Good Food Awards

Preserves Archive

Meet California Winner Plumline

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.

Meet California Winner Ellelle Kitchen

Posted on November 18, 2011 in Preserves

Lennie LaGuire started Ellelle Kitchen just over three years ago, when she was presented with an opportunity to leave her job as a journalist at the Los Angeles Times.  Coming from a long line of chefs and foodies in her family, Lennie had always had an unscratched itch to get involved in the food industry and, after a stint doing a pastry course in Paris and a workshop with June Taylor, jam-making seemed to be her ticket in.

One of the first things that Lennie iterates to me during our interview is her desire to simplify.  After three years, many businesses would be trying to ramp up: create more, market more, sell more.  However, Lennie has learned in a hands-on way that, when it comes to jam-making, bigger is not better (“There’s a reason they say jam is a small-batch product.”).  That’s why Ellelle Kitchen is trying to become intensely focused on a set of small, seasonal jams, “little gems in a jar”.  “I want to winnow it down, keep it simple, and get the best jam I can to the audience that will appreciate it.”

And what better place to do that than Southern California, where farmer’s markets run all year round, and fresh fruit practically falls from the sky. Lennie’s unique contribution to the world of home-made jam-making has been to represent this quality and diversity of fruit in a product that lets the fruit speak for itself.   Right now, their featured product is Fig Walnut Conserve with Backyard Orange, Lennie’s favorite of all her creations and a product that is very dear to her heart.  As a little kid, Lennie’s grandmother would set out little bowls of jam for breakfast whenever her grandkids visited, and she remembers always going for the one with walnut.  Playing off this craving for nuttiness, Lennie decided to use fig and orange, classic California fruits, in order to create a product that is a perfect fusion of her past and present.

As the only employee of Ellelle Kitchen, Lennie is able to execute this same creative expression over each and every jam, as well as do 100% of the cooking, which she would like to continue doing for at least the foreseeable future.  However, Lennie is definitely not alone in this endeavor; she receives incredible support from her family.  Her husband, Russell DeVita, is Ellelle’s creative director, the mastermind behind the website, postcards, labels, etc.  “He gives Ellelle Kitchen its aesthetic signature by taking this world of hot, sticky, sugary mess and putting it into one coherent package.”  In addition, Lennie’s daughter is the official Ellelle Kitchen photographer, and the one to thank for that beautiful picture of last year’s winning Raspberry Jam.

Winning a Good Food Award was a point of honor and prestige for Ellelle Kitchen because it served as positive reinforcement for the sustainable business model that Lennie is trying to create.  “It was great to see all this energy around a really fabulous idea and be in on the ground floor of the first one.”  The award created recognition for Ellelle Kitchen within the food world and has since resulted in media mentions in Delta Sky Magazine and Martha Stewart Magazine, just to name a few.

Aside from her growing success, what’s Lennie’s favorite thing about being in the food business? “Honestly, it’s being on a first name basis with the farmers that I purchase fruit from.”  Lennie jokes about how seeing one of her farmers, Randy Pudwill, at the farmer’s market was a momentary brush with fame, like meeting a rockstar, sans leather jacket and electric guitar.  But on a more serious note she adds, “It’s really transformative and great to be involved in this food movement at a point where people are paying attention to where their food comes from and how its grown.  For me, in terms of consistency and relationships with people, this whole process has been incredibly fulfilling.”

Meet New York Winner Sweet Deliverance

Posted on October 28, 2011 in Preserves

Kelly Geary opened Brooklyn’s Sweet Deliverance four years ago with an innovative business model to accommodate working moms who wanted to feed their children healthy meals. Preserving is just a side project that came about as a result of having leftover produce. She hopes to create a ripple effect with her healthy eating initiative to inspire others to change their diets to highlight what’s fresh and local.

As a loyal member of her local CSA (Community Support Agriculture) program, Kelly gets all her base ingredients for her weekly menus from fresh produce in the area. In one of the most urban centers of the country, Kelly is delighted to introduce a little something from the farm, not to mention a healthier way of eating. Catering to the masses of people who often have no time to shop and prepare home-cooked meals, Sweet Deliverance hand-delivers a week’s worth of food every Monday to its subscribers. After nearly five years of being in business her audience is evolving: “Originally, it was mostly older, Upper East-side people, but now the clientele has gotten much younger.”

Kelly began making preserves on incidental grounds. Every week, Sweet Deliverance crafts a menu based on the variety of fruits and vegetables being shipped in. Kelly noticed that their menus were not accommodating the large amount of fruit available, so in order to avoid wasting, she began canning the produce. At the end of the season, she would give canned apples, for example, to loyal clients as gifts. Slowly, jams and chutneys became incorporated more and more into the weekly menus until they became signature Sweet Deliverance items.

