Posted on November 23, 2011 in Preserves
From her farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, Heidi Schlecht of Plumline Jams is producing preserves that speak not only to her love of food but her passion for keeping the traditions of her hometown alive.
Heidi has always been a big fan of fruit. Growing up on seven and a half acres of fruit-producing farmland might have had something to do with it. Although she and her father (also a “huge fruit eater”) did their best, somehow there was still always an abundance of fruit each season. Disheartened that all this fruit was going to waste, Heidi and her mother decided to take a jam-making class a nearby farm was holding. From there the experimentation began. Working in the same model as that farm -the Apple Farm- a passion started to bloom. As she got older, Heidi noticed a lot of the fruit trees she had grown up with were disappearing out of Silicon Valley and was determined to find a way to not only preserve the fruits of the region but “the traditions of Santa Cruz Mountains”.
During this time, Heidi was also navigating her way through other walks of gastronomy. Self-taught, Heidi worked as a caterer and chef, nailing herself a Chez Panisse Grant working with the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) farm and garden. There she taught local farmers what she had learned years before about how to make value out of products and preserve harvests through the winter. Eventually, Heidi opened River Café and Cheese Shop specifically to have an outlet where she could sell her jam and cheese condiments (as she realized that her products seemed to pair especially well with cheese). Now, Heidi has sold River Café and sells her goods exclusively at farmer’s markets.
As for what exactly those goods are, it seems Heidi is always looking for new ways to experiment with her jams. Currently, she is working on roasting dry-farmed tomatoes, a Meyer lemon marmalade and a rhubarb jam. When I asked the best way to eat it, Heidi replied without hesitation, “Straight up on toast. Oh, and it’s also really delicious on cheesecake.” Noted. When I asked about her favorite product the answer wasn’t so simple, but eventually she decided on the strawberry sauce/compote. “Soak strawberries overnight and reduce down. It is so good on toast, vanilla ice cream, or in half and half or cream with strawberries on top.” Dually noted.
“It makes me feel good,” replied Heidi when I asked what receiving a Good Food Award meant to her. “It’s so nice to be in the company of so many food artisans who put in the time…put in the effort to make a high quality product.” She relished on how she has noticed a great deal more artisan products over the past 15 years. And it’s not just an improvement in numbers, according to Heidi the quality and the bar have risen as well. For Heidi having a lot more company also means having a lot more competition, but she doesn’t mind, especially since now consumers are not only looking for better quality taste, but how and where it is grown.
For now, Plumline is right back where it all started, on that farm in Silicon Valley with Heidi, her father and mother all working to together to preserve the fruit they love.