Why is this interesting? - The Marmalade Edition 

On taste, nuance, and reflections on a culinary career

Colin here. A byproduct of quarantine has been the appreciation of things we once took for granted. One of the last, safe, meals that Noah and I shared with our friend Nick P. was in a bustling Odeon over Steak Frites with a bountiful bugle of fries. It was everything you want out of a place like that. That meal, which Noah and I have shared many times over at bistros (many owned by Keith McNally), feels like a memory frozen in amber. 

As people have been locked down, thankfully there have been some ways to satiate our desire for hospitality.  Lots of high-end restaurants have been innovating on their ability to serve up a delicious meal for pick up. People have been re-creating their favorite recipes at home, making a lot of sourdough, and generally diving deeper into culinary worlds as a way to pass the time. Self-education is a big part of it: opening doors to appreciate the depth and nuance of things you might not have noticed before. This recently happened to me with jam. 

Last week, the LA Times wrote a wonderful piece about June Taylor, who has run a much-loved business, The Still Room in Berkeley, for 30 years. She has made cult favorite jams and preserves which are so loved that after announcing the shop will be closing there was a run on her delicious products with one patron reportedly racked up a $1500 dollar order in one swoop. 

Why is this interesting? 

I hadn’t ever thought much about jam—other than my mom likes it on her toast, owing to English heritage. But, like other areas of culinary innovation, there’s a lot there to unpack. And turns out these preserves can be incredibly refined and deep, not unlike a bottle of wine. Taylor explains to the LAT

...marmalades are exciting preserves. They’re very complex. To make a conserve, you take some fruit, sugar, lemon juice [and] cook it. But marmalade is very nuanced, you’ve other elements in it. You’ve got bitterness, which we don’t embrace very much in cooking; we’ve got sour, we’ve got sweet, we’ve got acid. It’s far more complex than any conserve. And there’s a lot of technical skill in putting it together. Cutting and segmenting, balancing flavors: water and acid and sugar and bitterness. When you can get all those in alignment, a few times a year if you’re really lucky, it’s beautiful.

This is the type of food section piece that would be easy to flip past or open a new tab. But my interest and attention were rewarded. I never thought a jam story could be riveting. The author (with the help of Taylor) writes about preserves and the like with the nuance of someone describing a meal at Noma or Jiro. Also, it is a meditation on craft, time, and mastery that comes with reflecting on the end of a career and the closing of her store. The writer, Lucas Kwan Peterson, reflects on the taste

The sensations of sweet and tangy hit the tongue almost simultaneously and have nearly dissolved away before the sour notes kick in, along with a registering of the texture: syrupy, not gloppy or jelly-like. Finally, there’s the perfect, meaty bit of rind, neither too tough nor too wispy, with a firm but yielding bite and hint of bitterness.Taylor is a preserves whisperer, coaxing nuance and depth of flavor from fruit, like a good sports coach might work with an athlete. 

I was also struck by the fact that she dedicated a culinary career to the humble jam, and hearing her speak about integrity and craft when applied to her realm was an unexpected bright spot in an intense time. May her future endeavors be as fruitful. (I couldn’t resist.) (CJN)

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Partner post: Brightland x WITI

New year, new resolutions. And one of ours is to re-evaluate the building blocks of our kitchen. One of the best things we’ve switched to last year has been our olive oil. We’re fans of Brightland, a new consumer brand that feels soulful has a clear aesthetic vision and tastes really good. This product is designed to be front and center in your kitchen and with your cooking, a far cry from that dusty green bottle in the back of your cabinet. Brightland is grown in California on family farms, and also fits nearly every lifestyle: vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, Keto, Paleo, Atkins, and Mediterranean. We are partial to their OG products, Awake and Alive (bought as a duo, of course), but for gourmands, we’d recommend the essential capsule which includes their new champagne vinegar and balsamic vinegar. Your kitchen and cooking will thank you. Brightland offers subscriptions to all of their products, and are kindly offering WITI readers a code for $10 off the Essential Capsule or DUO: WITI10. 

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).