Issue No. 43: American Spoon’s Jams

American Spoon jarred its first preserves in Petoskey, Michigan in 1982. At the time, if you wanted high-quality preserves you had to look to Europe. “We wanted to reintroduce America to the amazing foods being made right here.” Said Noah Marshall-Rashid, son of Justin Rashid, founder of the company.

Like Zingerman’s (we started in 1982, too), American Spoon decided to stay relatively small. They had opportunities to become a large-scale producer distributing preserves to grocery store chains across the country. Instead they focused on flavor, not finance. “We think of ourselves as craft-makers,” Noah continued. “We don’t let efficiency get in the way of the taste. Slow cooking in small batches is still the way we do things because it makes the best tasting preserves.”

Climate counts

“Michigan’s distinct micro-climate yields the most flavorful fruit in America,” says Noah. “The short growing season and lots of sunlight leads to an incredible development of sugar and flavors in the fruit. That means our preserves taste different (better) than preserves made in other parts of the country.” Our changing seasons also mean that each fruit is only available for a few short weeks. Strawberries are around for about three weeks; peaches have maybe four weeks. Throughout the summer and fall, there’s a steady stream of new, luscious fruits to preserve.

Hedging farmer risk

Farmers don’t like to take risks. They wouldn’t choose to plant some varieties—like Early Glow Strawberries, which are small, fickle, but oh so delicious—unless American Spoon was there to buy the harvest. “We invest heavily in our relationships with growers and foragers that we enjoy and admire.” Noah continued. “Our success is tied to their success.”

Limited productions, like Wild Thimbleberry Preserves, are only possible because of dedicated foragers. The fruits take a tremendous amount of work to gather during very short harvests, but because American Spoon is there to buy the fruit, it’s worth it for the foragers. Without relationships like that, we might never get to taste some of these exquisite fruits in a jar.

Big enough, small enough

The size of American Spoon is an asset in the increasingly competitive artisan preserves market. “We can produce more jars than most artisan jam makers and that gives us some financial freedom,” Noah explained. “We can find something exceptional that we love, develop a unique recipe and only make it for a short period of time and not worry about its sales,” Noah continued. “Seasonal releases are not just okay, they make you a more interesting company. Customers come back for the next special release. You’re more than just a jam maker, you’re introducing people to something new all the time.” That’s a freedom most start-ups can’t afford.