Meet A Local Monday: Rachel Saunders
We’re thrilled to introduce you to this week’s talented local artisan - Rachel Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit! We traveled to Oakland, California to meet the delightful Rachel who talked to us about cooking with jam, the growth of artisanal companies and the unique story of “Blue Chair”.
Tell us about Blue Chair Fruit and how the company came to be.
We are an artisanal jam and marmalade company located in Oakland, CA. Our mission is to make the best possible preserves, always pushing the envelope in terms of both aesthetics and techniques.
We use the widest possible array of local sustainably grown fruits and make over 100 flavors per year. Our specialty is flavor construction and we see ourselves as a link between farmers and the public; we use many rare and heirloom fruit varieties in our preserves. We also offer jam and marmalade classes.
My first cookbook "The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook" was nominated for a James Beard award; my next book, all about how to cook and bake with jam, is coming out this October.
Jam or Marmalade, do you have a preference?
Marmalade is my greatest passion because marmalades have the potential to be much more nuanced and sophisticated than jams.
You experiment with some pretty unconventional flavors. How do you choose which fruits to use in your products?
We never do anything with the goal of being "weird" or "out there." What guides us is the fruits themselves, as well as our mastery of technique. The quality of the fruits and ingredients is always our first consideration.
What's your favorite way to cook with jam?
There are so many ideas that I explore in my new book! Some favorite recipes from that book include Brussels sprouts with kumquat marmalade and smoked salt, a tomato jam linzertorte, and a paella with nectarine jam as a subtle unifying accent.
What are your thoughts on the spike in growth of small batch artisanal food
Anything that promotes artisanal food is something I support. However, I think it is important to differentiate between those with profound dedication to their craft and those who are merely trying to hop on a trendy bandwagon.
What excites me are people who are deeply passionate and who are, through years of hard work, genuinely trying to bring something new to their chosen specialty.
What's the story behind the name "Blue Chair"?
Most jam companies are yawningly literal in their branding: names like "peach tree jam," "Walker Farm preserves," etc. To me, jam is not just jam; it is an evocation of the outdoors, of fruit picking, of childhood.
It is very nostalgic, so I wanted something that brought out the idea of jam rather than just the jam itself. Blue Chair represents the kitchen and our collective memory of childhood.
I also wanted to reference California through the brand, specifically the fruit crate labels from the '30's and '40's, which were poster-like and which promoted brands whose names bore no direct literal relation to the product. Our label design is a very modernized version of these labels.
bluechairfruit.com / @bluechairfruit on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook