A friend gifted me a bottle of strawberry jam for Diwali,about 2 years ago. She told me that the lady who made it grew her own strawberries and was particular about following a natural process sans preservatives. I couldn’t wait to try! The jam turned out to have all the trappings of a typical home made preserve.Not only was it a lovely,appetizing ruby red speckled with strawberry seeds but each spoonful contained chunks of whole fruit.
I was also excited to learn that the strawberry farm and the jam making unit were situated so close to home ,in the picturesque hill town of Coonoor (my second home). This was the kind of preserve that I always hoped to find closer to home and not have to lug back from trips abroad. It tastes of ripened fruit with a hint of the berry tartness accentuated by the lemon juice and doesn’t give you the ultra sweet sugariness that can at times be quite sickening ! Not only is it delicious on thin slices of toast but it is just as wonderful on wholegrain pancakes eaten warm on Sunday mornings.
The following summer on my way up the mountain,the one thing uppermost on my mind was to get in touch with Veena and maybe get to take a little peek into her jam making venture. She was travelling so that didn’t happen but I did however bring back several bottles of her delicious smelling strawberry preserve to last at least for the next few months.
When I spoke to her a few months ago to re-stock my larder she told me how they had a pest attack and her entire farm of strawberry plants got wiped out. Most strawberry farms re-plant once in 12months.Through trial and error she and her husband had to identify a proper source for strawberry seedlings and are now on firmer footing with their practices. In the absence of any laws relating to quality ,a lot of the seedlings available are in fact,just runners and do not have the capacity to sustain and produce a good yield.To say I was fascinated was an understatement.It’s so different when compared to conventional farming.
They follow the hydroponics system of farming, wherein the least amount of water is wasted. While her husband completely handles the farming aspect of the business,the jam making is all hers. She employs an all women team to help with the process. It was only after they were more confident of their yield did they think of the possibilities of selling their bottled strawberry yumminess (That’s my go to word for finger licking goodness 😉 ) in the plains. Veena’s family lives in Coimbatore and it seemed a good place for her to start given the proximity and other logistics.
The next step was to think up of a professional label for their sweet condiment. There’s a bit of trivia which I found rather amusing that I’d like to share with you. Did you know that while we’re all busy reading labels and counting calories, that the usage of the name “jam” is allowed by law only if the product contains 60% of sugar in comparison to the quantity of fruit ?! Anything else which uses less sugar comes under the category of preserve or conserve.So now you know ! Veena uses only 3 ingredients, fruit, sugar and lemon juice. Her secret lies in the cooking technique which ensures that the product is neither watery nor thick. In her words,”it’s a cross between a jam and a preserve” And the label reads ‘Farm & Forest strawberry Conserve’. My jam thumb prints (cookies) look just adorable with a topping of this delicious spread !
Here’s another fruit grower who also doesn’t believe the word’ organic’ but would like to acknowledge that she uses no chemicals,pesticides or artificial preservatives.Veena first wants to standardize this process before trying anything different by way of adding flavours or using other sugars but says she is excited about what the future holds for her in this line of work as the feedback from tourists to the hill station have been great. At the moment she balances her time between her career as an independent immigration consultant, her family and the jam making which she says gives her so much happiness.Well, call it a jam, preserve, conserve, whatever ,it doesn’t matter.To be situated amidst green meadows in cleaner altitudes ,stirring a bubbling pot of delicious berries,I’d be happy too !
Farm &Forest Conserve is available both at the Pazhamudhir outlet on Avinashi road as well as the Nilgiri’s branch of Department stores in Race Course, RS Puram and Trichy road.
At the Nilgiris store at Bedford