The following program originally aired at an earlier time. Enjoy.
Anne: Hi, I’m Ann Maxfield, and you’re listening to the Accidental Locavore Live we’re on WPWL Pauling Public Radio 103-7 FM or PaulingPublicRadio.org if you’d like to live stream us… If you’re a jam lover we’ve got a program today, that you’re gonna love. Welcome, Christopher Wilson of LunaGrown jam. Hi Chris.
Chris: Hi Anne thank you for the invitation, it’s great to be on with you.
Anne: Oh, well, it’s great to have you. And it was great having your jam too. They’re, beautiful, the packaging is beautiful and the jam is delicious.
Chris: Thank You.
Anne: Besides the JAM which we’ll get to in a sec, you’re also an author, and in the intro to your book, it said that you got started as a visual merchandiser. Now from my many, many years in the fashion industry, I know what a visual merchandiser, is… But people out, listening might not know. So can you tell us what a visual merchandiser is and how did you go from that to making jam?
Chris: Visual merchandising? If we go back to when I was in it, people would know that best as window displays the movie Maniquen back in the 80s. That was where I started the type of work I did and I, I started actually with the florist and we did interior design work, for malls, so we would set them up for the holidays.
From there I transferred to some of the larger department stores, flank stores, and then on to some private work, out of that. It was a lot of fun, it was a great industry at that time. And today it’s more of streamlined industry, there’s less creativity for install, I should say.
Anne: Yeah, it’s a lot of floor plans, and plan-o-grams and things like that.
Chris: The takeaway from that is it gives you a great eye if you need to market your own products. So it’s helped me a great deal to have some time in that background.
Anne: Yeah, because you’re packaging. And everything was really beautiful, one of the sad parts. Well, it’s not sad, but one of the hard parts about being on the radio is that I’m so very visual, and a lot of the stuff that I work with and a lot of the people that I have on have products that just look really good and taste really good. So it’s sort of hard, but your packaging is really beautiful, even to the shipping boxes. And the whole thing looks very well thought out. So how did you go from the visual merchandising to… Making Jams?
Chris: Well, that’s kind of a long way around. But I did visual merchandising for the most part, during the day, and in the evenings, I worked in the bar industry, I worked in a nightclub and when I left the visual field I stuck with the bar business and expanded into the restaurant business from the front end to the back end to the bartending and cooking and the whole thing that goes with the restaurant industry.
So when I, in the Hudson Valley years ago, when things started to close down your local, your local eateries, started to fade away and they did at one point, thankfully they’re coming back, but I left that industry and I said what am I gonna do with myself and, and for the fun of it I started making jam in my spare time and people started to requested it, so it turned from just a little… A spare time thing into a full-time the job into a business.
Anne: And what did you start out with “Did you just…
Chris: I started out with strawberry and blueberry jam.
Anne: And now you have… Now you have a bunch of flavors, right?
Chris: LunaGrown is seasonal, meaning each season we change, we change what we offer because you can’t, from our perspective, so I don’t wanna offer something that isn’t in season. The lucky thing with LunaGrown the Hudson Valley has some really incredible growers here, we grow what we can, but we also sourced from other farmers.
So when we are using peaches, they’re the freshest you can get. It’s not the frozen stuff that some people use in the winter, it’s fresh our strawberries, they come local, so when it’s strawberry season this is what we create and we create as much of it as possible to… But yeah, we change with each season except for… We have three that we do year-round, and that is a lemon marmalade, the fig which I sent you and a chipotle pepper.
Anne: Oh, I’ll bet that’s good.
Chris: It’s very nice. We do that year round because when we had first started and I said Okay, everything’s gonna be seasonal. I actually got some unkind emails about “why wasn’t the product available year-round”, Well, there’s a few that we’ll make you around.
Anne: So you do small batch, but how do you take advantage of say, strawberry season, which is pretty fleeting or it seemed this year was very, very fleeting.
