Be my Valentine: No.98

Good morning all. I'm so excited to share this feature with you..... it involves one of my favourite people right now! Ever since I was given two jars of jam from No.98's Handmade Couture Preserves to review, I've been like a woman possessed. I've told everyone I know, tweeted and shouted from the roof tops that I am in love with this jam. One thing I haven't done is share but I'm expecting you to be better behaved than me.

My next suggestion for Valentine's involves one of my favourite treats: breakfast in bed. Slather these distinctive spreads over freshly baked croissants, dollop in porridge or simply do as I've done the last week or so and just grab a spoonful. What's more No.98 have waited for YOU, the playful member,s to announce their limited edition spreads: Bergamot and lime marmalade, Lemon and Strega Marmalade and Seville and Ginger. Nothing says I love you more than food. I'm just sayin'

I caught up with the Goddess of Jam that is Rebecca from No.98 to find out all about her, the wonderful world of seasonal goodies and to get some more ideas for jammy Valentine's goodness.

Tell us a little about you and your products.
I’m Rebecca and I’m a little bit obsessed with putting things in jars! A few years ago as I was finishing up my PHD I realised that I couldn’t get an academic job, and was spending a lot of time in the kitchen. The more I played and experimented with flavour, the more obsessed I became, and then one day my boyfriend casually suggested that I do it as a business. I did a couple of test markets and got great feedback, so off I went, registered my kitchen, and launched the business. Now I balance making my preserves and a part-time job in a local deli. Up until this week I was still only working with one preserving pan! I have about 15 flavours at the moment, but am already working on new ones for this year, which I find really exciting.

What makes your jams so special?
The aim of the business is to produce a very high-end couture product. It’s not mass produced, it’s made with real care with British or organic produce, only what’s in season and with a real attention to complex flavour construction. People laugh at me, but I think jam (and chutney) should be like a good wine, it should have a really complex flavour with distinct notes in it. If you buy something that claims to have several components, like my plum and rosemary jam, I think you should get a clear balance of them. Also, many of my products are designed to age like wines and get better. If you buy my Seville and Whiskey Marmalade now it’ll be good, but leave it six to twelve months and it’ll be really amazing!

Also, if you buy something from me, it’s all been done by me, from chopping the fruit to labeling the jars and standing behind the market stall and selling it. I think that has real appeal for customers: they can stand and talk to the person who is so passionate about what their doing at every stage of the way. Of course I want to expand, but I always want to be the person in the kitchen and talking to the customer. I never want to be a detatched CEO sitting in an office.

How do you decide new ranges?
I decide new flavours in a number of ways as I find inspiration from so many sources, and often that sparks an idea and then it’s into the kitchen to start one of numerous test batches. For example, I had a dessert in a restaurant in Italy last year, which has lead to the development of one of my new jams due this summer. Sometimes a customer asks for something I don’t have, and if I like the idea and think I can do it well enough within the ethos of British produce and complex depth of flavour I’ll give it a go. When I first started lots of people asked if I had a strawberry jam. Now, everyone does a strawberry jam, and I’m not a huge fan, but a few weeks later I was having a glass of Pimms with friends and thought, 'now this would be a good idea for a preserve', and so my Strawberry Summer Cocktail jam was born! [side note from Ms Playful: this is made of win]



The underlying aspect though is whether I think it’s good enough to qualify as a truly impressive flavoursome preserve. If I can’t make it to my own high standard then I won’t sell it. And you certainly do get duff batches, which is why my under-stairs cupboard is filled with jars of test products that we have to eat year after year!


Challenge: Name 5 uses for Jam....
Only five! Well, I have to be obvious as say on toast, because frankly for me nothing beats and amazing piece of bread toasted and slathered with jam. A nice chewy sourdough with a strong flavour and crisp crust is hard to beat. But I find so many uses for jam. Rich fruit jams such as plum, blackcurrant and blackberry are great stirred into meat juices to make gravy, they give it a richness and lovely sheen. I sometimes heat my apricot and vanilla jam and pour it over vanilla ice cream, a real treat! My lemon and rosemary marmalade cake has become a bit of a favourite at the deli, and is a great way to use up the dregs of all those marmalades sitting in the fridge. Recently a customer emailed to say she’s been using my pear, ginger and brandy jam to glaze her parsnips as they roast- what a wonderful idea! Oh, and if I can sneak in a sixth? If you make American-style pancakes for brunch I love layering them with a slather of jam between them, or heating the jam and pouring it over the top with some maple syrup. Delish.

Describe YOUR perfect Valentine’s date.
I have to say that I think my perfect date is probably what we do each year; I cook, usually putting a bit more effort in that a normal night, and we enjoy an indulgent homemade dessert, maybe Tiramisu (his favourite) open a really posh bottle of wine and curl up with Casablanca. If the 14th happens to fall on a weekend I always do brunch in bed, with a bottle of fizz. There is something very delightful (and playful!) about having a glass of booze before “lunchtime” and having a really smart breakfast in bed. I might even go the extra mile and make jam-filled Danish!

What was the best Valentine’s gift you were ever given?
I received my best gift last year. I was at home, but the boyfriend was working. I got up late and came downstairs to find a sealed envelope containing a love letter left on my desk. It was so beautiful. It still makes me tearful, it was so perfect and touching. I guard that letter very very safely indeed.
 
Anything else?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past year or so it’s to be serious and yet not take yourself too seriously. I love what I do and am passionate about it, but I used to be such a worrier, I’d stress over the things I had no control over, as well as many of the things I didn’t. The past year has been a whirlwind of hard work, and it taught me that there really isn’t time to sweat it. If you want something, make it happen, because you really can, and you should certainly have a laugh about it along the way. That batch of jam that refused to set? Call it sauce, file under “learning-curve”, chuck it under the stairs and stop dwelling on it! 


To order wonderful jams, marmalades and chutneys, please visit www.no98.co.uk or you can order direct by emailing infoATno98DOTcoDOTuk. Be sure to check out Rebecca's highly popular blog where you can win some new flavours and keep up to date with her on twitter, NO98limited.