Small Batch Reserves from the Upper Midwest
Small-batch preserve makers Matt and Clare Stoner-Fehsenfeld appear to be recovering from a fast and frenzied gift-giving season that kicked their new venture, Quince & Apple, into overdrive. Situated in the Madison Enterprise Center, their production kitchen was completed and licensed only in early December 2009, after which began a race to fill hundreds of orders for their distinctive, sweet and savory preserves.
Matt, whose professional culinary history includes baking for Potter’s Crackers, says he started recognizing the abundance of quality fruits grown in our region while vending their crackers at the Eastside Farmers’ Market. Excitedly, Matt explained, “I would look around and see all these amazing fruits, so I would either buy up all the fruit or trade for it. Then I’d have all this fruit sitting around the house, so I started making preserves at home and totally fell in love with it. We started giving [preserves] away to friends and family and it grew and grew.” Eventually, Matt and Clare rented kitchen space in the wee-morning hours from Potter’s bakery in order prepare and sell the preserves commercially while trying to run the business on a part-time basis. Very quickly it became apparent that the business was going to need more space and more labor.
Prepared in small batches, all of the Quince & Apple preserves, which include the Shallot Confit with Red Wine, Orange Marmalade with Lemons, or Fig & Black Tea, are only a glimpse into the many recipes Matt and Clare plan to feature. Sadly, their first run of Pear & Honey with Ginger was so popular that it has sold out for the season. Matt described how challenges with recipe development and timing of the last season helped guide their planning for the coming year, “We only started doing this full-time in May , so it was right at the start of the season, and by the time we got the recipe developed, we only had two weeks left of the [pear] season. So this year is going to be all about trying to anticipate the growing season and stock up on it. And that way we’ll be able to get a lot more local produce and work on developing sources and developing flavors that are specific to the area.”
Soon after securing their new space, just doors from Potter’s, Clare came on board full-time to assist Matt as they began outfitting their kitchen with the necessary equipment. On the day of our visit, the cheery, tidy kitchen was quiet, but two gas burners, two large pots (each large enough to make 125 jars of preserves), tables, an oven (to sanitize the jars) and a host of hand-powered peeling and processing equipment were neatly arranged and ready for production. Waiting to be used in making the Fig and Black Tea preserves, Matt explained that the two cases of figs on the table had come directly from a farmer co-op in California whom they’d found through a local distributor.
Matt and Clare spoke about one experience that was especially educational for them prior to starting their own company, which was their time spent either working for and serving on the Board for the Mifflin Street Co-op as it was moving toward closure. Clare described her initial motivations, “I got involved on the Board and, through the whole process, was trying to save the co-op and by the end, it became about how [to] close the business without people getting sued. We worked with the IRS and we learned a lot about management and personnel management.” Matt added that his work as a produce buyer for Mifflin Street Co-op and serving on the Board gave him valuable experience in strategic communications. During his time there, they wrote and delivered the message to their membership about the financial reasons why the historic Co-op needed to close despite the strong will of their members who were pushing to save it. The pair expressed their deep appreciation for having lived and worked through that process despite the unfortunate end, which saw Madison’s (then) oldest Co-op shut its doors for a final time.
Fruits of their labor
Still operating on a relatively small scale, Matt and Clare are the sole artisans in the kitchen and make all their own deliveries as well. After preparing the fruits (or vegetables) for cooking, Matt explained that there are always minor inconsistencies with most fruits so some adjustments may be necessary during the cooking stage. Some fruits may have higher moisture contents or a lower sugar content and the recipe must be flexible to accommodate those factors. “There’s always got to be a person stirring it,” Matt said, “tasting it and judging the set.”
Focusing primarily on locally grown fruits whenever possible, Matt and Clare have been relishing the recipe development portion of their business since defining what they want to accomplish. Matt offered, “I try to think about ways people can use a preserve that’s not just going on toast, but pushing the edges of that a little bit and trying to move it into other areas. I’m always trying to think about new ways to use the preserves for fun and interesting flavor combinations.” Whether they’re recommending pairings with brie, sharp cheddar, meats or fresh vegetables, great thought goes into creating their preserves with a particular use in mind. Clare provided more insight into the identity of their unique and flavorful preserves, “We don’t want to make a jam that we don’t like. I feel like our jams have a fine quality to them, but they’re accessible so they’re not too crazy, but they also bring a twist.” In all, Quince & Apple Preserves promise to bring a new take on some things, but also deliver a Midwestern taste that’s down to earth.
In developing these fruitful relationships, Matt and Clare have already begun to network with growers in the area, including Carandale Farms, who are introducing aronia and sea buckthorn berries, among others. After meeting with Carandale Farms and tasting the berries, Matt and Clare were even more motivated to find uses for these unique and value-added fruits. “There are a lot of really cool fruit growers in Wisconsin,” Matt began, “who don’t necessarily have a lot of outlets for selling. If we can be a place to help nurture that and create a market for it so people can grow more of it, that to me, is a really cool thing that we can provide, because we’re terrible gardeners, just awful. But once it’s done then we know exactly what to do with it and we have friends who are good gardeners.” Laughing, Clare agreed.
Quince & Apple preserves are 100% handmade, from scratch and clearly a labor of love, and we’re looking forward to tasting more from this new and enterprising company. These fine products can be found among the Co-op’s other jams and jellies. For more information about Quince & Apple, please see their website: www.quinceandapple.com.