Inspired by a trip to the South of France where she rediscovered her love of canning and jam making, Amy Deaver started Lemon Bird Handmade Jams, an artisan food company in Southern California. Using all-natural ingredients and the best seasonal produce from the region, Amy creates unique flavors and combinations (White Nectarine with Rose Geranium, Black Mission Fig with Fennel) that have won her a loyal following. Read on to discover Amy’s culinary philosophy, her tips for making jam at home and how a few happy accidents in the kitchen led to new flavor combinations.
When did you begin making jams, pickles and preserves?
I grew up in the Midwest and started making jams, pickles and preserves with my family as a child. I have many fond memories that center around the hours spent together shelling peas, peeling peaches and canning fruit. We would pick wild sand hill plums and make jelly with my Mom and Grandma. We always had a pantry full of preserved goods from the summer fruit season.
What is your food philosophy?
I believe in eating locally and supporting local farmers. We shop at the farmers markets weekly for produce for our jams and pickles and our own groceries. Fruits and vegetables are best when you purchase them fresh-picked from a local farm, where they are not transported for long distances from where they were harvested. When you purchase from your local farm, you know where your food comes from and how it was grown.
Describe a typical day at Lemon Bird.
Many days begin with a sunrise drive to pick up fruit from one of our farmers. When we get to the kitchen, we have a short team meeting about the plans for the day. Typically, I am cooking and jarring jam all day. Our “pickle crew” preps the produce that has come in and begins making any pickles that are on the schedule. We usually finish the prep work and have a late team lunch that we cook and eat together. Then we return to brine pickles and finish making jam until early evening.
How do you come up with your unique flavor combinations?
I think I dream in flavors! I am truly inspired by the farmers markets and all of the seasonal produce available. My husband and I live in Southern California and have access to some of the best farmers markets around. Besides finding fruits and herbs at the market, sometimes a local honey might catch my eye and be paired together with some of our ingredients. I’ve also had local gardeners call us offering their fresh grown herbs. Last year one of our farms brought us dill seeds that had dried on the vine with ladybug pods on the stems. The next day we watched as ladybugs came to life from the pods! (And no, the ladybugs did not get pickled – we released them in the local park.) When we travel, I am inspired by the flavors of the world and the spices and honeys we find at markets and local shops.
What advice would you give someone who is just starting out in making their own preserves?
Take your time and use a recipe when first making preserves. Making preserves and jams is part science – with a mix of fruit, sugar and acid levels – and part artistic endeavor. Let the jam come together and if it doesn’t turn out like you expected the first time, be willing to try again. All fruits are different and may give you varying results.
What equipment does a beginner need to start making jams?
Making preserves doesn’t require a lot of fancy or expensive equipment. Most people can make jams and preserves with a few basic pieces they already have in their kitchen. Our list includes:
—A large, heavy bottomed, nonreactive pot
—Wooden spoons or heatproof spatulas
—Digital or candy thermometer
—Deep pot for sterilizing jars
—Knives, cutting boards and bowls for prepping fruit
What is your favorite jam flavor? What is your favorite thing to pickle?
My favorite flavors change with the season. My favorite jams are Pink Grapefruit and Mint in the spring and our Satsuma Plum and Sichuan in the late summer. Both of these represent the peak of the season’s fruit. Our “Farmers Market Find” pickles are our favorite pickle to make. The pickles are filled with the best the summer market has to offer – cucumbers, striped zucchini, elephant garlic, and lemon basil.
Have you experienced any disasters in the kitchen?
One of favorite pickles, Cocktail Tomatoes, came about as a result of a kitchen disaster. We found gorgeous, tiny green cherry tomatoes at the farmers market a few years ago. We were going to turn them into a savory tomato preserve, but after a full day of peeling tomatoes and having only a few small pounds to show, we gave up. We had gallons of tomatoes left so we decided to pickle them with a mix of Indian spices. The tomatoes turned into the perfect pickles for Bloody Marys and other cocktails.
Why “Lemon Bird”?
When we first getting started making jams, we had a lemon tree outside our office doors. It was always filled with finches and other birds from the neighborhood. We made our first lemon jams from that tree and named our company after the lemon birds that sang throughout the day.
If you weren’t running Lemon Bird, what else would you be doing?
My husband and I both love to cook. Going to the farmer’s market is our date each week so local food is in our souls. We’d love to provide our community with locally-sourced meals each week. We might open a small restaurant or gourmet supply shop for our community.