. 15th will not be filled until (but will be filled by) October 1st.
We apologize for any inconvenience and we wish you all a lovely autumn!
Ciao, jam lovers! Adventure calls!
New label, same jam! We want to assure you first and foremost that our jam is the same as ever—only the packaging is new. It's still just one lady, in the kitchen, with local fruit from small farms, the same recipe, tiny batches and zero pectin. We've been working quietly on this rebranding project for four months, and we're thrilled to share with you at last the fruits of our labors. Working with local Portland illustrator Sheri Smith, we created a new label that we hope reflects the jam and our little company in a bold and inviting way. It was a labor of love and we're so excited about the result. Along with the rebrand comes some pricing changes—we've actually been able to lower our prices a bit, as you can see in our SHOP. Lastly, the jars have gotten a bit bigger. We found a wonderful local jar supplier and we're so happy about the new look. We hope you are, too!
Miranda & the PTJ family
Our friends at Bull in China—a Portland-based cocktail supply company specializing in locally made, and otherwise innovative barwares—had a bit of fun with our seasonal Spiced Cranberry Jam. Inspired by the flavors of the holidays, they created this crazy-delicious drink. Have a tray full of these lovelies at the ready for when the doorbell rings, and the hungering masses will discover the most elusive of all virtues: patience. Or, sip one while the turkey finishes roasting—even before your guest show up—and we at least promise that your family will drive you 75% less crazy this Thanksgiving.
created by Daniel Osborne of Bull in China
1 teaspoon Spiced Cranberry Jam
1 oz. Old Tom gin (we like Ransom, because we love all things Oregon)
1/2 oz. cream sherry
1/2 oz. orange curacao
1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. grade B maple syrup
How-to: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake hard for 30 seconds. Strain into a glass over ice (or a big ice cube). Garnish with a spring of rosemary and drink up!
Big thanks to Julia Raymond for the photo!