The artisanal preserve maker on why the old ways are the best ways and how jam goes with everything.
On the day of our visit, June Taylor had just come from hand-picking thirty-five pounds of Meyer lemons in her friend’s backyard. If she weren't showing us around her Berkeley kitchen, she might have also picked the wild fennel she spied along the marina. The London native and maker of highly inventive artisan jams is turning a dilemma in her head. “Do I want to do Meyer lemon with lavender, geranium, rosemary, myrtle, bay, sage…” She trails off. “And that’s the headache.”
Considerations like this one have informed her 25-plus year career of making jams that strike just the right balance — savory rather than fruit-forward (read not too sweet) and sparkling with lucid flavors. In other words, her jams are like fine wines. Last fall, IfOnly Culinary Director Michael Murphy collaborated with June to create an exclusive Triptych of Small-Batch Artisanal Preserves comprised of clementine marmalades, candied citrus peel, and a fruit syrup. Curious what our favorite marmalade maker will be doing with those lemons? And how best to enjoy her small-batch creations? Hint: it’s not just on toast.
IfOnly: How would you describe your work?
June Taylor: We work by hand. We produce all of our preserves and confections in the Still Room. It’s old-fashioned, historic, and pre-dated.
IO: The Still Room is the name you’ve given to your storefront and headquarters. What’s the significance of it?
JT: A couple hundred years ago, it was a special room on the side of the kitchen and the woman of the house would have overseen it. She would have had an assistant or two and they would have distilled lotions and medicines from herbs and flowers and they would have preserved from the gardens and orchards. So our work is a nod and honor to that time and that spirit. It’s a method and a style.
IO: Why did you decide to open your own jam making company?
JT: It was a constellation of three things: [wanting to work for myself], having a baby and deciding that I would not feed him commercial food, and the belief that you couldn’t get a good marmalade anywhere anymore — here or in Britain. So, I was teaching myself marmalade making and with the encouragement of Steven from Redwood Hill Dairy, I started selling my marmalades in the market. That’s the history!
IO: Tell us about your fabulous collaborations.
JT: Recently I worked with Michael Recchiuti at The Lab to make a six-course meal. I also made a chocolate bar with the Mast Brothers using my citrus candy. And when I go to Japan, I like to work with chefs there. Yuri Nomura from Eatrip in Tokyo used multiple products to create some beautiful meals in her restaurant while I was there. I also collaborate with Michael Tilson Thomas to bring preserves to the San Francisco Orchestra as their holiday gifts each year. Collaboration is definitely the way I like to go.
IO: Do you have a personal favorite from your collection?
JT: I love marmalades. They offer deep, developed flavors that can be sweet, bitter, and sour. Their complexity intrigues me.
IO: And if you were stuck on a desert island?
JT: If I can take three preserves they would be Santa Rosa Plum Conserve, Red Cloud Apricot Conserve, and Three Fruit Marmalade.
IO: Did you go to culinary school?
JT: I was guided to go to a technical high school in the UK from the ages of 11 to 18, where I studied cookery for seven years. I was essentially trained as a cook with two years of classic French cuisine (made consommé once at the tender age of 16). It was the foundation for all of my subsequent food work: first as a baker, then preserve maker, and confectioner.
IO: How has your palate evolved over the years?
JT: I have become bolder in my use of as little sugar as we can get away with. I explore flavors from unusual sources such as pine and cypress trees and wild herbs. By pairing two fruits, two herbs, or three of each, you can learn about the interaction of different flavors. Which is dominant, which is in the background, how to create balance between them.
IO: You often use heirloom fruits. Where do you find inspiration for your unique and unusual ingredients?
JT: My dad was a very keen gardener. We grew most of our own vegetables. Not much was bought from stores. Since then my inspiration has come from reading British antiquarian preserving and confectionary books, and I have been fortunate to study books from the 1500’s onwards. I read and imagine. I discover fruits in books and then try to search them out here. For example, medlars, Reine Claude Doree plums, greengages, and damson plums.
IO: Do you have a favorite historical period that’s informed your jams?
JT: I am particularly fascinated with the Tudor era; a time when the cuisine of Britain was entering a Renaissance and sugar was beginning to make its appearance in foods.
IO: When you’re not buying from sustainable and organic farms, you often forage. Why gather ingredients this way?
JT: My model is about a time we inevitably, without thought, ate what was around us without calling it a choice. I want to embrace the fact that it’s important to eat urban food. It’s really about being observant in one’s environment, and that principle of gathering is the same perspective I take in the work.
IO: Do you have a favorite harvesting season?
JT: It has to be winter, because I love the graphic look of trees in winter and it feels closer to home in climate. Also, we make marmalades then, which are my personal favorite preserves.
IO: How do you like to enjoy your jam?
JT: I have long worked with fruit and savory herbs to encourage my customer to break out of the toast and jam mold. In Britain, we have a long tradition of putting fruit with meat, cheese, and fish, and I hope very much that I can inspire my customers to enjoy our preserves that way.
Have a gourmet tip? IfOnly’s Culinary Director Michael Murphy is always on the hunt for his next culinary luminary. Contact him at email@example.com