By Essie Lustig 06/28/2012
The roots of one serious jam sessionFrom a little kitchen in Ojai, surrounded by a gorgeous collection of Bauer pottery, Katie Albert is perfecting a type of sorcery: creating unique, gourmet jams that please both the eye and the palate. Although Katie is a longtime California resident with a keen sense of style, she emphasizes that she was not taught the age-old craft of jam mastery. “My mother’s family migrated across the country from West Virginia and I’m sure they did canning because they went out to California to have a better life, which they did. But my parents, they bought a little house in Inglewood. They didn’t want to do any canning. It represented hardship. It was all about city life and convenience and Swanson TV dinners. It wasn’t until several years ago that I became interested in canning. Last summer, I really got into it more, this one particular jam — peach bourbon jam with vanilla. Everybody loved it and I thought maybe I could do something with this.” So Katie Albert set up a Facebook page as “Katie’s Famous Jams” with everything customized, from her self-designed labels and fresh vanilla beans to an assortment of jams unlike any other.
Can fight city hallPeople are so taken with the authenticity of Katie’s Famous Jams that Kathy Hartley, owner of The Lavender Inn in Ojai and Watermark on Main in Ventura, served them last season at the inn. Albert, who operates without a storefront, would love to expand her market past Facebook and word-of-mouth, especially since outlets such as Ojai Coffee Roasting Company and Santa Paula’s Best of Ventura County Marketplace have shown major interest in her wares. California law, however, makes the retail sale of cottage foods out of reach for home-based businesses. “I looked into doing it seriously and then I found that California laws make it impossible for the home canner to do anything retail, and we have to be preparing everything in a commercial kitchen, and it’s a minimum of $25 an hour. So if I do one batch in three to four hours, I would have to charge $20 a bottle. But, hopefully, that will change.” Currently, the California Homemade Food Act (AB 1616) is scheduled for a vote before the State Senate Health Committee. Its passage would allow businesses such as Katie’s Famous Jams to sell in small retail chains and farmers markets. She stays hopeful: “This bill is going to pass and then I am going to go gangbusters with it. Canning is a cool thing to do.”
Kick out the jamsUsing only local, organic, in-season fruit and keeping her recipes low-sugar, Katie’s jams range from her celebrated peach bourbon jam with vanilla to strawberry balsamic black pepper jam, Katie puts a dynamic twist on an old craft. “I am not crazy about just plain strawberry jam or plain any kind of jam,” she says. “It doesn’t really interest me. It’s not intense enough. I started doing research on the Internet and trying things and tweaking them, putting two recipes together. Most importantly, I have to like it.”
Form follows functionHer colorful Bauer pottery, the precursor to Fiestaware, perfectly encapsulates Katie Albert’s aesthetic: it showcases a utilitarian art form in a way that is both reverent and modern, full of life and hue, and is, above all, distinctly Californian. With her partner, Gene, and rescue dogs, Katie brings a different dimension to the “homespun” cottage industry. Surrounded by jelly and jam inspired trinkets from decades past, it would be easy to relegate Katie’s Famous Jams to the realm of charming, yet old fashioned hobbies. While watching Katie hand-seal each jar in a vat of boiling water, however, it is difficult to deny her work ethic and her gravitation toward authenticity. While mass distribution currently eludes Katie’s Famous Jams, one suspects that fame is just around the corner.
For a menu and information about ordering, visit www.facebook.com/katiesfamousjams. Katie’s delivers in Ojai and parts of Ventura and ships everywhere.