Wandering through an open-air farmers market in Texas’ Collin County, I recently chanced upon Kathy Neumuller’s Jellies, Jams & Butters booth, where she was selling bottles artisanal jams and preserves. It was a happy coincidence because she goes to different farmers markets in the Dallas area on weekends. A small jar of Meyer lemon and lime marmalade caught my eye. I love the flavor and taste of lemon. I brought one and when I spread it on a piece of bread, it tasted amazingly fresh and far less sweet than most marmalades.
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To make excellent jams and preserves, you need only a few key ingredients, including a sweetener, an acid and a good, ripe seasonal fruit, according to Rick Field and Rebecca Courchesne in their book “The Art of Preserving.”
At JJ&B, Neumuller brings together her passion for locally grown produce, homemade preserves and ingenious flavor combinations, which results in delicious products.
When cooking fruits such as strawberries and rhubarb, which are naturally low in pectin, she uses pectin. By cooking in small batches she has good control over heat levels, and fruits cook fast and retain their fresh flavor. Some of her products, such as toasted pecan-pepper jam, white Zinfandel jelly, sweet onion jam and Cabernet Sauvignon jelly are available year round. Others made with briefly available berries, figs, pears, peaches and plums are strictly seasonal offerings. Along with individual bottles, she also offers gift crates with combinations of 4-ounce jars and holiday gift baskets. JJ&B products are sold locally in Dallas at some stores and farmers markets, and through the company’s website.
Neumuller began making jams while living in California. She discovered she enjoyed creating jams and preserves from the abundance of fresh fruit that she and her children picked from local pick-your-own farms and orchards. When a career move brought her family to north Texas, she discovered the Longhorn state is also home to a wide range of indigenous fruits, including peaches, plums, pears, nectarines, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, figs and a variety of melons and citrus fruits. Most of these fruits are sold at local farmers markets, by the roadside, or at stores. She soon started making jams and preserves with this local bounty and entered her products in competitions at the Texas state fair, where she won 13 blue ribbons.
Her homemade jams were a huge hit with her friends and they coaxed her to start a small business. In 2010 she rented an old commercial kitchen and started making jams and jellies to sell at local farmers markets. The kitchen was slated for demolition, but was spared when a Dallas restaurant, La Duni, invited Neumuller to prepare its house marmalades. The restaurant’s owner, Espartaco Borga, also offered her space in La Duni’s kitchen to make her own jams.
On most evenings you find Neumuller in La Duni’s kitchen in North Park bustling around crates of fresh fruit, and chopping and blending fruits with spices and cane sugar, while batches of fragrant jams and marmalades simmer on stove tops.
She buys fruits from farmers mostly within 100 miles of Dallas with whom she has developed a relationship.
“Larken farms grow organically, and I buy much of my fruit from them,” Neumuller said. She prefers their peaches for her peaches and honey jam. For her blueberry jam and marmalade with a deep color and a rich blueberry-citrus flavor, she buys berries from Comeback Creek Farm. For fig and walnut jam and rosemary and port fig jam she sources figs from Lightsey Farm. Strawberries for her strawberry-rhubarb jam with a touch of sweet ginger come from The Berry Patch. Other flavors include mango-butter with a hint of citrus, cranberry-cherry conserve and raspberry-rhubarb jam.
Along with making jam, Neumuller holds a full-time job as a consultant. All the sourcing, cooking, bottling and selling are done by her alone, which isn’t easy.
“Sleep is optional in my life now!” Neumuller said.
So far JJ&B has remained a one-woman small business. With increased demand for her products, she hopes to expand into a commercial operation.
Top photo: Fresh ingredients and preserves from Jellies, Jams & Butters. Credit: R.V.Ramachandran