Jessica Koslow doesn’t fit any homespun notions of how someone who makes jam should be. When we met earlier this year, she was standing outside Sqirl, the hipster brunch spot she runs in Los Angeles, dressed in a black sweatshirt and jeans, gregariously chatting with regulars and fixing plans with staff for an upcoming restaurant at LA Frieze Art Fair.
We’d arranged to head out to Studio City to pick Seville oranges from a tree in the garden of a friend of hers. One of Koslow’s current missions is to make Americans love marmalade. “The commercial versions here in the States are usually terrible – sweet jelly encasing uncaring cuts of rind cooked quickly so they live in a semi-hard state,” she told me. Even if her version isn’t yet flying off the shelves, she persists because she enjoys making it. “People need to know how good it is,” she added.
If anyone can change American preconceptions about what they should eat each morning, Koslow can. At Sqirl, her crispy rice salad, sorrel pesto bowl and ricotta brioche toast are much-copied signatures that have become synonymous with the progressive LA food scene. According to Momofuku’s David Chang, “America eats better breakfasts because of Sqirl.”
Sqirl launched as a maker of preserves in 2011, and today makes 35,000 pots of jam a year for service or to sell. Koslow’s latest book, Sqirl Away, published this month, shares the secrets of her earliest culinary passion. Her style of jam has no added pectin, minimal sugar (most technically count as fruit spreads because they contain less than 65 per cent) and a texture that spreads smoothly on toast. Puréeing the flesh yields a silkier “schmear”, so most of these conserves use blended rather than cut fruit. “My job is to keep the nuance of the fruit alive,” writes Koslow, meaning its essence shouldn’t be lost to sweetness or acidity.
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Koslow got into jam as a pastry cook at Anne Quatrano’s celebrated restaurant Bacchanalia in Atlanta in 2005. On her return to LA, she turned to jam to capture California’s bountiful year-round produce. Her jams showcase local varietals including olallieberry and youngberry, and combinations that “mark a moment in time”, such as Santa Rosa plum with flowering thyme, which emerge around July.
At Sqirl, jam is mostly found on toast and in pastries. At Onda, the restaurant Koslow has launched with chef Gabriela Cámara in Santa Monica, it turns up on corn pancakes. But there’s scope to use jam in dressings (try plum with balsamic and olive oil) and glazes (Koslow recommends apricot on pork), while the book provides recipes for quince membrillo (fantastic in a grilled cheese sandwich), apple jelly (to accompany ham or chicken) and bourbon cranberry sauce (to spoon onto turkey). Koslow groups them all as jams because the cooking process is largely the same, though strictly speaking jam uses the pulp and juice of a fruit and marmalades, say, use a whole citrus including the peel.
When we’d finished picking the oranges in Studio City, it started to rain. We took refuge in her friend’s garage. He fetched a pot of Seville orange marmalade he’d made himself and set it on the bonnet of his vintage silver Jaguar for us to try. “It tastes like mead,” said Koslow, tipping a small spoonful into her mouth. The marmalade was sweet, sour and fruity – an acquired taste for sure. But Americans who haven’t acquired it are definitely missing out.
Sqirl Away: Modern Jamming, Preserving, and Canning by Jessica Koslow is published on 21 July by Abrams, £25.
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