PHOTOGRAPHY BY ERIN SCOTT
EMB’s own Preservationist, Jordan Champagne, debuts new cookbook
Cookbooks are often just simple collections of recipes. But a brand-new book on fruit preserving aims to be much more than that—it’s a toolbox for cooks who love to tinker in creative ways with jams, jellies, syrups and butters.
That was the compelling concept which led to It Starts With Fruit: Simple Techniques and Delicious Recipes for Jams, Marmalades, and Preserves (Chronicle Books, $29.95), the debut cookbook of Jordan Champagne, co-founder of Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove. It Starts With Fruit will be released in May.
The 285-page book is organized into sections that reflect the way Champagne teaches her workshops, with tips, tricks and troubleshooting all included, as well as an entire chapter on how to use preserves to make cobblers, cookies and pastries. “Once you understand the techniques, you can have a whole lot of fun coming up with your own combinations,” says Champagne.
In her book, Champagne advocated for images featuring Central Coast farms, leading to photo shoots at Apple Pie Ranch in Big Sur and Live Earth Farm in Corralitos that produced dreamy scenes of ripe fruit and lovely local places.
She recalls being somewhat offended by the amount of sugar she had to use in the jam and vowed to find a better method.
Champagne and husband Todd began selling their own line of preserves and started Happy Girl Kitchen in 2002, as both a café dedicated to organic, sustainable food and as a space for teaching others to preserve fruits and vegetables. Along the way, Happy Girl has created a community of people dedicated to making the most of this area’s bounty of fruits and vegetables. She has also been a stalwart supporter of Edible Monterey Bay magazine from its start, contributing her column “The Preservationist” several times a year.
Champagne has long been on a mission to bring the old-fashioned arts of canning and preserving back into public consciousness. Her sold-out workshops here and in Oakland show there’s a hunger for knowledge about preserving, as people seek a new self-sufficiency and try to stem the tide of food waste.
The Central Coast environment is a far cry from the small farm in Norway where the couple first learned how to save and keep food, a necessity in a northern country where the summer growing season is short and the winter is long.
Jordan remembers picking “beautiful, pristine strawberries” and learning how to make jam from them, using equal parts white sugar and fruit. She recalls being somewhat offended by the amount of sugar she had to use in the jam and vowed to find a better method, “and I never gave up the challenge.”
That led to her lifelong fascination with fine preserving and her dedication to getting it just right, no matter what the fruit or the fruit combination. True to her original passion, she offers recipes in the book that scale back sugar while pumping up the flavor.
One thing Champagne has become known for—and what she emphasizes in her workshops—is the unique fruit and flavor pairings in her preserves, such as apricot chili jam and Meyer lemon marmalade with ginger. “You can mix and match—once you understand the techniques, you’re golden,” says Champagne.
The book also relates the many different ways in which fruit can be preserved—everything from sauces, butters, syrups and shrubs to dried and candied fruit.
Although jam making is often characterized as being messy, difficult and complicated, Champagne says it’s really just a five-step process, which is shown in text as well as in photos in her book.
Most importantly, she says, is getting to know fruit itself and the “strengths and weaknesses” of each variety. Apples have characteristics unto themselves, and they can’t be prepared the same way as plums or strawberries. Knowing the intrinsic qualities of the fruit, Champagne says, is the key to successful preserves. She also sprinkles in the history of various fruits, traditional uses and her own stories and memories of fruit and preserving.
Champagne said she first started thinking about writing a book eight years ago, but didn’t put all the pieces together until she injured her knee several years ago. Forced to stay still to heal, she turned her unspent physical energy toward the mental toil of her book.
“It was on the back burner, and I decided, ‘I have time now, I need to move it to the front burner,’” she says. She finished writing her draft and a book proposal, found an agent and moved forward. It Starts With Fruit also is the beginning of what Champagne hopes will be a four-book series, since her vision turned out to be too much for just one volume.
Her book tour will start this summer and will include a number of local book signings as well as East and West Coast events. More information will be available as dates are finalized; check the Happy Girl website for updates.
- It Starts With Fruit can be pre-ordered through happygirlkitchen.com as well as from Chronicle Books and from local and online booksellers.
Pink Grapefruit Marmalade
Recipe: Jordan Champagne
Pink grapefruit marmalade is for real marmalade lovers. It has such a strong bitter and tart flavor that the intensity is not for every palate. But nothing compares to a thick piece of toasted bread with a thick spread of grapefruit marmalade and some really good black tea. The grapefruit peels get completely transparent and the color becomes a warming blush glow. Any good-flavored, juicy grapefruit is good for this marmalade and if the pith is very thick, simply remove it before cooking down. Pucker up!