Chris: Well, strawberry season, depending on the weather, we’ll have two harvests so we get an early harvest. And we should have a harvest in late August into September, October, depending on the plant, and depending on the weather, if we get a good crop early on, I get as much as I can, so that we can produce what is necessary and then I’ll freeze some if it’s possible, it’s not always possible. And if that means that the availability of the product on short then so be it.
I would rather have customers enjoy a higher quality product that we just happen to run out of early. You can wait till next year, you can look forward to getting that fresh again, rather than having something that’s gonna sit on a shelf or get overlooked it. I’d rather run short if that makes any sense.
Anne: Yeah, no, it makes total sense to me. It’s why I live for this time of year when you have everything fresh it. We just got our first fresh tomatoes from the farm last week ’cause they actually have a hothouse that they grow most of their tomatoes. And so we were lucky enough to have tomatoes of last week, and I was thinking on my way over here that we had to… We got as part of our CSA share, we got two pounds of tomatoes and they are gone. Except for one tomato which is gonna be gone as of tonight, who… So when I get home, I but… It makes you look forward to it, it makes you, I think it makes you treasure the taste more.
Chris: It’s interesting when you look at American markets and I found this really really interesting. When you look at the world and the way things are sold, in Japan, [for example] you can’t get the same items all the time. Where here, we go to a supermarket and it’s there all the time, the same if you wanna, it’s there for you. That’s not how it is in every country. And so in Japan, this is what you get. And when they’re out there, out and the consumers can’t wait to get the product then… So you’re building customer loyalty because they want that. It’s a really quite an amazing cultural difference.
Anne: So how did the jams become part of your life? It’s not something that I think people easily gravitate towards. How did you grow up… Did your family make jams did your mom or grandma or somebody make jams how did you… So what got you started.
Chris: Originally… My family’s from Missouri a very, very small town and we would go back home to our grandparents, of course, back then, back in the ’60s and 70s. It was the biggest thrill to go out in the garden and pick berries all day long, to pick strawberries. You’d sit on the porch with grandma, grandpa, and you clean the berries and then they would get prepared and cooked or frozen. But it was a process it was a pretty neat thing to learn as a kid.
It was magic, and then, of course, there were special ones, so my brother and I would race actually to the cupboard when we’d get to grandma grandpa’s house to pick the first jam that got opened for the summer season.
It was a big thrill.
Anne: Well yeah. This stuff is great, good jam is really, really good. I’ve always been lucky because my cousin makes jam and that’s her Christmas present every year, for everybody and she makes him pretty she makes some pretty good jam.
Oh, so we always look forward to that and I… She’ll call us in the summer and say, “Okay what do you guys really want this year? And we’re always.
Chris: And that’s such a beautiful thing that’s so wonderful that it… Because it pulls the family together, it automatically creates a memory.
Anne: It absolutely does.
Chris: So whenever you have a jar of jam, whether it’s hers or a homemade one or it’s a holiday, you’re going to remember her so it really is a wonderful gift that she’s passing on to you.
Anne: Absolutely. Well, I just have to take a quick break and say “You’re listening to the accidental Locavore live were on W-P-W-L: Pauling public radio 10.37 FM PawlingPublicRadio.org and we’re broadcasting live from the rush studios and beautiful downtown Pauling New York and today we’re talking jam with LunaGrand founder Christopher Wilson. So, how did LunaGrown come to be?
Chris: Well, LunaGrown, I have partners, and they happened to purchase land quite a bit of it. 50 acres, give or take. So anyway, they bought the land and we went to hike the bare land with the dogs, we had Luna and we had Ben and we just let the dogs run on the property, and we couldn’t find them after a while so we searched and searched for the dogs on this property, and we found Luna and Benny sitting in a group, clump of blueberries, pulling the berries off the bushess.
Come to find out, We had eight acres of wild blueberries and that’s… It is pretty much where it’s started to how it became a Luna is named after the dog. And that’s what we started at with the first product licensed product was blueberry, blueberry jam.
Anne: And the Blueberry is really good. It’s funny ’cause my dog likes blueberries. I don’t think you normally think of dogs eating blueberries but mine is always happy when I throw him one or two when I’m making breakfast.
Chris: And they’re healthy treats for the pups.
