This article was originally published on Localvore Today's The Daily Beet on February 16, 2016.
This past May, V Smiley left the sunshine and year-round growing season of the West Coast to return to her hometown of New Haven, VT to restore her family’s farmland. With her, she brought a preserves business she has been nurturing while working in restaurant kitchens and moving across country — V Smiley Preserves. Her jams and marmalades are made without sugar or pectin, their sweet flavors and viscosities derived entirely from honey, fruits, and aromatics. Grand plans are brimming for the land she has been called back to — new crops, cooking and preserving classes, and a restaurant — however, as V says, “but first, there’s jam to make.”
On a visit to the family’s farmstead last month, we met V and learned more about her plans for her business and the land.
V’s interest in jam began with a personal project of cooking her way through Rachel Saunders’ The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook. Her mission to use honey in place of sugar stemmed from her own dietary restrictions. By swapping out the sugar, she was making a jam better for her and simultaneously different from all other jams on the market. Pectin is also left out of V’s recipes; by reducing the fruit and honey more than that of typical jam making, a condensed, saturated fruit flavor is created. “I love how naked the product is,” V says of the final products.
The honey base lends a more subtle sweetness to the arrangements of fruit and aromatics V pairs for her flavors. Jams currently available include Peach Tomato Jam with Bulgarian “Carrot” Chiles and Lime, Cherry Rosehip Hibiscus Jam, and Dolgo Crabapple and Geranium Jelly — a refreshing collection of sweet and tart. As she preps for springtide, V thinks her first jam pairing will likely be rhubarb and spruce tips.
Growing the land
With plans for the farmland in the foreground — and some projects sitting farther toward the horizon — V is designing to incorporate a great deal of her business’ needs into the New Haven growing plan. First and foremost, an aromatics garden will replenish the corner parcel of the family’s property: a sandy plot just adjacent to a cemetery, which her parents farmed for selling at local markets in the 70’s. First plantings include hyssop, lavender, geranium, and lemon basil.
As we walked through the fields, bereft of January snow cover, V pointed out elements of the property’s undulating vista — hickory trees; a smattering of pear and apple trees, remnant of a previous orchard — and explained how the fields are ablaze with goldenrod in warmer seasons. The flowering plants would be a welcome food source for a bee colony raised on site, and the space is large enough to house a restaurant, production space, berry bushes, and planting fields.
V’s first ever job was at a strawberry farm down the road, and she continues to build relationships with local growers to source ingredients for her preserves. Neighboring farmer Omar Fugaro (who also supplies Vergennes Laundry with his berries and fruits) provides V with multiple varieties of gooseberries grown along a ridge adjacent to her property. From other nearby farms, she is also able to acquire elderberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, plums, and hedgerow apples. Although it takes a sizeable volume of fruits to simmer down to jam, one benefit of her product is oftentimes fruits that aren’t suitable for eating raw reduce to a delightful jam — produce that farmers have less use for now find purpose in V’s kitchen. One fruit she is set upon sourcing this year that can prove elusive in Vermont? Quince.
Currently, V Smiley Preserves can be purchased online, at Tandem in Bristol, and Healthy Living in South Burlington.