The ladies at Blue Chair Fruit Company are experts when it comes to berries, stone fruits and sugar (think tomato and white nectarine jam, or orange-kumquat marmalade with saffron and cardamom). Long before canning caught on with the farmer’s market crowd, Rachel Saunders was busy trying out every jam-making technique she could find. Ten years later, she’d perfected her craft — and Blue Chair Fruit was born. Today, their tiny staff hand-preserves over 1,000 jars of jam per week in old-fashioned French copper kettles. We talked with Rachel about the difference between apriums and pluots, and why Oakland is the perfect place for artisanal foods.
What’s the story behind Blue Chair Fruit — how did the folks at Blue Chair end up working in Oakland?
I started Blue Chair Fruit after nearly ten years of research on jam and marmalade-making techniques. A New York state native, I moved to San Francisco after college and immediately immersed myself in the world of fruit and preserving. I chose Oakland as the location for BCF because it is a welcoming community where people really appreciate artisanal food. Oakland is more down-to-earth and genuine than SF can be — and it’s an artisanal food hub!
What is the process that goes into making the preserves — does it all happen here in Oakland?
Yes, BCF’s preserves are 100% hand-made in Oakland! And we purchase almost exclusively from local, sustainable farms.
Are there particular fruits that are extremely hard to work with?
Some fruits cook more easily than others and some are time-consuming to prep. One example of a fruit that takes a lot of time to prep is kumquat. Cherry is another.
There are some fruits listed on your preserves that some folks may have never heard of. So, for those of us that aren’t super foodies — what is an aprium and how is it different from a pluot?
We see ourselves as a link between farmers and the public in the sense that we are showing the public these new varieties and how to enjoy them! Apriums and pluots are both apricot-plum hybrids, but apriums are 25% plum and 75% apricot, whereas pluots are the reverse. We also use other hybrids like peacotums, which are peach-plum-apricot crosses. Some of these varieties are really fantastic!
Do you have a staff favorite of the Blue Chair Fruit preserves?
No, we each have our favorites. Right now, I would say one of our favorites is the Provencale Tomato & White Nectarine Jam. Today, we’re cooking off a peach-plum jam which is going to be really delicious!
What’s your idea of a perfect day in the East Bay? What would you do, see, eat, hear?
Oh wow — it would definitely include Oaktown Spice Shop and the Paramount Theatre. Our sous-chef, Jo, loves Commis. And the cocktails at Flora. Also, probably a visit to Joaquin Miller Park or the Berkeley Marina. The weather would be one of those perfect Oakland days — 70 and sunny.
Who else is doing awesome work in Oakland — any other chefs or artisans who deserve a shout-out?
Rico has done so much with the menu at Flora. And Oaktown Spice has really top-notch spices. Jo loves what James does at Commis and Hawker Fare. And we’re excited to see what Chris Lee does next. There are so many great things here!