Sabrina Valle and Jessica Quon are every bit as bubbly and quirky as you’d expect people who invented rum-infused banana jam to be. Their recipes are born out of a shared curiosity about pretty much everything, and a friendship that feeds it.
The Jam girls had spent most of 2010 traveling in South America. Like so many 20-somethings, they came back to the States, Brooklyn specifically, to face the dreaded What am I doing with my life? “We always liked to cook and do crafts together. If we found something new that we wanted to try out we would call each other, dive in together and just learn.”
Sabrina had encountered and happily eaten a lot of jam during her South American travels (who knew?), so one afternoon she suggested they give it a whirl and they handed out a few jars to friends. People loved it. “From there, it all happened very naturally. It was like, ‘Neither of us are working this afternoon, let’s make some jam!’ This fun, part-time thing. Then one day, we put something our website just saying we’d sold out of a batch and if you wanted to order some more send us a message. We got flooded.” By the spring 2011, the girls were full-time jammers.
The company has been based in experimentation and fun. They rely on traditional jamming techniques but want their recipes to be totally out there, flavor-wise. “We want to be silly, to push people to do fun things with our jam. You don’t have to just put it on toast. Put it on pancakes, ice cream, whatever! Play.”
The first flavor was born out of the difficulty of making jam in winter. With no ripe berries around, they made lemonade out of lemons – or rather, Drunken Monkey out of rum and bananas. Now, they have four signature flavors, each with a story. Razzy Gabby is named for a friend who placed a rather specific order for raspberry-jalapeno jam. Blueberry Bourbon was inspired by coffee cake that Sabrina tasted on a mother-daughter trip to San Francisco. Onion-wine jam came about when the girls made a special jar for a Brooklyn Winery event. “All the flavors happened really with us just playing around in the kitchen. A friend of mine who lives in China came to visit and brought all this tea, it was literally spilling out of my cupboards. That lead to Tea-rrific Strawberry jam.”
The actual making of jam is a bit less breezy. They describe the process as “extremely grueling.” A typical day in the Red Hook kitchen they share with La New Yorkina begins at 4:30pm and lasts until midnight, on a good day. They’re committed to process, and though working in five-pound batches isn’t the most efficient thing ever, it is the only way they can ensure quality.
Sabrina and Jessica have overcome a lot of challenges and continue to adapt as the company grows. They love doing the farmers markets, but now realize they'd rather focus on wholesale, because it allows them to spend more time on recipe development. “We just take it one step at a time. It’s extremely rewarding. We look at our jam like it's our babies. Going to a store and seeing our babies on the shelf – it’s a moment when those 18 hour days really pay off.”
maker website: thej.am