The kitchen was always the center where everything else revolved for V Smiley. Born to two 1970s back-to-the-landers, her earliest memories are of them diligently tending what was affectionately called the Lil To Do Smiley family farm in New Haven, Vermont. Mom milked cows and made yogurt on the kitchen stove. Dad fixed fences and turned grassland to hay. Her childhood was filled with old school mandatory chores of mulching, weeding, wood-hauling and storing hay. Labor came first, then play. And though she didn’t like it or perhaps realize it at the time, she was learning to have absolute comfort in the kitchen and developing a deep, life-long appreciation for food.
She flew the coup once she was old enough, but didn’t stray far from the food world. From the backcountry of Vermont, she landed in Los Angeles and slowly worked her way up the West Coast for nine years, working for chefs such as Seattle’s Renee Erickson and Matt Dillon. In a restaurant kitchen, she soon realized that it was too easy to get “caught up in doing the right thing,” the acceptable way to do each thing. For professionals, refined white sugar was the gold standard of traditional technique. But V didn’t buy it. Instead, she bought honey.
Wherever she went, she spread her belief that honey was a far superior sweetener for flavor and for health. Outside of those bustling professional kitchens, V learned the practice of making fruit preserves through Rachel Saunder’s The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, and adapted the recipes to incorporate her favorite sweetener. The patient and slow-moving process of preservation was a welcome respite from work.
When the Lil To Do Farm called her home, she found a changed landscape. Her father had passed away. The pasture had filled with honeysuckle, and the fruit trees were overgrown. With the help of her mother and partner, she took on the task of restoring the farm to full working order. As the family brought currants, elderberries, apples, rhubarb, gooseberries, raspberries and tomatoes back to the land, V captured the fruits of the earth in her jars, always using honey. The preserves are unlike any we’ve ever had, rich and sticky and v delicious. We’re convinced that honey is the only way jam should be made.
With just as much vigor as her parents, if not more, she, too, came back to the land.