It started with jalepeño jam and grew into a collection of spreadable California fruit. Dafna Kory, founder of INNA Jam, talks about how she started making jam, where she sees INNA going, and what it means to be part of local food culture.
Eliza Mills: How did INNA Jam get started?
Dafna Kory: It all started with jalepeño jam. I'd never really eaten a lot of jam, or made jam, but I went to my friend's house for Thanksgiving and they were serving these appetizers with crackers, cream cheese, and jalepeño jam. I'd never tasted it before. Living in San Francisco, there are a lot of great food stores and specialty stores, but I couldn't really find it anywhere, so eventually I started making it myself. I made six jars, because you don't really need that much jam in your life, so I kept a jar and I gave the rest to my friends and neighbors ... they loved it, and they asked me to make more, and it sort of grew from there.
EM: How did you perfect the jam-making process?
DK: I start with what I think the recipe will be, from my experience, or my imagination, and I make a very small batch, using just a pound of fruit. I make that batch, and I taste it, and I make whatever adjustments I want. When you're making jam it's really about a balance between tart and sweet, and maintaining the integrity of the fruit. I started INNA as a hobby, and I'd make jam on the weekends, or at night, and it kind of grew by itself pretty organically. There was a big crash in the economy, and the place where I worked shut down, so I had a lot of free time on my hands, and I moved from San Francisco to the East Bay, which has a lot more yards, which means there are a lot of fruit trees. I started working with the fruit in my neighbors yards. More people were asking for jam, both my friends and stores, and INNA just kind of happened.
EM: You say you used fruit from your neighbor's yards, and since growing, INNA has stayed committed to using fruit from within 100 miles of your kitchen. What inspires your flavors, in terms of locality?
DK: All the jams that I make are single-varietal jams, I'm working with varieties that I think have very deep flavor, very complex flavor, have good acidity, can stand up to the jam process, and I just try to preserve it as simply as possible, to maintain the integrity and the nuances of those varietals. That's the thing that I'm really interested in, and it definitely developed when I was working with neighborhood foraged fruit, because I found that there are so many microclimates...a lemon tree on the south side of a house will yield different flavors then a lemon tree on the north side of a different house. I became very interested in trying to preserve those variations and trying to translate that into the jam.
When I was doing foraged jams, I would name the jams after where I was getting the fruit, so I had 1st St. Meyer Lemon, San Pablo Avenue Lemon, and so on. When I started to work with farmers, I began to work more with known varietals, since they really know what they're growing. In terms of staying local, the produce is fresher, it travels less distance, and I'm able to maintain better relationships with the farms. I'm interested in supporting my local economy, and I'm interested in climate, so I know the climate that I have here is not going to be super different from the climate at the farms. So I know what's going on in terms of temperatures, and rainfall, and how that effects the fruit.
EM: Have you had any especially unique jams?
DK: I don't know if any one fruit is more interesting than another. Things like kiwi is something that you don't usually see in a jam, but it's such an amazing fruit. A kiwi is related to the grape, it's from the same family, and when you see them grow, you see it immediately, they grow on vines, they grow in clusters, and once you realize that they're related the similarities are really obvious. Just like any fruit I work with I'm really curious about how it came to be, through breeding or moving around the planet. Kiwis are originally from China. Every fruit has its own personality, and requires different kinds of handling and cooking. Right now we're working with pluots, raspberries, and spicy peppers, and they're all interesting and challenging in different ways.
EM: What are some of your favorite ways to use jam in recipes or with other foods?
DK: I really like jam in yogurt. I think it's really nice for sweeter jams, like our apricot jam, or blackberry jam. I think that spicy pepper jams are nice with anything that has fat or protein, like cream cheese, meat, or cheese. It's a really good sandwich condiment.
EM: How has INNA Jam evolved? Where do you see things going?
DK: We take that ultra fresh fruit, and we treat it as gently as possible, and we make what I think is really great jam. Once it's in the jars, it can really go anywhere, and we're in stores across the country, and even abroad. There are a lot of people who are from California or have been to California and love pluots, can't get them anywhere else. It's a greeting from our region to wherever our jams end up. We're definitely working on making our jams better every year, and what I'd love is to have year round production. Right now we're seasonal, May to December, when we can get the fruit that we're working with. I'd like to keep the crew employed and provide more steady jobs. We have a kitchen now, so we can continue to work year round, working with fruit produced in what was previously our off season, so citrus, more kiwis, and stuff like that.
EM: What do you think your responsibility is to your community to be a local, sustainable company, in terms of your ingredients and your business?
DK: A business is a very complex creature, and in order to do our best every facet has to be done to its best potential. That means sourcing organic produce, so that has a positive effect on our environment, and our soil. It means keeping production local to my region so that there are more jobs and more income in our economy. It means making really delicious jam, not cutting any corners, not skipping any steps, only working with the freshest ingredients, only working with quality fruit. It's everything ... I don't know if I would call it responsibility, but I would like to do this as well as possible.