For Bonnie Shershow, founder and namesake of Bonnie’s Jams, jam is comfort. One of her earliest memories is helping her mother with the yearly process of making preserves. Her Southern California childhood home was surrounded by acres upon acres of citrus trees, berry bushes and other produce, including the more obscure – macadamia nuts, loquats and kadota figs. She would help her mother gather the ripe fruits and carefully tend the stove (even if that meant standing on a stool). The jams would last the family until the next harvest.
Born with innate wanderlust, Bonnie wasn’t the type to stick around home. Traveling to small hillside towns in France, she followed the scent of fresh raspberries where she found a gathering of women stirring large copper pots of confiture. In Shanghai, she learned of a transplant from the Netherlands who supplied a neighborhood with sunny bright apricot orange jam. While hiking through Cuzco, Peru, she tasted a fruit jam that was such a mystery to her that to this day, she doesn’t know all of the ingredients, but it blew her mind. Everywhere she went, she would discover how other people and cultures preserve fruit.
For a long while, when she moved to chilly Boston, jam-making remained a hobby which connected her to sunnier California days. She had a successful career in public policy, nonprofit and political work... jam was sweet relief after tough work days.
But then she went through a bad breakup, and as was her custom, she turned to the stove. But in her distracted cooking spree, she soon found far more jars on her hands than she could ever possibly eat herself. On a trip to a local Cambridge cheese shop, she brought along some extra jars. The cheesemonger got a taste, and he immediately offered to sell them.
For nine years, Shershow managed to keep the scale small so that one-day-per-week production was enough. But you can't keep something so tasty a secret for long. “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.” Fast forward a decade and Bonnie is still making jam just as she learned in her childhood: with local, in-season fruits, and sans pectin. But production has moved to a Boston commissary where jams are made in 500-pound batches. Bonnie’s Jams has now spread its wings, turning up on scones and sandwiches everywhere from New York to Norway. It’s been quite a journey for the jams – and for Bonnie.