February 23, 2014
I was thrilled when Orlando Life Magazine contacted me in late January requesting an interview for the March issue. The feature is a list of simply the best in Orlando, from people, to places, to local restaurants, shops and artisans. It is so incredible when a magazine contacts you through word of mouth and your reputation, for me it is the greatest compliment ever. They were wonderful to work with and were good enough to provide me with interview questions so that I could put together my responses offline and turn around the interview quickly.
After I sent away the interview, I realized that I don’t take the time out on my own blog to talk about my company or my progress very much. Unfortunately, I really don’t love the entire marketing end of the business –I would much rather be the mad scientist in the kitchen focusing on the creative side or sampling products with my customers who give me the energy to continue to go on creating. This is why the larger companies have PR and Publicists on their teams, but for the smaller companies such as mine, we juggle to do the very best that we can. So that is why it is so great when a press opportunity comes along and especially one with such thoughtful interview questions!
I wanted to share the interview with you here so that you could learn a little more about me and Sunchowder’s Emporia and the directions we have come and gone with since December of 2008. I hope you will enjoy reading about us! Here we go:
1. I know you started this business back in 2008 when you decided to pursue a passion of yours but tell me where the business is now compared to six years ago? How has Sunchowder’s Emporia grown? Is this where you pictured you business to be six years ago?
This little business of mine has grown beyond my wildest expectations! We have had the good fortune to be featured in several national magazines and have more than tripled our sales since our humble beginnings in the middle of a recession. Our mission to be part of and support the local food movement has not waivered and we continue to use only fresh fruits and vegetables and remain loyal to local farmers and produce whenever possible. My stance on not using commercial pectin or artificial ingredients has remained firm, and our customers support us with their continued patronage. Without our loyal customers, I would not be where I am today. Each and every one of them contribute to my financial well-being and security. In terms of how I pictured the business, each year I renew my goals and review our results and work hard to remain current and provide products that meet my customer’s needs and expectations. Staying true to our name Emporia, we expanded our product line to include pickles and relishes back in 2011 and in 2013 we opened our Vintage Store on Etsy to complement our product line. In 2014, I plan to work on an outline and proposal for a cookbook with a focus on featuring recipes for my jams, pickles and relishes as the basis for your own home pantry, how to use them for appetizers, mains, and desserts, and how to create meals with leftovers using all the gems that you have canned; all with a touch of frugality and Florida influence.
2. You said that the changing of the seasons has been an inspiration for you throughout the creative process. Can you tell me more about that?
The seasons will always dictate what I will be processing in our kitchen. Each season brings with it its own fruits, some harvests are sweeter, some are more tart. It is the song of nature really. In Florida, we move from Strawberries, to Blueberries, to Mangos and then on to the summer berries Raspberry and Blackberry. In the fall we have gorgeous Apples, Pears, and Pumpkins. As I taste the fruits that we bring into the kitchen, I will always make adjustments to the sweetness and acidity to balance each batch. I love to experiment with different fresh herbs, spices and spirits to create unique flavor profiles. This past summer season I was able to source over 100 pounds of outstanding fresh California apricots. With the clock ticking on this gorgeous fruit, I worked in the kitchen to develop a new flavor called Apricot Vanilla Bean with Tuaca. I discovered Tuaca Liqueur which an Italian brandy infused with vanilla and citrus essences, and I knew the moment I tasted it that it would be a perfect pairing with Apricot. This flavor was a smash hit this past season in both the Farmer’s Markets and my online Etsy shop.
The Blueberry season begins in March here in Florida. I have a relationship with Spring Valley Farms in Umatilla and I exclusively use their berries in my fresh Blueberry Jams. Our standard “gold” flavor is our Blueberry DiSaronno, this jam uses only fresh berries and just a touch of almond DiSaronno is added to give this jam a special finish. This season I experimented with several different herbs and introduced Blueberry Basil Jam which was another hit with our local customers.
