Slow Food Memphis held our quarterly meeting and tasting event this past Monday at Cafe Eclectic.
Lee and Juanita Jones and Paul Williams from Jones Orchard spoke about the orchard and orchard business and about all of the work that goes into producing their wonderful small batch jams, jellies and preserves.
Lee taught us what a truly difficult task it is to provide the local market with peaches throughout the season. In case you didn’t know, you have to plan your orchard so that the very short window of peach ripeness (only 3 to 5 days) is spaced out across your trees. Your ripeness window is even more important when you’re providing the market with the sweetest of tree-ripened peaches instead of picking them green and allowing them to soften, but not sweeten, off the tree.
Juanita talked about the works she puts into producing jellies, jams and preserves from the fruit grown on the orchard. Mrs. Jones gave us tips and tricks for making our own preserves. Softer fruit makes better jam. Don’t try to double jam and jelly recipes. Don’t try to cut back on the sugar. Don’t rush the process. Don’t be upset if your jelly doesn’t gel; you’ll just have a really great fresh fruit syrup for your pancakes. Believe it or not, Mrs. Jones makes all of her wonderful preserves the same way, and in the same batch quantities that you would at home. She also shared all that goes into producing some of the best plate lunches around at the orchard’s restaurant Monday through Friday.
Paul told us about the marketing and business side of the orchard. He told us about all of the planning that goes into deciding how much fruit goes to each market. While the fruit and preserves sell themselves once you taste them, the trick is getting people to make that first purchase and get that taste. This was also the first year that Jones Orchard raised strawberries. The berries produced very well and will most definitely be back next year.
Now about those tastes:
Strawberry Jam – This is a fruity, thick jam that perfectly captures the flavor of the strawberries. It’s sweet without the sugar overpowering the tangyness of the berries.
Peach Jelly – This is a clear smooth jelly that tastes like summer in your mouth. Mrs. Jones doesn’t strain all of the pulp from the juice for her jelly. That keeps it from being perfectly clear jelly, but it keeps more of the fruit flavor in the mix.
Orange Marmalade – This is the only preserve that Mrs. Jones makes with fruit that’s not grown on the orchard. This is a loose marmalade that has a really nice balance between the sweetness of the sugar and orange pulp and the bitterness of the orange peel.
Elderberry Jelly – This is the only jelly that Mrs. Jones makes from wild fruit. Elderberries aren’t cultivated, but they do grow along the fence rows. This is a pretty time-intensive jelly to produce because the berries are tiny and bitter. The juice has to be crushed out, strained and then sweetened carefully to make a very nice jelly that doesn’t lose the wild flavor of the berries.
Pepper Jelly – This is a light sweet jelly flecked with pepper flakes for a very nice kick. It’s especially good served with cream cheese as an hor d’ouerve, and Mrs. Jones also suggested serving it with chicken or pork.
Spicy Tomato Preserves – These are sweet spicy preserves that are a nice change from the lighter jellies. They’re beautifully red and would be very nice served with a cheese plate.
Cafe Eclectic provided a great meeting space as well as pots of their very excellent coffee and buttery croissants so that we wouldn’t just be licking jelly off of our fingers. Not that there’s anything wrong with jelly fingers.
Want to know more? Visit Jones Orchard on Hwy. 51 N near Millington. If you can’t get out there, you can find them at the MFM downtown every Saturday morning, at the Botanic Garden Farmer’s Market on Wednesday afternoons, and all week long at the Agricenter. If you’re just wanting a taste, Cafe Eclectic serves Jones Orchards preserves every day along with the rest of their locally-inspired menu.
We’ll keep you updated as other Slow Food tasting events come along. Not only will you meet local food producers and get to sample their wares, but you’ll also get to experience the most important part of the Slow Food organization: conviviality.