From Tree to Fruit to Jar
The Story of Erickson Ranch Jams
Blenheim Apricot, Amaretto Cherry, Cal Red Peach, Bartlett Pear… These are just a few of Erickson Ranch jams. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would be telling my story about jam making.
I was raised in a military family; and having the privilege of traveling and experiencing a lifetime of adventures, it didn’t include the making of jams and jellies.
Many years ago, before I married my farmer husband, I met his mother Rosie. She was a born and raised a farming woman, who taught me the art of “putting up,” “canning,” or “preserving” the fresh produce her son, my future husband grew.
Memories began as I was attending nursing school at the local Community College. The Bartlett pears were ripening and the harvest was in full swing. Did I have time to prepare or have any idea how to “put up” pears? Of course not, but for some strange reason, I felt drawn to preserve this lovely fruit. The window of opportunity was short to work with the perfectly ripe Bartlett pears. My introduction to the art of eventually preserving homemade jam began with the Bartlett pear. It was a hot summer day and under the direction of Rosie, in her ranch kitchen during summer break from nursing school, we created the beauty that was a perfectly sealed quart jar of pears.
It was a must that “no hands touched those pears” until Rosie had the pick of the crop for “canning.” She demanded the best and most perfect pears to be “put up,” in light syrup preserving the delicate flavor of Bartlett. I can tell you she got the best and only the best. Now that I’m making jams, I understand what Rosie meant when she said, “The best fruit in makes the best fruit out.”
The process was quite an undertaking as we sorted, washed, cut, peeled, and processed the pears. Of course, throughout the entire process, we visited. In my opinion, there is no better way to connect with family than through the kitchen. The process of taking fresh fruit from our fields, often on the hottest day of the season, and creating a lovely preserved fruit that same day is certainly a family affair. There is absolutely nothing more satisfying than the sound of the “pop” as the jar seals, ensuring the completion of the many-stepped canning process. No matter how hot it is, or how much I just didn’t feel like canning that day, all that pessimism fades when all the hard work created the sealed jars full of delectable fruit!
As the years passed and I felt I had mastered the art of canning whole fruit, I began to make jam from our perfectly ripened fruit. We were often asked if we would sell our jam. It certainly sounded like a great idea to us as we loved our jams. Everyone we gave a jar to feel the same way, so why wouldn’t the public love our jam? In theory, it made sense, but the reality of the undertaking was another story. It wasn’t quite that simple. The idea of a value-added product, such as an Erickson Ranch Jam was very appealing; but, I had absolutely no idea what was involved, or how in the world to even begin the process. I started with questions to Diane Metz, jam maker extraordinaire and Master Food Preserver at our local Solano County Agricultural office. According to her, I was heading in the right direction and her encouragement was absolutely invaluable, as I then knew my foundation was strong.
The next step was to become familiar with the Solano County Environmental Resource Department. They gave me the information and directions, to meet the requirements for a safe food product to be sold to the public. In the beginning, I was at a loss as to what to even ask, so I simply walked up to the fifth floor, signed in, and asked to speak to someone about what’s involved in making jam for public consumption. Throughout the learning process, two very important requirements came to the forefront. First was to find a commercial kitchen for the preparation of the jam. And, the second was to obtain a Processed Food Registration Certificate, through the state of California Department of Public Health Food and Drug Branch. I once again had no idea where to start, so I started calling churches, schools, restaurants, and community centers for the use of their kitchens. After many “no answers,” I got the okay from the Joseph Nelson Community Center in Suisun, California. Secondly, I completed the forms and paid the fees through the State of California, to obtain my Processed Food Certificate. We were off and running! We process our jams at Ironwood American Bistro operated by Chef Megan Smith in Suisun, California. That would replace Joseph Nelson.
As we traveled the bumpy road from novices to experts, we learned that not all fruit lends itself to making the perfect jam. Each recipe is specific and requires just the right amount of fruit, sugar, and pectin to coax the perfect flavor from each variety. Through trial and error, we have settled on which fruit makes the best jam and jellies. We are happy to say that we put absolutely no preservatives in our jams and jellies. Lemon juice helps preserve the color in some of the varieties that are lighter in color, such as the peach. With the exception of the Amaretto Cherry Jam and the Apple Butter, which have a variety of ingredients, most of our jams and jellies are made from only fruit, sugar, and pectin.
We knew we had the fruit, but we needed to learn where to purchase jars, lids, and pectin in bulk. We began buying small quantities of jars and lids, but that quickly grew into ordering pallets. Determining which pectin to use for different fruit was quite a learning process, with a few learning by your mistakes moments, along the way. Once we had the jars and lids, we realized we needed to create a label. Homemade, computer-generated labels were created, which included our logo and the list of ingredients. As time progressed, we realized we needed a more professional looking label and thanks to a terrific graphic artist named Lyla Diaz, we have our current label.
Our tastes in jams have a tendency to lean more on the tart side and less on the sweet side. We are fortunate that we raise 99 percent of our fruit; and can, therefore, harvest it at peak ripeness, ensuring the sweetest natural flavor. With the natural sweetness from Mother Nature, we can use less sugar, allowing the natural flavor of the fruit to present itself in the jam.
Taste and smell are by far the senses that bring those memories to the forefront. As a jar of Erickson Ranch Jam is opened, the aroma entices your taste buds. It reminds me of those hot summer days when I wondered why in the world I was spending my day “putting up” those darn pears, years ago.
We’ve learned that, as with wine, olive oil, or biscotti, tasting makes all the difference in whether folks will like our jam. Many varieties of jam are made, and it can be a bit overwhelming as one stares at all the choices on the jam shelf at the grocery stores. Due to the COVID concern, we have not been able to attend most jam tasting events. The events were an opportunity and an amazing way for us to connect to our customers, both returning and those that were new. Our hope is to return to all our events. Visit our online store to order our jams
We love to hear the comments as people taste our jams, and it brings us great satisfaction when they say such things as, “That tastes just like my grandma used to make,” and “That tastes exactly like a ripe pear or peach,” or “Once I opened the jar, I ate the entire thing.”
Our jams are for sale not only online but as well at Green Valley Floral in Suisun Valley WWW.greenvalleyfloral.net, The Filling Station in Suisun Valley WWW.suisunvalleyfillingstation.com, Cal Yee in Suisun Valley www.calyeefarm.com. Dianna’s Bakery in Benicia www.diannasbakerycafedeli.com, Mangels Vineyards in Suisun Valley www.mangelsvineyards.com, Farmers Closet in Fairfield and Winters, Ca www.farmerscloset.com, Encinal Market in Alameda, Ca, and Sweet Peas Boutique in Vacaville www.sweetpeaspet.com.