Mill City Farmers Market vendor Heidi Skoog of Serious Jam tells us all about her unexpected journey into fruit preservation, the art of traditional jam-making and the importance of cooking and eating local food.
By Alia Jeraj, @aliaxgrace
In 2011 Heidi Skoog and her husband went strawberry picking — because that’s what you do in a Minnesotan summer — and came back with, as Heidi tells it, “oh so many strawberries.” Knowing that those strawberries were way too many for the two of them, Heidi decided to preserve them. In a pot over the stove she added sugar and lemon juice to the strawberries, turning them into jam. She also added balsamic vinegar and black pepper, a favorite flavor pairing with strawberries. Heidi gifted the jars to friends, and soon they were back, asking for jars they could give as gifts! The asks kept coming until finally, Heidi decided to end her career as a florist and become a full-time Fruit Preservationist.
As a woman coming from the floral industry, Heidi was always wary of being labeled as “cute.” “I want to be serious,” she said. “I want to make really good flavors with local fruit and traditional methods with the big pots and sugar and lemon juice.” With that idea and a nudge from a friend, the name Serious Jam was born.
Since then, Heidi has stuck to her vision, preferring the traditional method of making jam. “It’s a slower process,” she says, “but it’s almost simpler.” The recipe: fruit, sugar, and lemon juice, plus the additional flavors Heidi adds in the forms of spirits, spices, and herbs. She really gets to know her fruits, treating them individually. For example, she’ll soak her strawberries and plums in sugar and lemon juice for a couple days before using them, and make sure she doesn’t thaw frozen rhubarb. She’ll do, “whatever it takes to make that fruit sing.” In adding the other flavors, she draws from her favorite food pairings to create “old fashion jam with new fashion flavors.”
Using local fruit is another integral part of Heidi’s mission with Serious Jam. She’s spent years building relationships with small organic farms, trying to buy more and more from them each year. But, as with all industries, the pandemic has shifted how fruit farmers are doing business. Many of them have shifted to “You-Pick” models — instead of hiring workers to pick the fruit and selling at markets, they invite customers to come to the farm and pick the fruit themselves. This has made it harder for Heidi to buy the large quantities of fruit she needs to make her jam, but she’s quick to add that she is thrilled the farmers are finding ways to sustain their business, and excited that the model can get more people more intimately in touch with the food they’re eating.
In her commitment to being a part of the local economy, if fruit farmers continue to harvest their fruit with You-Pick models, Heidi will also have to pivot her business model. “I could buy fruit from California all year long,” she says, “but it seems like the antithesis of what I started.” Though we don’t know yet what this and future seasons will hold, Heidi sees teaching jam making in her future.
For now, she’ll continue to make Serious Jams. She recommends that people try using them in ways other than just on toast. Anywhere you might add sugar or honey or even maple syrup, try using jam, Heidi says! It’s that same little bit of sweetness, with some more complex flavors, and the joy of supporting local farmers and makers.
Heidi also hopes her jams will inspire people to find their own creative ways to use the produce around them. Rather than thinking about local food as small additions to your grocery list, think about them as integral parts of your kitchen, that can sustain you throughout the year. For example, instead of buying a handful of apples, Heidi says to buy the whole bushel and make something out of it! “It makes your day in February when you come upon a jar of raspberry jam from the summer,” she says.
Catch Heidi and her Serious Jams at the Mill City Farmer’s Market this summer, and let her jams inspire your own produce preservations!
Can’t wait until then? Serious Jam will return this Saturday for our last indoor market of the season, April 15th from 10am until 1pm inside the Mill City Museum (no admission required).