Left: A jar of thimbleberry jam made by our neighbor Scott Hannula across the lake in Rabbit Bay. The berries were picked by Scott’s nephew, Craig, in the woods behind his camp somewhere between Rabbit Bay and Dreamland. (We think–he wouldn’t tell!). The jam itself was prepared in about twenty minutes using a pot of boiling water to sterilize the jar and a slurry of berries and sugar which was heated, poured, and then capped. The results are simple and tasty.

Right: A jar of concord grape jam made by chef Kelly Geary of Sweet Deliverance in Brooklyn. Similar direction. Also simple and tasty. But this jar, notably, is award winning.

And not from her grandmother. 

In 2012 Kelly’s jam received a Good Food Award from a panel of judges including Alice Waters and Ruth Reichl on the merits of it being “tasty”, “authentic” and “responsible”. The awards program attempted to be "realistic and inclusive of food and drink producers who have demonstrated a commitment to be part of building a tasty, authentic and responsible food system, going far above and beyond the status quo […] rooted in a belief that by being inclusive, our American food system will more closely embody the principles of tasty, authentic and responsible more quickly.“ 

We mention this because it is, well, pretty cool, but also because of the growing trend of thoughtful awards being handed out across various artisanal disciplines which add to our culture while exhibiting restraint and/or simplicity. Recognizing classical solutions for life’s basic needs and attempting to place them within the context of the present will always be an important part of addressing larger social and environmental problems. Especially amidst the risk of cultural amnesia, superfluous mechanization, inefficient energy use, ecosystem subdivision, etc. Maintaining a traditional relationship to natural resources that is tactile, visual and olfactory yields products of lasting value, or minimal externality.

The lesson of the two jars of jam is then, perhaps, that simplicity is difficult to improve upon and restraint is worthy of reward, especially in the context of the distraction offered by the modern marketplace. Such an idea is not lamentably hip, as some critics have implied (regarding similarly themed subjects), but rather is an idea with roots in the acknowledgement that more is not always better and that systems should indeed change to facilitate such principles. In the woods and in the city jam is the same. And Scott’s thimbleberry jam is certainly "tasty”, “authentic” and “responsible”. But in the urban context jam-making is different and may well be considered an effort to conscientiously hold back, or evidence of a moral decision, or restraint, which is indeed something to celebrate. The art is in the refusal. Morality catches up with science. Subsistence is put in a new cultural context. (It can be such in the woods as well, of course, and anywhere in between).

This larger idea fits well with the ethic of the island: live as well as one can with as little impact on the sustainable function of the system. From this perspective jam is valid and representative. 

One of these days, perhaps, we’ll find the time to make our own Rabbit Island Awards to honor ideas and individuals we find notable from the island perspective. You know, like Nobel Prizes. They might just show up in the mail unannounced. (Sans the million dollars.) Who knows.

Yesterday we sat down with Kelly for a cup of coffee in Brooklyn and discussed a number of island and food-related ideas. She hooked us up with the jar of jam above and a few others. Recently she came across our call for help with island food and got in touch. Plenty was bounced around and we’re happy to say that she’ll be collaborating with us this summer–helping curate our kitchen, experimenting with methods of cooking on the island (fire, coleman stove, fish smoker, stone oven), working on some of her own projects, and helping organize a special “Wild Foods Dinner” in late July or early August (more on this to come!). The whole undertaking will be a bit on-the-fly but we’re super excited to see what evolves.   

Kelly will also be enlisting the help of friends at the Underground Food Collective in Madison, Wisconsin, who are in the process of opening a new restaurant, Forequarter. Some potential collaborations already being tossed around include an interactive map of the island as well as a few videos similar in nature to the ones posted on their website. They’re very well done, have a look. 

Lastly, in an interesting twist of the jam community, our good buddy Noah’s family business, American Spoon Foods, of Petoskey, Michigan, also recieved a Good Food Award in 2012. And get this… for thimbleberry jam from the Upper Peninsula! It makes sense, of course, that Noah shares a connection with us from Michigan and also that Kelly discovered us online and touched base in New York, but the fact that both had winning jams in the same category of the same competition in the same year is a bit unbelievable. They never met, though curiously they had tried each other’s jam! Not being superstitious we’re unsure what to make of this but we won’t be underestimating the the importance of luck (and internet) anytime soon.

We’re excited to host Kelly et al. on the island this summer and receive advice from Noah from a few hours downstate (where he’ll be getting to know a newborn baby boy), and are excited to push the Rabbit Island food culture forward. Culture, after all, is what it is all about.  

Related food posts:

+ Michael Pollan’s Invitation to Rabbit Island (still hoping…)

+ Call for Recipes for the Rabbit Island Cookbook (still accepting)

+ Lake Superior Lake Trout - A Primer

+ Rabbit Island surf and turf

June 1, 2012