Fruit, spice and all things nice …
From Alameda magazine, November 2008
Rachel Saunders is in the commercial kitchen space she rents on Santa Clara Avenue slicing melon. Not any melon, mind you. These are heirloom Charentais and Crenshaw melons that she came upon during yesterday’s farmers market forage. Also in her juicy, colorful and scrumptious world today is a box of ruby-red Satsuma plums that somebody gave her from their tree.
Slow Food Alameda charter member Saunders makes jams, jellies and marmalades from the freshest and most unusual fruit she can find—the delicate, delectable and endangered Blenheim apricot, for example. She launched her business Blue Chair Fruit a little over a year ago. “Evocative of an earlier era,” is how she describes the name and “modern nostalgia” is how she thinks of her packaging, inspired by the fruit-crate labels of the 1920s and 30s. Her jams are made in an artisanal fashion “but using modern ideas and flavors,” she says.
Saunders, who more closely resembles the vision of a kitchen goddess than ones stereotypical image of a jam-maker, sets about halving, then quartering, then slicing the Crenshaw into wedges. “People are often surprised to find that I’m young,” the 29-year-old says, adjusting the white waist apron wrapped tightly over denim jeans. Wielding her knife with surgical precision, she cuts through the golden-green rind to reveal the succulent tangerine colored flesh. A seductively spicy aroma explodes and the mouth starts to water. She offers a bite-size chunk and the flavor bursts, delicate and yet at the same time intense.
If today were a production day, several copper basins would be bubbling in unison, each with a small quantity of fruit transforming into jam. But she’s experimenting. “When I lived in France, they made melon jam, which they don’t make it here,” she says. That, of course, is going to change. She’s in the process of developing a melon jam for her cookbook, scheduled for publication in 2010.
Saunders is, in a sense, a modern-day poster-child for Slow Food Alameda.