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When Jessica Koslow opened Los Angeles-based Sqirl Preserves (the name is a play on the old phrase "squirreling away") online in March of 2011, she had no idea how her products would be received. After falling in love with different methods of preserving fruits and vegetables, she had set out to systematize her recipes so other people could share in the bounty. Lucky for us, this week, the 30-year-old proprietor opened her first storefront, with a commercial kitchen for preserving as well as a classroom and retail space, in Silver Lake.
Even the healthiest obsession comes with a hefty checklist. "I'm working 27 hours a day. It doesn't end." On last week's list of things to do before the opening of the space was buying cabbage, fixtures, mats, and frames for the Employees Only sign, putting together racks, getting a quote for the outdoor awning, fixing the stove, and finishing copy for website. "Now I'm stressed out and am going to cry," she says with a smile.
Koslow's sense of humor carries through to the rest of her first business -- she even describes her packaging as silly. "I can't take myself too seriously, but I do take the product seriously." In fact, after a time spent working in shared commercial kitchens to produce her preserves, Koslow decided than in order to give her preserves the attention they needed, she needed her own space.
Koslow chose this line of work -- in the culinary industry but outside of the kitchen -- after finishing a master's degree in communications at Georgetown University. Seeking a change of pace, Koslow moved to Atlanta, where early on she had a memorable meal at Bacchanalia, a restaurant owned by James Beard Award-winning chef Annie Quatrano. She wrote a "really nerdy" letter to Quatrano, ending with "I'll do anything" if allowed to work in Quatrano's kitchen. The next day, Quatrano called Koslow into the restaurant, and hired her. Koslow dove in, doing everything from social media to charcuterie, which allowed her to absorb every aspect of the business, including practical knowledge of life in a restaurant. After two long stints working with Quatrano, Koslow came to California, fell in love with the bounty of local produce, and began charting her own path.
Despite all the kitchen work in Atlanta, Koslow decided against opening a restaurant of her own. "It takes a certain someone to put themselves out there every day, and create that kind of product every day. It's someone else." Here, Koslow has created a business for herself that offers breaks between seasons. Summer days are full of extraordinary amounts of fruit, sending the kitchen into full tilt, balanced by the season's change, which offers a much-needed break between summer and winter fruit crops. With a life based around the seasons, it allows her the opportunity to travel and explore other regions' produce, and not keep her stuck in a kitchen every night of the week.
Charting her own path paid off, and now Koslow works with artisans like LA Specialty, FarmShop, The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, Proof Bakery and Nancy Silverton's Short Order and Short Cake. They all carry her line of products, ranging from fruit preserves and conserves like apple and persimmon butters to hamburger pickles and sauerkrauts, all rotating through according to the seasons. Right now, quince and rosewater jelly is a popular seasonal find, and Blenheim apricot preserves are best sellers.
In the Sqirl shop, customers can pick up own jar of preserves, buy kraut by the pound, and kosher pickles preserved with grape leaves in brine, not vinegar: they're not shelf stable, you have to come pick them up, and store, in the fridge. There are classes offeredranging from candy to pasta making, and of course, preserving.
Now, we can all sqirrel away provisions for the season.
720 N Virgil Avenue, #4, 323-229-7618
Check the website for store hours, first preserving class starts Saturday, November 12.
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