Sara Levasseur learned to make jam from her grandmother in Ottawa, Canada, and she has converted jam-making from a hobby into a business. In the kitchen of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, Levasseur creates original flavors such as "peach rose geranium," "plum cardamom" and "blueberry star anise," which are available in stores around town. (A full list of jams is available.) Levasseur also offers Jamboree jelly doughnuts, jam cakes and jam-topped soft serve ice cream at regular pop-ups, including the second and last weekend of each month at Solo Espresso and the third weekend of the month in the front parlor of the Elysian Bar at the Hotel Peter & Paul.
Gambit: What attracted you to jam making?
Levasseur: My grandmother has a raspberry garden and would make raspberry jam for us every year. She taught me how to make it. When I was at university, I started a little jam company, just making jam and biscuits for professors and friends. I came to New Orleans for another job and eventually decided to go for the jam project full time.
I am not an early riser by nature, but on Wednesday morning, I voluntarily got up at 6:15 a.m. My mama, Nelda Risher, was visiting and made ho…
G: Which of your flavors is the most challenging to produce?
L: I think the blackberry purple basil is the hardest. It’s hard to pick the blackberries, and it’s hard for the farmers to bring them to customers without them disintegrating.
Mayhaws, those little red cranberrylike things, are always difficult to find. I think they traditionally grow in swampy areas, and people would come with boats and scoop them up. There are a few trees left, but it’s hard to find someone willing to part with their mayhaws. I’m always asking around, though, because people really look for that jelly.
I like to find an accompaniment to traditional flavors, something that accentuates the fruit and brings it out in an interesting way. I’m also working more with local herbs and peppers. Peppers are in season in the summer, and I know I have spicy satsuma in the fall. I’ve been processing the peppers and freezing them for when the satsumas come around.
My fruit is mostly sourced through the farmers’ market. Or someone will reach out to me and say, “My grandpa has this tree. You should go and get all the fruit.”
This is perhaps one of the most time saving recipes that I have in my arsenal. This is a go-to recipe that never fails. You can prepare a coup…
G: How do you continue to build the business?
L: I’ve been trying to get creative about different ways to get people excited about jam. When I was [selling in] the farmers’ market, [the organizers] told me that vendors selling jam would come and go, because it’s difficult to get people buying jam every week, because it lasts.
I was thinking about something I could have for people to eat right there that also was a way for them to try the jam flavors. I follow a woman who makes jam in London, and she was doing jelly doughnuts, so I decided to try that. People responded well, so I kept doing it.
In the near term, I’m about to do another batch of fig and lemon and will start doing spicy satsuma and satsuma kumquat once kumquats are out.
As for the bigger picture, I would love to have a little jam space where I can make the jam out of my own kitchen, have a retail space up front and do some baked goods and special orders as well. Just to have all my stuff in in one spot would be really nice. — REBECCA FRIEDMAN