But yeah, that’s how it started. And then, of course, we just went from there at that point, we didn’t have a kitchen, so it was a home-based business for the first year, and we started to build a kitchen on the land and work the soil and build the farm…
Anne: And What are you growing now at the farm?
Chris: So right now, we have some table grapes. Because I don’t do a lot of grape jam. It just “Welche’s does a good job of that, so I let them have it.
But anyway, some grapes, we’re growing apricots, elderberries, three different varieties of currents, we have some cherries a couple of crab apples. We were still fairly young, as far as agriculture goes. Trees, take a little while, so… But that in itself, it works this way. We can continue to outsource to local growers and then helps the whole community. And it’s nice to get to know other people that are growing.
It’s really is great and it’s great for the consumer, I can say to… I mean, that’s purchasing the product. The peaches were grown at this farm, these berries came from here. And it’s really nice because they can relate to… Oh, that’s near my house. So it’s actually Served LunaGrown very well, and we’re very pleased.
Anne: What I liked a lot about the jam, I had the blueberry and the fig and I thought they were both really good and I was very surprised because they weren’t what I would consider to be too sweet. They had a lot of flavor, but it was flavor from the fruit more than flavor from fruit plus sugar.
Chris: Right when I started this, I have family members that are type two diabetes or diabetics. And the concern was, do I wanna make the standard product? Then my family can’t enjoy it so that kinda defeats the purpose. So the goal was to find a way to make a reduced sugar product. It took some time and a lot of research.
What we do we follow the FDA guidelines, which means we’re at minimum 25% less sugar than what the market standard is, and it’s actually a very interesting process. The whole sugar thing, in products, in America, the federal government, your standard jam that you’ll buy in the supermarket, that’s 55% sugar to 45% fruit that’s an amazing amount of sugar.
Even saying it, for me, blows my mind… That’s what the standard is. And that was set back in ‘1906 or something like that, and then it was changed and changed. But that is the standard in the country.
So in order for us to be a low sugar product, we changed the pectin that we use… And when we a recipe top developed, it has to be tested and then it gets tested again by New York State and it gets filed with the State AG Department, and it gets filed with the FDA so that everybody knows that this is a shelf-stable, healthy product that is what it says it is.
Anne: Yeah, I was gonna ask about that because I was wondering if when you reduce the sugar if you have to make up for it. With pectin or some pectin substitute. Since I know very little about making Jim, I’m just the lucky recipient.
Chris: Traditionally and I mean traditionally like grandparents, or if you’re a home processor and you know Jam as they make in France, traditionally pectin isn’t added. You choose fruits that have natural pectin and a lot of those fruits you don’t find so much anymore, you can do it with apples the Apple skins are high in pectin…
But pectin became normal, in jelly and Jam making just before WWI, that’s when it was accepted this way, The jams and jellies could be mass produced and they were used to take care of the troops and the allies during the war. So that was a staple in their food packs…
Anne: And speaking of the war. I’m gonna flip to your book for a second because one of the recipes I saw was for a cocktail using jam because I’m flipping right now but in feel…
Chris: The Omar Bradley is what you’re talking about, right?
Anne: Right, because he couldn’t get fruit.
Chris: So at that time were at World War II, I think was it World War I, but anyway, he was in general, and he liked Old Fashioned, that was his drink, but being out in the field, he couldn’t get orange rinds, he didn’t have oranges to muddle in his cocktail, so he would bring orange marmalade with him a and that’s how he would have his cocktail out in the field.
Anne: Well, I think that’s, I think that’s pretty ingenious.
Chris: It’s pretty smart, and it’s interesting how that all folds into a… It folds into history into our food history. Who knew?
Anne: Yeah, I was really surprised ’cause I’m in the book now that there were so many cocktails they were historic so they went back to the turn of the century or post-World War Two, they’re kind of all over the place, and I don’t think of jam is being used in cocktails, although probably these days we put everything in cocktails, the… But the… There was such a history of jam being used in cocktails.
