In the food-preserving world, jam is the gateway drug. Making it can be addictive, and its process is simple, seductive and easy to embellish with personal flair. Tina Fogall of Orchard Tracts (formerly Big Spoon Jam) takes that flair to new heights, combining raspberries with rose petals, wild foraged blackberries with Douglas fir tips and blueberries with balsamic vinegar.
And so it might be surprising that Fogall grew up hating jam. Her personal aversion stemmed from years of home-packed PB & J sandwiches, slathered with cheap grape jelly her mom bought. “I thought it was so gross and it carried the stigma (of poverty),” says Fogall.
The moment everything changed didn’t occur until summer 2009. Fogall was well into her 30s and recently had enrolled in Bastyr University’s nutrition and culinary arts program. Excited to enter a new phase of her life, Fogall signed up for a weeklong internship at Quillisascut Farm, located in northeast Washington, before starting the semester at Bastyr.
By day two, the charm had worn off, recalls Fogall, who was thinking about how much she had paid to work so hard. But, by the next day, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction with Fogall practically panicking that there were only a few days left.
“The last day, we picked apricots from the orchard, still warm from the sun. We made jam from the apricots and it blew my mind. It was so good!” Fogall said.
During the six-hour drive home, Fogall had a serious talk with herself about the way she was living her life. Quillisascut Farm taught her more than just how to make jam — it altered the way she viewed waste, noise and even community.
Fogall reflected on her childhood and realized that life was about to come full circle. She remembered her great grandparents, homesteaders in Gig Harbor who fished, foraged and gardened to sustain themselves. Grandpa Tom used to take her on walks through the woods, pointing out thimbleberries, salmonberries and flowers.
“They froze their vegetables to retain the highest levels of nutrition. They even used seaweed in the compost piles to introduce nutrients back into the soil,” she said.
Upon returning to her then-home in the urban neighborhood of Rainier Beach, Fogall became a hurricane-force, jam-making fiend. “I ordered insane amounts of fruit. I couldn’t even give away all the jam I was making,” laughed Fogall.
The jam storm came to a halt the winter of 2009-10. She was a full-time student at Bastyr, produce was not readily available and her dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He quickly deteriorated after a stroke during surgery and died within a few weeks. Though Fogall barely passed her classes that semester, the harrowing experience did figuratively bear fruit.
“There was a shift in my thinking. I realized that I couldn’t just have a job to have a job. I need to do something I love,” said Fogall.
From tragedy grew a sweet idea. She developed a business plan during her second year at Bastyr, graduated and promptly launched Big Spoon Jam from kitchen space rented at the DERU Market kitchen in Kirkland. The hurricane may have calmed slightly, but Fogall was still in the neighborhood of “tropical storm” when it came to jam output.
“The first year I made way too many products,” Fogall said of the dozens of jam varieties she cooked, processed and offered to the public at the Juanita and Sammamish farmers markets. However, her creativity in the jar quickly paid off, landing her first wholesale account at Sugar Pill on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Since then, Fogall’s jams have been picked up by The Calf & Kid, DeLaurenti, Pasta & Co., Mt. Townsend Creamery in Pike Place Market and subscription-based operations like the Full Circle CSA and MakrBox. She has also been featured as an editor’s pick in Food & Wine magazine (May, 2013) and in Sunset magazine’s June 2013 “Genius in a Bottle” article.
Each year, Fogall has culled her list of products and plans to have only about half a dozen available this summer. She loves to create unusual combinations like tea-smoked pear (her favorite), apricot with smoked salt and apple butter with cardamom. Raspberries and their wild cousin, the thimbleberry, are Fogall’s top pick for local berries.
Unlike most commercially produced jams, Fogall’s preserves do not contain added pectin, a gelling agent usually extracted from citrus fruits and sold in powdered or liquid form. She likes to see what the fruit can do on its own, and wants to use as few ingredients as possible to make her products. “Adding in extra stuff takes away from the natural quality of the fruit,” she said.
Some fruit, like apples, are naturally high in pectin and gel easily with a bit of cooking. Low-pectin fruits like strawberries, however, require special handling to properly thicken into a jam-like consistency. Fogall employs a three-day processing technique for strawberries, allowing them a long maceration in sugar. She claims this prevents the fruit from breaking down too much during the cooking portion while allowing the water to more easily cook out of the fruit.
And, while most at-home jam makers produce either freezer jams or jams processed in a water bath (canned), Fogall uses an oven-processing method whereby hot jars are filled with hot jam, topped with a hot lid and set on a tray in a 225-degree oven for about 15 minutes. No more boiling pots of water and subsequent scalding burns from wielding slippery glass jars and unruly tongs!
In the summer of 2013, Fogall and her husband, Justin, emigrated from the city to rural Fall City. They bought a 2.25-acre plot of land on a heavily wooded hill — the kind of address that easily confounds a GPS device. The area was clear cut several decades ago, evidenced by the rotten seven-foot tall stumps now mostly hidden in the thick regrowth. For some inexplicable reason, the area was formerly called “Orchard Tracts.” After a small legal dispute over the name “Big Spoon Jam,”Fogall re-branded her business with a truly local moniker.
The couple dreams of transforming the land into a destination-worthy agricultural education center touting the benefits of permaculture farming — like fruit trees underplanted with lupine, a flowering plant from the legume family that “fixes” nitrogen back into the soil, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizer, or bordering a garden with chives to repel unwanted pests, yet attract pollen-gathering insects.
Fogall hopes to pass along her enthusiasm for local food through education, and primarily through taste and enjoyment. The movement would be hard-pressed to find a better ambassador than the “Jam Lady” armed with a diplomatic jar of raspberry preserves.