Last year’s award winning preserves product—Sweet Deliverance’s Ground Cherry Jam—was first showcased at the nonprofit Just Food’s Let Us Eat Local event, and immediately flagged for its outstanding taste. Paired best with a ricotta crostini bite, the jam is rather expensive to make, costing $28 for fruit per jar. Because of this, Sweet Deliverance cannot afford to make too many jars annually. This year, Kelly entered Real Concord Grape Jam. She is looking forward to being a part of this year’s first annual Roadshow in New York City.

Meet North Carolina Winner Farmer’s Daughter

Posted on October 21, 2011 in Pickles, Preserves

April McGreger founded Farmer’s Daughter Brand with the intention of representing her Southern roots in her pickles and preserves products. Originally learning the trade from her mother and grandmother, she finds creativity in the diverse vegetation provided by North Carolina’s seasonality—inspiring all sorts of delicious concoctions.

The hardest part for April is reeling in her imagination to create preserves that are palatable for all. She won in two categories last year with her Spicy Green Tomato Pickles and Bourbon’d Fig Preserves, but likes to be on the cutting edge with her inventory—always looking to combine new and interesting tastes. Her affinity toward blending different flavors together is evident in her reference to something as bland as pepper jelly: “I love taking ubiquitous recipes like pepper jelly (something you see everywhere, but not usually that good-tasting), and bumping up the flavor by using things like heirloom jelly, roasting peppers, and adding spice.” As a tip for your next cocktail party: pepper jelly goes well with cream cheese and lox on crackers/toast.

April began her career in the food industry as a pastry chef at a fine dining restaurant in North Carolina where she developed strong connections with farmers, sourcing all ingredients locally. After six years there, she branched off into her own business in May of 2007. Both her mother and grandmother taught her how to make preserves growing up, hence the name of her company: Farmer’s Daughter Brand. She makes it a point to source all Southern products; she loves the idea of regionally identifying foods. April enjoys the freedom and flexibility that comes with her work. Because she is so reliant on the farmer’s local produce, her business fluctuates with the seasons, which allows her to travel to other regions of the country during her region’s off-season: “It’s fun to travel in winter to other regions and see what they’re all about, but a lot of what inspires me is reviving old recipes, getting involved in the history of things, and having annual specialties.” However, being so dependent on local produce can also be a challenge, April explained, because if there is a high demand for a certain fruit or vegetable, but not enough locally grown, then you are out of luck.

Winning last year’s Good Food Award was very meaningful to April, who confessed that she often loses sight of the bigger picture in the food world. There are so many small producers in this country who take pride in their work and value slow food, but rarely do they coalesce. The Good Food Awards provides a platform for such networking and the validation that many like-minded producers in the food industry do in fact exist. April was in awe of the shared community that the Good Food Awards message provoked: “In small business it’s sometimes isolating because you have your head down and you’re working on your own product, but it’s awesome to be able to meet and be inspired by people who have the same ideals and motivations and who are doing similar work.”

This year, April is going in a different direction with her entries, focusing more on strawberries. Whatever produce is freshest and available is what guides her recipe foundation, which makes her products very connected to the seasons. April confided that the element of seasonality provides for an interesting base for her preserves making, from which her creativity takes over to produce a masterpiece of blended flavors.

Meet Ohio Winner Ann’s Raspberry Farm

Posted on August 11, 2011 in Pickles, Preserves

The Trudels opened Ann’s Raspberry Farm seven years ago after fulfilling their dream of moving back to Ann’s native Amish Country in Ohio from Michigan. They bought a large piece of land without a clear vision of what they wanted it to become. In their first year, Ann and Daniel planted berries with the idea of being a U-pick farm but were caught off guard when their crops produced fruit in their first season. The farm was not yet set up as a U-pick so Ann decided to turn her hobby of preserving into a business: “It’s really funny to look back. We just started selling and it turned into a business. It’s been a huge road. There is such a demand for these products which was really surprising. It grows, grows, grows every year.”

Ann has been diligently working since January on opening a cannery nearby her home in which to produce her jams. So far this has been her biggest challenge as she is still in the process of getting the space certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the USDA. The most frustrating aspect of the process for her has been acquiring all the information necessary to get the space certified. Knowing which questions to ask in order to meet federal regulations has proven to be a difficult task for Ann who is clearly dedicated to conducting her business in the best way possible: “If I didn’t have such determination to make this happen then I wouldn’t have even started and I think that is true for all small craft producers. You need to be very dedicated to run this sort of business.”

