Jam of lords, lords of jam

Pub date April 9, 2008

Blenheim, as those of us who feel the occasional twitch upon the thread of Anglophilia will recall, is the ancestral home of the dukes of Marlborough as well as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, a figure much admired by, though not at all resembling, le George W. Bush. Blenheim is also a type of apricot, and Blenheim apricots were indeed grown on the grounds of Blenheim Palace in the 19th century; in due course the fruit, taking its way ever westward, arrived in California. You can occasionally find Blenheims at farmers markets; in addition, if you like or even love jam, they can be found in the jam produced by welovejam.com, a tiny San Francisco concern that until recently was making its entire production of apricot jam from the fruit of a single Blenheim tree in the Santa Clara valley.

The Blenheim, despite its grand pedigree, has recently fallen on parlous times. Its fruit is smaller and slower to ripen than other varieties of apricot and, in my experience, can have a greenish tinge when bought fresh. ("Let them ripen for three or four days," I was told when I bought some last year. I did, and several rotted, which was rather irritating at $4 per pound.) These delicate qualities, while redolent of Old World charm and languor, do suggest that the fruit is at least as well-served being made into jam as harvested, shipped, and sold fresh in our mechanized agricultural economy. As with canned tomatoes, the right sort of processing — loving processing — can show Blenheims at their best.

The duo behind WLJ, Eric Haeberli and Phineas Hoang, don’t use the word "love" lightly. Their entire enterprise (whose roots are traceable to some impromptu jam-making in 2002) is about passion, not money, from the saving of a particular type of apricot to the packaging of everything they make (including barbecue sauce and superlative biscotti) in containers that are either recyclable or, in the case of their cellophane sacks, compostable.

At the moment, WLJ looks a little the way Recchiuti Confections did a few years ago: it’s a tiny and unlikely freckle on the face of the food business. But (as the young Alfie so gloomily observed in Annie Hall) the universe is expanding, and WLJ’s products (available through the Web site) could soon be coming to Bi-Rite — and from there, who knows?

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com