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Bonnie's Jams

Owning and running Bonnie’s Jams is a second career for Bonnie Shershow. However, rather than a 180, the switch from a desk job to a life of fruit and jam was more of a 360, back to childhood. “I grew up in Southern California in a house in the middle of an orange grove. I would just pick fruit from our trees and eat it right then. I took it for granted that fruit always had this wonderful taste. My mother made jam and would use it with lots of our meals, sweet and savory both. When I moved to the east coast, I realized how unique my upbringing had been, and how rare great fresh fruit is. When I make jam, I try to get back that flavor that I grew up with.” 

Bonnie steers clear of pectin so the depth and sweetness of stone fruits and berries can truly sing. “What the sun does, as fruits ripen on the tree, is increase the sugar content. With jam-making, a little sugar and a little lemon juice does that same thing.” Not only can pectin mask the flavor of the fruit itself, it also can cause the jam to gel faster, hence jams made with it retain a higher water content than jams made without. Jams made without pectin also require a longer cooking time and more stirring (to prevent burn). But Bonnie is zen about the stirring. “You have to stop, enjoy the moment, and enjoy the colors as they change in the pot.” 

For a long time, jam-making was a therapeutic hobby of sorts for use as a solitary, meditative, calming thing to do at the end of a long day of work. Then, about 13 years ago, Bonnie began making it commercially for a Boston cheese shop, Formaggio Kitchen. For nine years, Shershow managed to keep the scale small so that one-day-per-week production was enough. “I started selling the jams at Zabars and got more attention. Then, we got mentioned in the New York Times and Food & Wine. I enjoyed making the jams, and I actually enjoyed the business side, too. It was really fun learning a whole new industry. I enjoy the jams beyond simply making them; I like the packaging, I like selling them, I love the relationships with people who buy and sell them.”

Her flavors are inspired not only by memories of her mothers’ creative concoctions, but also by her extensive travels – a year in Italy, a month in the South of France, and lately, a lot of time spent visiting her son who lives in Shanghai. “In Europe especially, I noticed that they used jam and fruit more in food & cooking than I’d ever seen before. And a lot of my jams are made with the idea of pairing them with food, and cheese specifically, from my time at the cheese shop.” 

In 2009, realizing that the demand was there, she decided to grow. Now, she rents space in a commercial kitchen in Boston, Massachusetts, where she’s trained a crew of workers to make her jams. She is present every step of the way, tasting and tweaking. “I make the jam in batches of about 500 lbs at a time, which takes about two hours. I still stand there and taste each batch, because each crop of fruit is a little different.” 

A true jam-vangelist, she also hopes that people come to see jam as more than just a toast-topper. “Jam is really good with cheese, and the peach and apricot jams make great glazes for chicken or fish. A little bit of jam in rice or salad dressings to just give it a little hint of fruit & sweetness is lovely.” 

Maker website: bonniesjams.com

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