During the Florida mango season which usually begins in May, we had a happy accident in our kitchen and created Mango Lime Tequila Jam. My Dominican kitchen assistant misunderstood me when I asked him to grate lemon into the mixture and he grated lime zest instead and what a happy accident that was! We went on to add fresh chili pepper from my garden to our next batch and those two flavors will remain in the recipe stack for next year. Those jams are only made seasonally and in limited quantities. Mango jams, both sweet and spicy pair beautifully with many different cheeses.
3. What are your most popular jams for each season
Winter: Tangerine Ginger Rum, Jalapeno with Apricot and Wildflower Honey
Spring: Blueberry DiSaronno
Summer: Raspberry Cointreau, Blackberry Chambord
Fall: Pumpkin Butter
4. Do you have specific jams that can be bought all year round, if so what are they?
Strawberry, Blackberry Chambord, Raspberry Cointreau, Raspberry Pepper, Jalapeno, Apricot and Wildflower Honey and Pineapple Tangerine.
5. On average, how many jams do customers typically have to choose from?
I usually have a selection of about 12 to 15 different fresh fruit jams at both the Winter Park Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and the Lake Eola Farmer’s Market on Sundays.
6. Out of all the jams you make which is the one that is usually bought the most (everyone’s favorite jam) and why do you think that is?
I believe that would be strawberry! I think this jam is familiar, comfort food for not only Floridians, but for visitors alike. We have an amazing strawberry harvest here in Central Florida beginning in December and passing through till mid-April depending on the heat. We are able to source Strawberries directly from the farms during our season and then I source the berries from Driscoll’s in our off season. I only use domestic strawberries in our products, so it is either Florida strawberries or California berries in most cases.
7. Now tell which jam is your favorite, both to make and to eat, and why!
My favorite jam is to eat is my Strawberry Balsamic. This jam is time-consuming and expensive to produce. It is based on a recipe by Christine Ferber and combines fresh strawberries, the juice of fresh raspberries, sugar, lemon, black pepper and then is finished off with balsamic vinegar. I love this jam because it has a richer flavor than a plain strawberry jam, not too sweet, and tastes marvelous on a sandwich, as a cake filling, on ice cream or eaten straight from the jar! This jam is available in limited quantities a few times during the year.
8. You said that one of your major goals is to have a creative space where you can teach. Tell me a little bit more about that and about the steps you are taking to achieve this goal.
This past March I taught my first Preserving class at the Florida Hospital Diabetes Institute, and I will be teaching two additional classes this year on Fermenting and another on Spices in March and October, those specific dates are to be announced. I am also partnering with a small shop in Longwood called the Wild Hare Kitchen and Garden Emporium, and we also plan to put together some preserving classes to be held there this year. I will announce the classes on my facebook page and at the markets as the dates are made firm.
9. I read that you use French methods of jam making. Can you explain specifically what that is to me?
None of the processes are automated in my kitchen. The fruits are washed and cut by hand, and I use old-fashioned French Copper Pots to boil down my jams. Many of the fruits are macerated overnight in lemon and sugar to begin the preserving process. This method will allow the fruits to absorb the sugar slowly and also helps to maintain the shape and color of the fruit after it is cooked. I also separate the syrup from the fruit after it has macerated for 24 hours especially in the case of my Strawberry Jam. As I don’t use commercial pectin in any of my products, this helps me to achieve the gel in a fruit such as the low pectin Florida Strawberry. European jams have a softer set than American Jams and I prefer this. Many of my jams have a looser set that you will find with a store bought jam.
10. If you had to summarize your favorite part about making these jams, and being the owner of Sunchowder’s Emporia, in just a couple sentences what would you say?
My favorite part by far is creating new flavors and experimenting in the kitchen.
Here is the original link to Orlando Life Magazines Article: http://www.ohlmag.com/topics/features/simply-best-2014#.UwnqlUPvfps.facebook