Nagami Kumquat Marmalade. Seascape Strawberry and Marjoram. Moro Blood Orange + Campari Jelly. Step aside grape jelly, Sqirl is here. And it’s the jam – organic jams, jellies, and marmalades to be exact. The labor of love of Jessica Koslow, “confitura” extraordinaire, each Sqirl batch is lovingly dreamt up using fruits locally grown in and around the Los Angeles area. Inspired by the wealth and beauty of California produce, the fruits are simply preserved with organic cane sugar and natural pectin to create an intriguing collection that’ll make your typical jelly weep with envy. So, The Urban Grocer caught up with Jessica to learn more about what inspires her in the kitchen and her love for all things jam.
TUG: How do you dream up the flavors that go into your jam?
Jessica Koslow: For me, flavor combinations are simply based on reading/experiencing/living/and just working with various flavors. BD of Earthtrine farm said he’ll eat his Mulberries in a salad of basil — and so a jam was born. Michelle Sallah – private chef and previously at The Spotted Pig – talked about using whole Chile de Arbol in desserts to add a slight essence of heat. And since I grew up with boxes of Orange Pekoe and Spice tea around the house, a Mandarinquat and Spice (Ceylon Cinnamon/Chile De Arbol/Cardamom/Clove) marmalade found its way into the Sqirl repertoire. I guess I’m willing to try anything out. Sometimes they’re a total hit and other times they’re not and don’t make the cut. But that’s how I learn.
JK: Marry: I’ve always been a berry girl. Working with beautiful seascape strawberries (a variety with balanced sweetness and acidity) I steep them in floral marjoram and add a bit of made-in-house crystallized ginger. It’s a good ole’ standby and I dare anyone not to fall in love with it. If Strawberry wouldn’t accept my proposal, a Blenheim Apricot or Elephant Plum Preserve could easily take its place. So quick, am I, to move on….!
Snog: Ha. In the ‘snog’ category I’m usually attracted to those illusive types (mysterious/hard to come by!) so I’d say the Mandarinquat + Spice and the Pakistan Mulberries + Thai Magic Basil would be the ones I’d most likely want a one night stand with. Hard to get a hold of (limited edition) fruit – not to mention time consuming to work with – these jams are both unique in their extraordinary taste and in their preserved rarity.
Avoid: Any Jelly made with commercial pectin. I want to know where all the sources in my product come from. And not being able to trace the original source of the fruit that makes the pectin makes it difficult for me to want to eat it. On top of that, the texture – dense and jello mold firm – is the indication of a highly energy absorbing process. It’s just not to my liking.
The Urban Grocer: We love some fine packaging here at The Urban Grocer. What inspired the packaging behind SQIRL?
JK: Sqirl’s packaging was a bit of a conscious effort to think outside the cottage industry/craft aesthetic that’s become a bit of a norm for pickles and jams here in the US. I turned to my friend, Scott Barry, who was just named by Print Magazine as one of the Top 20 designers under 30 of 2011. We approach our work in a similar way: with considerable knowledge of our profession peppered with a bit of humor. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. Sqirl is about a designer and a jam maker individually practicing their craft to the best of their abilities and conversely coming together as a product that comes across beautifully both inside and out.
TUG: What is your favorite urban grocer or farmers market?
JK: That is one tough question! Partly because I feel like I still have so many farmer’s markets to see (I’m going to Portland next month!) and because I love certain markets for their vendors – whether they’re produce, meat, or packaged food based – its the purveyor that makes the market. So I think about the Lobster Mushrooms from Foraged & Found Edibles and the oysters from Hama Hama Oyster Farm at the Ballard Farmer’s Market in Seattle. I still think about the Stichelton Cheese from London’s, Borough Market and the many meal(s) consumed at Bar Pinotxo located in Barcelona’s famous La Boqueria.
Then there are the beans available at New York’s Union Square Market from Cayuga Pure Organics – the East Coast’s answer to Napa’s, Rancho Gordo. Tsukiji Market is jaw dropping. The fish packed into the football field long market gives you the overwhelming feeling that you’re surrounded by the sea. But then there’s California, the State that I call home. Oakland’s Grand Lakes Market and Santa Barbara’s Saturday Market are two of my personal favorites. There’s just an array of wonderful organic farmers who work with little known varietials of fruits, herbs, and vegetables. That’s as close as I can get to answering the question (sorry!) while saying I can’t wait to add to my growing list of markets I love.