In San Francisco we have an enviable supply of Meyer lemon, persimmon, plum, and fig trees, all of which are great for making preserves, jams, jellies, and marmalades. And for those without access to friends (or yards) with fruit bearing trees, we have a host of great farmers’ markets, including those at Alemany and the Ferry Building.
If you’re new to putting away fruit, one thing to consider is your method. For example, a preserve uses whole fruit, a jam is pureed fruit, a spread uses whole and pureed fruit, and a jelly is made from fruit juice. A marmalade is actually made from citrus and uses the fruit’s pith, juice, zest, and segments. Got that?
Even when I think about all the canning possibilities that exist, the only problem I foresee is that I have a history of making lousy jam and marmalade. Actually, my last batch of Meyer lemon marmalade tasted like Elmer’s glue. And though I had a grandma who made delicious jam from blackberries handpicked in the Sierras, regrettably, she never taught me how to can properly.
This is where William Werner of Tell Tale Preserve Company comes in. Of course he doesn’t look anything like my grandma (which would be totally weird), but he's got more jamming chops than expected from someone so non-grandma-like. His cooking résumé includes working as executive pastry chef at the Ritz in Half Moon Bay where jam – and pretty much everything else – is made in-house. And recently, he spent a year as executive pastry chef at the restaurant Quince.
Last year William left the restaurant business to begin Tell Tale Preserve Company and develop all the fixings for a classic French-style patisserie. In the meantime, he’s got a production kitchen in Dogpatch, a regular booth at the Ferry Building Farmers Market, and a pop-up shop at Big Daddy's Antiques in Potrero. (You can also find his goods at local coffee houses, and he has a plan to open a full-scale Tell Tale Preserve Company shop in San Francisco sometime this year.)
I make plans to meet William at the Tell Tale Preserve’s booth in front of the Ferry Building on a recent spring Saturday. There Tell Tale sells an assortment of pastries, including a delicate “financier,” a cake that looks like an exquisite mini nut bread loaf; savory “pop tarts” made with bacon and cheese; breakfast muffins with entire eggs cooked inside; a few lemon curds; and a Cara Cara orange-chocolate marmalade. As I wait for William, I buy (and savor) a cream puff filled with vanilla bean custard while watching passersby ooh and ah over all the lovelies behind the Tell Tale glass partition.
William shows up fresh from taking a first pass looking for produce to use in a marmalade. He enthusiastically leads me – past stands offering hot chocolate and large bins of spring tulips – toward the source of his Cara Cara marmalade, Hamada Farms’ fruit stand. They sell grapefruits as big as my head, Eureka lemons with thick gnarled skins, Meyer lemons with silky rinds, and a bin full of bright blood oranges. William insists I taste a sample of a Cara Cara – it’s so sweet and ripe, its juice runs down my chin.
This is what William does when he’s thinking about making a new preserve of some kind: he samples. He tries to consider which fruit in the market tastes freshest. He also imagines how a fruit might complement another flavor.
William thinks the mandarin oranges look the best and would work well as the citrus for our marmalade. Because the citrus needs to soak for a few days, we make a plan to reconvene at Tell Tale Preserve’s kitchen in Dogpatch on Monday when we'll embark on making a batch of mandarin orange-chocolate and whiskey marmalade.
As I enter the kitchens of Tell Tale Preserve that Monday, I’m engulfed by the scent of baked goods and surrounded by shelves packed with rows of lovely packaged sweets. At the far end of the room are freezers, refrigerators, a long stainless steel table, and a row of windows that look out toward the Bay.
William shows me the steel bowl full of sliced mandarins and water. One of his estages (word of the day: a cooking intern in the world of fine foods) has prepared the mandarins by juicing and finely slicing them, then covering them in cold water to sit for 12 hours. By the time I arrive, the mandarins have broken down and the juice has thickened.
Looking around the kitchen, I see jumbo containers of sugar, chocolate, and spices, and a huge copper caldron. I want that kettle! William also has a smaller copper pot that we use for our small batch of marmalade. He places this on his confectionary stove, an enormous, ornate burner that is a good fit for that giant copper pot I’m ogling.
We bring our mandarins to a boil on the stove and William stirs them with a comically huge wooden spoon (covet!). We pass the time as William tells me about his own history as an estage, his start as a sous chef when he focused on the more savory dishes, and how he quickly found himself drawn toward sweets. It seems it wasn’t just the taste of the delicate pastries that attracted him to desserts. He preferred, at the end of the day, to carry home the scent of vanilla, sugar, and freshly baked confections on his skin, rather than the smell of fish, grease, and smoke.
We keep the mandarin mixture going for an hour and a half and during this time William melts the chocolate, keeping it ready to mix with the marmalade when needed. He lets me try a few chocolately discs and, I have to say, this is what would make me want to be a pastry chef (this and licking the bowl).
Once the mandarin mixture is reduced, we add lemon juice and sugar, mixing and keeping track of the temperature with an electric thermometer (which seems as if it might actually detonate the mixing bowl). We wait until the mixture’s temperature rises to 219° F and do the plate test.
William pulls a plate from the freezer and puts a dollop of marmalade on it, checking for consistency. This is the step that would reveal my jam failures; my preserves are usually too runny or overcooked and too thick. William is meticulous and his marmalade actually leans without running; it “crinkles” – perfect! He adds a dose of whiskey and brings the marmalade back to boil, then removes it from the heat. It smells boozy and divine.
William has ornate jam jars lined up, already sterilized in the oven (20 minutes at 250° F). He combines the marmalade with the melted chocolate before quickly filling the jars, snapping on their lids, and ensuring the rim of the jar is clean of jam so the lids seal properly. He uses glass lids with metal clips and explains we could seal and process them by boiling, but for this batch, he’s going to steam them for 20 minutes.
When we’re done, I’m tempted to ask William if I can lick the marmalade bowl. Alas, I refrain, realizing – hell! – I actually know what I’m doing now. And I can always go home and make a batch of marmalade myself…and lick the bowl in the privacy of my own home.
If you’d like to sample some of Tell Tale Preserve’s goods, you can try market days at the Ferry Building, visit its pop-up trunk show at Big Daddy's Antiques, or look for its edibles at Four Barrel, Sightglass, or Coffee Bar.
If you’d like to learn a little more about canning, take a class offered at 18 Reasons or the Ferry Building through CUESA. For canning gear, check out Cole Hardware. See the National Home of Food Preservation website for USDA regulations. And if you’d like to make marmalade, try William Werner’s recipe: