Why Girl Meets Dirt?
This is a big question. Way too big for the FAQ section. For the full story, check out the Journal & About section. But in sum: Audra is the girl, Orcas Island is the dirt. A northwest native, she got swept away to NYC after college and spent ten years working her tail off on Wall Street, year after year, plotting her eventual escape, back to an inspired existence, back to the motherland, back to the great Pacific Northwest. In the meantime, she met a boy (she met several boys, some nice, some naughty), this one an Irish lad, who bought into her NW fairytale and together they decided to say adios to NYC and move into five farmette acres on a little island called Orcas in the NW tip of Washington state. This is where Audra met the land, farmed it, cooked up its fruits, and fell in love with the stories and traditions of fruit growing & preserving. It hasn’t been all rosebuds, but she found what she’d been craving: rootedness. If anyone tries to take her away they’ll have to drag her – boot heels dug firmly in the dirt, dusty stilettos in the closet.
What is a cutting preserve? Did you make that up?
Yes and no. Cutting preserves are membrillo style highly concentrated fruit purees. “Membrillo” is the Spanish word for “quince”, but it is universally accepted as shortcode for “dulce de membrillo” or literally, “candy of the quince”, a traditionally made preserve of quince fruit and sugar, cooked over a very long period of time until it is intensely red and thick – yielding a cuttable preserve. Also known as “fruit cheese” in Europe, this classic recipe was originally used to take advantage of fallen orchard fruit. Our recipe is much softer than you’d find in Europe – but still holds it’s shape on a cheese platter. Because “membrillo” involves too much explanation, and “fruit cheese” sounds like it involves cheese, we came up with a better moniker: cutting preserves. So grab a knife and start spreading (start with cheese)!
Okay so what’s the difference between a cutting preserve and a spoon preserve?
Read above for the full download on cutting preserves. Spoon preserves, more like a traditional jam, have a softer set than our cutting preserves. They are equally at home on toast, dessert, or cheese. Cutting preserves are firmer, with no chunks of fruit, and highly concentrated. They will hold their shape on a cheese platter without a cute little bowl and demitasse spoon (the "spoons" do just fine dolloped on top of a gigantic wedge for a stunning, albeit messy presentation). All of our spoon preserves, with the exception of the jellies, are really, preserved fruit. We don’t try to hide the fruit in a sugar puree like many other jam makers. This is also why we don’t call our spoon preserves “jams”. They’re not. There’s way too much chunk going one (often finely chopped) for a smooth jam. But fear not, they get along with toast just fine. We think this makes our "spoons" pretty darn versatile. You can always puree them if you require a smooth ‘sauce’ for something, but we think a little bit of fruit on a wedge of cheese is both delicious and attractive.
What’s so bad about commercial pectin?
It’s not that we think commercial pectin is evil, it’s that we believe the fruit gives us exactly what we need—and that means you get more fruit. Most fruits have naturally occurring pectin in them- for those fruits we are most grateful and squeeze, and soak and drip out every last bit of their nectar for a preserve with exceptional, natural set. Some fruits have low or very little pectin, like pears for example. We’ve responded by working with the fruit’s natural tendencies (letting those pears shine in a syrupy balsamic reduction, for example) and sometimes adding a little juice, or stock made from seeds or rinds from a fruit with superfluous pectin (aka quince and those Bramley apples). We also take advantage of the wonderful powers of freshly squeezed organic lemon juice, and even the rinds and seeds, rich with pectin, and add a good squeeze to all of our preserves. Finally, the traditional method of preserving we use takes full advantage of the setting powers of old fashioned (unrefined, organic cane, of course) sugar cooked fast and furious with soaked fruit to concentrate for a classic set.
You may find some of our preserves are darker than comparable supermarket brands; – this is the result of two factors. First - because we don’t use commercial pectin for set – we actually have to work with the fruit’s natural sugars and pectin, balance that with added organic sugar and cook time to get a preserve with a spoonable (or cuttable) consistency by concentration (which means you get more fruit). Secondly, we use unrefined organic cane sugar instead of bleached processed white sugar. The latter will give you the most pristine color- but along with it you get chemicals and usually sugar from GMO beets (more on that below). The sugar we use has traces of nutrients and molasses - and that will caramelize differently (and generally more darkly) than processed white sugar. We think it adds a nice complexity.
Why unrefined organic cane sugar?
When we started thinking about starting a food business, our thoughts naturally veered to the sweet stuff. Admittedly, we can’t get enough. But there is a major dearth of organic candy and preserves on the market today. We grow our own fruits and vegetables and carefully farm organically – and the staples we need to buy, we buy organic. It’s what we demand in our home so we want to provide the same for you. Sugar, in moderation, can be very life affirming. It’s important that when we’re eating it we’re eating the highest quality we can find. And that means unrefined organic cane sugar. The majority of non-cane sugar on the market today is made from processed sugar beets – predominantly from GMO seeds (for herbicide resistance) and consequently heavily inundated with pesticides and herbicides. This is not okay with us. Unrefined organic cane sugar, on the other hand, is made from actual sugarcane and grown and harvested without synthetic pesticides and herbicides. It’s also not heavily refined, so some nutrients from molasses remain. It is also unbleached (who wants bleached sugar, really?).
Why single varietal?
Our preserves are fruit forward, delicately spiced (if at all), handmade labors of love. We carefully source our fruit from family orchards in the islands -- some that have been around for several generations. We think this is pretty powerful. We think terroir is essential to fruit trees, and abide by varietals that grow well on our island, on a particular hillside, or in Crow Valley, for example. If we mashed up five different varietals from five different farmers, we’d lose that connection. We want you to taste the fruit -- and where it came from. And I want to be able to thank the farmer (with one jar, all theirs). Single varietal is the best way to do that.
What’s with the copper pots?
Copper conducts heat more effectively than any other metal commonly used in cookware. This is particularly important given the traditional way that we make our preserves. For our spoon preserves, the quicker we can get up to temperature, the more we can preserve chunks of fruit in the process. Achieving a classic set is a delicate balance as well – overcooking is easier than you might think. The copper allows us to quickly adjust the heat of our preserves, and gives us greater control over the finished product. The wide bottomed shape of our pans also helps greatly with quick moisture evaporation, which means more fruit for you. Some very smart people also suggest that the copper works its magic on the preserves and makes them extra special. We’ll let you decide for yourself.
But that’s not the sexy answer. They’re damn pretty, that’s why!