Despite the challenges she faces, it is obvious even over the phone how much Ann loves what she does. She finds the most joy selling at farmers’ markets with her husband and daughter where she is able to see people’s reactions to her creations: “We do a lot of sampling. A lot people take a sample and start to walk away but then they stop. Here a lot of people are used to their regular grocery store. They buy the cheapest jam that is on the shelf so when they taste something that is really good because it’s made fresh, it’s a surprise and that’s what’s fun about it.” And that is why Ann’s Raspberry products are so special. Although the style of their products may not be typical of their region, the process in which the fruits and vegetables are made into jams or relishes is characteristic of Ohio Amish Country: “The Amish do things the old fashioned way. Our products represent that in the way they are processed, fresh, family farmed, and picked to make jam the same day.”

The Trudel’s hope to educate the community around them about the significance of good food, which is why they are appreciative of the Good Food Awards: “The Good Food Awards have been a great help. In Ohio people are old fashioned but I think sustainable is finally seeping over. The Good Food Awards is really helping a lot to get people educated which is especially important in the Midwest where there are a lot of people still farming conventionally. People are resistant at first to certified natural products, people pooh-pooh it, but I think we’re helping.” Ann is going to enter the Good Food Awards again this year and is hoping to use it as a test run for some of her new products.

Meet Washington Winner Deluxe Foods

Posted on July 20, 2011 in Preserves

It took a break from the food world for Rebecca to realize her true calling as a preserver. She had previously worked as cookbook editor for Amazon and then as a cookbook agent before starting Deluxe Foods in 2009. She reflected upon what she loved about food after quitting a non-food related job and realized that her passion for collecting and making jam could turn into a full-time business. Deluxe Foods now produces as many as twenty different varieties of jam made in small batches from sustainably grown Washington fruits and vegetables.

In addition to her regular production of jam, which is currently a strawberry balsamic preserve, Rebecca is also deep into an experiment with strawberry syrup. She wants the syrup to be versatile enough to be mixed into drinks or drizzled on top of cake and has found that finding the right consistency can be difficult. As a small-scale producer, Rebecca has learned that the small, everyday problems can often be the most challenging ones: “It’s always the interesting things I haven’t thought of like what sort of adhesive will work on the label. It’s the funny little things that end up taking a lot of my mind space.”

Rebecca prides herself as a Washington producer and consequently, she does everything within her power to make sure her products are loyal to their roots. Upon opening Deluxe Foods, Rebecca asked herself a very important question, one which many producers would not even think to ask: “I asked myself: Am I a jam maker first or a Washington producer? I decided Washington came first.” Rebecca aims to make products that are a celebration of Washington State and therefore she will not produce jams that require a lot of produce from out of state; for example, marmalades which call for citrus. This does not seem to inhibit Rebecca, however, who boasts about the superior quality of fruit grown in Washington: “We grow the best berries and beautiful stone fruit up here so what I really try to do is celebrate the fruit the farmers are growing and add my own twist with my own flavors and spices…I work with some amazing farmers and I get to make their produce keep existing all year long.”

The Good Food Awards has provided Rebecca with both a new sense of community within the Seattle area and throughout the US, while also significantly boosting their sales. She has found that the awards provided a platform for producers with similar goals to create a network in which to share valuable knowledge of the industry. Rebecca notes that the Good Food Awards label is a point of pride at the farmer market and adds that since winning their award, Deluxe Foods has quadrupled production of the award-winning gingered rhubarb jam and it continues to fly off of the shelves.

Meet California Winner Happy Girl Kitchen

Posted on May 6, 2011 in Preserves

Todd Champagne and his wife Jordan operate a small-scale cannery along the Central California coast and teach preserving classes to the public to inspire a do-it-yourself culture. They began as a small pickling business, Fearless Pickles, but soon branched out to other types of preservation. They picked up preservation skills on a farm in Norway and put them to use, saving the produce that never makes it to market.  They now run a Food Preservationists program, offering bulk purchase opportunities, newsletters and pick-up locations to the community of preservation enthusiasts.

Todd had just finished a week-long lemonade cleanse when we caught up with him at the end of March. “It was really easy,” he said of the cleanse, which meant drinking only fresh lemonade with maple syrup and cayenne pepper. “You get to drink as much spicy lemon juice as you want!” Todd was excited about the Meyer lemons that had been coming in large quantities. “There are giant stacks of them all over the kitchen,” he said. The lemons are used in marmalades for the most part, which quickly take over the Happy Girl Kitchen.

