Ruth Taylor used to smuggle her own homemade jam into her favorite French bakery. She’d pack up a fresh batch in a little Tupperware container, slip it in to her purse, and then pop it open to spread on slices of warm bread. It’s not that the bakery didn’t have jam — it’s just that Taylor’s was better.
Taylor started by making strawberry jam for her husband, but it didn’t take long for friends and family and neighbors — and everyone else — to fall in love, too. Today, Taylor’s small-batch, award-winning artisanal creations, Mrs. Ruth’s Jams, are sold across the state. And even though she now makes more than 50 flavors — including blackberry, grape, balsamic-strawberry, jalapeño-orange marmalade, and ginger-peach — the original strawberry is still customers’ favorite.
“There’s an art to making jam,” Taylor says. “When I think of a ‘maker,’ I think of an artisan. It could be that the maker is somebody who’s doing something with food. It could be that they’re doing it with wood. They could be doing it with paint. But they’re taking whatever medium works for them and they’re creating something. And for me, it’s taking fruit and sugar and making something yummy.”
And that French bakery? Once the owners discovered what Taylor was doing — and they tasted the difference — they became her first customer. That’s sweet.
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OS: How did you get into jam-making?
RT: I started Mrs. Ruth’s Jams quite by accident. I’m an engineer by training; I’ve worked in IT my whole career. But my husband loves strawberry jam, and his aunt used to give him a few jars every summer. Well, a few jars don’t go very far when you love strawberry jam, so I started making him freezer jam, but it didn’t have the same flavor and quality as cooked jam. The problem was, my mother never really made jam — my dad liked Smucker’s — so she taught me how to can, but not how to do jam. I really learned how to make it on the telephone. I would get stuck and call up my friend and say, “Hey, what do I do now?”
OS: How did you turn your jam-making hobby into a business?
RT: I don’t like strawberry as much as some of the other flavors, so I started making blueberry and blackberry — whatever fruit I bought too much of at the farmers market. And a batch makes more than I wanted to eat, so I would give it to friends and family, and they started saying, “If you sell this, I would buy it.” How about that! I had started going to a French bakery, and they had the most wonderful bread, but I didn’t like their jam too much. I would take my own jam in a little container, and I eventually confessed to them what I was doing. They ended up trying it, liked it, and asked me to make some for them to sell. They’ve been a wonderful customer ever since, and they helped us find the next customer and the next and the next.
OS: Where do you source your ingredients?
RT: I try to stay as local as I can. A really fun part is the relationships I have with my little network of farmers. I have my peach lady — we’re going to be making peach jam later today. I also have other farms for strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, apples. Those relationships make the business a lot of fun.
OS: What is your process when you’re testing new recipes?
RT: I love recipe development, and I develop new flavors every season. For example, I do about five different types of strawberry jam, and this season I added a strawberry lemonade flavor. I try it, refine it, keep accurate records of what I did, and then try it again. Julia Child made 50-some batches of mayonnaise before she got her mayonnaise recipe the way she wanted it, and I thought, well, doggone, if Julia can make 50-some batches of mayonnaise to get the right thing, I can do that, too. I continually evolve it, and I have a set of friends and family and neighbors who are very happy tasters. I’ll make a very small batch and get feedback, and I’ll tweak it. I don’t think the refinement process ever stops — it’s just been a continual journey for me.
OS: What do you love most about making jam?
RT: I make every jar as though I were going to serve it to my own family, and that’s why we say there’s love in every jar. I just really like to take the raw goods, the beautiful fruit — it’s so pretty — and do something with it. I lose myself in the flavors, the smells. I find it a stress reliever. In the corporate world, I spent so many years never knowing if I made anybody happy. But with jam, someone will buy a jar and they’ll smile and they’re happy right away. There’s a lot of pleasure in actually making something tangible that somebody is going to enjoy.
Mrs. Ruth’s Jams