"The process of making by hand is important," Laura O'Brien says. And she puts her money—and time and energy—where her mouth is. O'Brien's jams and preserves for her company, Josephine's Feast, are "all hand made," cooked in copper pots using fruit that was chopped by hand and, in many cases, from fruit that she picked by hand. In addition, she makes her own pectin using apples from a 100-year-old tree on her Southampton property.
"Commercial pectin is very stable," she says, "but apple pectin has a better consistency." She describes her jam as "soft and wiggly," all the better for piling on toast or stirring into yogurt. Plus, with a shelf life of two and half years, jam made with apple pectin hardly calls for much of a sacrifice in the stability department.
One of her more unusual offerings is her Ginger-Spiced Carrot Jam With Drunken Raisins, which O'Brien developed when faced with a bounty of carrots one fall. Drawing on the research skills she honed as a product developer, she hit the library and read up on Victorian-era recipes. Since social conventions prevented ladies from drinking in the afternoon, O'Brien says, those who were looking for "a little relaxation" turned to sweets like rum raisins. She describes her own version as "more of a relish" that makes a fine addition to a cheese plate, though it's also delicious in a chicken salad or on salmon. The alcohol burns off during the canning process, but the rum flavor remains.
Her other seasonal preserves like apple butter, strawberry-rhubarb jam, and damson plum conserve use fruit from Long Island farmers or foragers, as with her wild concord grape jelly. Marmalade is the only product in which she doesn't use local fruit. Instead, she buys the citrus from family farms in California. "I work very much in season," O'Brien says, adding that it's rare that she would freeze fruit to use later because of concerns about the texture of the finished product.
So that means working hard to preserve whatever's ripe. Of the 60 or so varieties that she produces annually, O'Brien keeps about 20 in stock at any time, making several hundred jars a week of a few different kinds. While she sells some through her online shop, some production runs are small enough that they're only available at her local farmers' market.
To see the latest offerings or to check out her very popular spice rubs, visit JosephinesFeast.com.