While Happy Girl Kitchen previously made small batches of marmalades for personal consumption, their expansion to a staff of seven people and year-round production means forcing themselves to do larger production. They are keeping everyone busy with navel orange marmalades, pickled root vegetables such as turnips and beets, and fresh ferments such as sauerkraut and kimchee. But the marmalades are “so bright … like sunshine in the middle of winter” that the conversation invariably turns back time and time again to marmalade and citrus fruits. Todd and his wife Jordan declared March Marmalade Month and they and their staff dove into the “tedious process” of “peeling, mincing and stripping off” their abundance of citrus fruits. Peels were candied to be sold at the Ferry Building and from their Pacific Grove store.

But despite all the attention on marmalade, their Good Food Award winner, the Apricot Chili Jam, does not go forgotten. What’s Todd’s favorite product? “The Apricot Chili Jam, and not because it won [an award]” he said. What’s his second favorite? “Have I mentioned the Apricot Chili Jam?” he asks. But in all seriousness, Todd also prefers one of their pickled products, the Garden Bouquet, which is made out of whatever is in season at the time. When we talked that meant cauliflower, beets, carrots, cabbage and onions. In the summer, that could mean summer squash, jalapenos and onions. “It’s in all my salads, my sandwiches, it’s my afternoon snack” Todd said. “I’ve been using it as my wakeup snack primarily,” he laughs.

Todd exudes passion for the produce as he talks about his work. His love for the region plays a huge role in his business. On the Central Coast, Todd is confident that Happy Girl Kitchen is located in the ideal climate for a small year-round cannery. “I love the creativity and inventiveness of Santa Cruz farmers, that they’re not just stuck in soybeans,” he said. Plus, “there is enough regional interest in our farms [in the area] to give us an opportunity to engage our community.”

Engaging and teaching the community is very important for Happy Girl. They offer workshops on pickling, fermenting and preserving, and have recently added Advanced level classes to the schedule. “We started teaching three years ago,” explained Todd. “I am still astounded by the level of energy behind the Do-It-Yourself movement, people are really taking buying locally to the next level. I think that sharing in [that experience], beyond just making a farmers market purchase, is really important,” he added. Todd is confident that teaching the skills needed to make his products, not just selling his products, will help propel Good Food forward and promote sustainability. “Even when you’re using fresh and local lemons when you’re cooking, you’re still leaving 99 lemons on the tree,” he said. “Through our workshops, we are trying to give people the tools to live locally beyond eating fresh strawberries, salad greens or winter squash.”

Meet Texas Winner Confituras

Posted on April 5, 2011 in Preserves


Stephanie McClenny launched Confituras in September 2010, after teaching herself to preserve over the past two years. She now sells her jams and marmalades at farmers markets and specialty stores in her area, but is still a one-woman operation, with a little help on Saturday morning market days. Her products highlight fruit seasonal in Central Texas, where she strives to source most of her ingredients.

When I caught up with Stephanie, she was amidst phone calls in a desperate search for organic strawberries in her region of Central Texas. The berries were just starting to come in that week, and she was finding it more difficult than one would imagine to source organically. She owes part of that problem to her region —“I grew up in California,” she said. “This is not California…[organic farms out here] often don’t produce enough to sell the fruit.”

Still, Stephanie has a pretty impressive success story. “Preserving is not in my family history,” she said. But it seemed “like a natural outflow from just enjoying cooking.” After two years of teaching herself how to preserve, she launched Confituras in September and has sold out at the Austin farmers market almost every week since. Her recent Good Food Award “has provided some wonderful notoriety as well as loads of community support from Austin and nationwide,” she said. As she earns recognition across the country, Stephanie still remains very locally oriented. “We are proud to live and thrive in our own ‘good food community’ in Austin,” she said. “We shop at the market from which we sell.”

As such, her product is reflective of Central Texas growing seasons and owes much to the Mediterranean climate of the region, she said. Specifically, the region boasts two flushes of figs, which she loves to use in her preserves. A season in late June and early July brings in a smaller crop while the big season at the end of summer yields hoards of Texas everbearing figs, a small, soft, light brown fruit which she used in her award-winning Texas fig preserve.

Figs are one of Stephanie’s favorite flavors, versatile enough to be paired with nuttier, creamy goat cheeses, balsamic vinegar and honey. Figs “are so fleeting and they don’t ripen after you pick them…you have to use them in 24-48 hours,” she said. “They’re special: they work well with different flavors — honey, liqueurs and other fruits, like strawberries.”

That she is having trouble finding strawberries right now is beside the point. While she said that it’s not always as easy to find organic sustainable farms in Texas, she has hopes that it will pick up in the future. They’re “just used to doing things a certain way… But I don’t mean to say that we haven’t found people,” she said. And when I checked up on her weekly offerings a couple of weeks later, she had strawberry vanilla bean jam listed alongside Rio Star grapefruit marmalade and Valencia orange and chili arbol marmalade.