Chris: The that began when prohibition began a… Prohibition began in America and Europeans order to use fruit in our cocktails We’re gonna use jam, we’ve got it, it’s mass-produced, we can utilize this. And that’s kind of where it all started. And then after the war, all came back to America and that was pretty neat.
It’s interesting, one of the biggest sellers for my product, we had hot days like today is not to use it in a cocktail, but I tell folks all the time if you have extra even stuff that isn’t LunaGrown on a hot day, put a tablespoon of that in your ice water because then you’re not getting your high sugar, content, you get a little bit of fiber and it tastes good.
Anne: I have to try that with the blueberry jam. Not sure, I’d like it with the fig so much but the blueberry would be good.
Chris: Yeah, I don’t know how that’d be with the fig. I think with the blueberry. It’d probably be pretty nice.
Anne: Yeah, I so do you have any… Do you have any favorite…
Chris: My favorite jams those are the ones that I’ve eaten and we’re out of right now. My favorite at present is the Raspberry because we’re just coming into processing season for Raspberry. Although I did have a strawberry yesterday that was really nice on a Cheese Pastry.
But it changes per season, so we get into the autumn and I’m really looking forward to an Apple jam, full apples, and that cinnamon and nutmeg and you get these nice, beautiful fresh apples that are Crisp. You look forward to it. And then closer to the holiday time, I get the cranberry jam with the spices and it’s just so nice on a turkey sandwich, and so the favorites change every season.
Anne: Oh, that would be really good. I like the idea of a Cranberry jam. It would be a nice change from the cranberry in a can…
Chris: Ahh, the sauce yeah.
Anne: Which I try to avoid anyway, but I usually end up making an apricot and cranberry chutney. Speaking of Apricots, do you do… You said you had trees do you do an Apricot jam… One of my own all-time favorite.
Chris: Yeah, I… We do an Apricot jam and ours actually done with orange zest, not the pure apricot is done with a little bit of orange zest and I happen to like it in the morning because it’s just that morning I wake up, it’s just very, very nice to…
Anne: And you did do some marmalades too… And maybe, tell people what the difference is between a jam and a marmalade.
Chris: And I would love to… In fact, I just did an event recently with other jammers and I could answer that question… So the difference between jam, jelly, marmalade, chutney, Jam is fruit with sugar, but it’s pulverized so you have pieces of the fruit, small pieces of the fruit suspended in the liquid, jelly is basically is just the juice. So it’s clear and it’s juics with sugar, and that’s what you get.
Marmalade is made with the rind of the fruit, so whether you’re doing a citrus Marmalade or an orange marmalade an apricot marmalade it contains the skin of the fruit. In an Apricot marmalade. It would usually be whipped… So that the skin would be pulverized in there. And they’re great because they had an additional fiber to your diet. It’s just really nice.
Preserves in reference rather than jam preserves have full chunks of fruit, So… If you get a raspberry that you’ll get that as a jam, it’ll have the seeds and the pulp. But you can’t get a raspberry preserve technically unless you can keep the raspberries kind of whole… You get fine lines, the more the description change, the more challenging the consistency.
Chutneys are often fruits with onions, and sometimes nuts, they’re not necessarily all fruit, it might be fruit and vegetable might be fruit and vegetable and nuts, it’s a whole different ball game, actually.
Anne: Alright, well, before we run out of time, ’cause we are just about out of time, tell people what the company is, where they can find it online stores and push your book a little bit.
Chris: We’re LunaGrown Jam, you can find us online at LunaGrown.com We do have a full list of retailers, in the Hudson Valley, we’re sold the Hudson Valley a couple of places in New Jersey, in a few places in Pennsylvania and most of these places are gourmet stores olive oil, butchers, Cheese shops and Wineries. So you won’t find us in a supermarket. The book at present, you can get the kindle version on Amazon and the print version directly from us at Lunagrown.com.
Anne: Well, thank you so much for being my guest today. We’ve been talking with Christopher Wilson of LunaGrown Jams and you’ve been listening to The Accidental locavore live on W-P-W L broadcasting from the US studios and 260 Main Street and beautiful downtown Pauling New York. Thank you.