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Get into a delicious jam at LaLa’s

LaLa’s Jam Bar and Urban Farmstand is no longer a thing of rumors, its semi-secret location passed by whisper from friend to friend and neighbor to neighbor. After three years as one of Petaluma’s best-kept secrets, owner Leslie Goodrich as officially opened her jam bar and urban farmstand in the little yellow house at 720 E. Washington, next to Lumberjacks.

To really test the breadth of her jams, I recently called my food crew together to try the roughly fifty LaLa’s Jams we had collected over the past year, in anticipation of writing this article. So, although many of the flavors we tried are not currently available, the more popular ones will return once their fruit is in season.

If you are like I was prior to visiting LaLa’s, you may be thinking, “but it’s just jam. What’s the big deal?”

First, jam, when done well, is so much more than just the ingredient that makes it possible to swallow a PB&J sandwich without risking a choke hazard. Goodrich’s flavors span from horizon to horizon, literally covering just about every local fruit imaginable, even mixing in an herb or spice here and there.

Second, LaLa’s Urban Farmstand offers so much more than just jam. She offers any locally produced product that she can fit through the door, which currently includes Petaluma Toffee Co., Sonoma Spice Queen (Petaluma), Big Bottom Market’s Biscuit Mix (Guerneville), TWG BBQ sauces and rubs (Santa Rosa), Two Chicks Beef Jerky (San Rafael), Zoe’s salamis (Santa Rosa), and canvas Petaluma-centric pillows and bags from BeeTween Friends (Petaluma.)

LaLa’s also carries Tre Sorrelle (Rohnert Park) milk and dark chocolate covered Oreos and specialty nuts, including bourbon spiced pecans, butter caramel cashews, garlic almonds, and sweet onion pistachios and local honey infused with Habaneros, toasted almonds, cinnamon, or caramel.

Goodrich also makes olive oils, including one that is expertly infused with lemon flavor. Her Cherry Vinegar was an excellent addition to a recent pasta salad I made that needed a bit more kick and her Salted Lemons have a myriad of uses. They can be added to pasta water just before it boils, used in marinades, and the juices can be mixed into salad dressing in order to liven them up.

Although I have always loved jams, jellies, and marmalades, I never really gave them a second thought, other than that there are ones I like and ones I do not, so Goodrich helped educate me on their distinctions. Simply put, jam contains pieces of fruit. Jelly is basically strained jam, having had the fruity bits removed. Marmalade is jam infused with the peel of the fruit, such as lemon, orange, grapefruit, and LaLa’s deliciously tart cranberry. And finally, fruit “butter” is a thicker jam. Cooked for longer than jam, this spread is more dense as it contains less moisture.

Of course, we had conducted plenty of peanut butter and LaLa’s Jam sandwich tests prior, but for this tasting, we pulled out all the stops. Although I am not above eating jam straight from the jar with a spoon, we stopped in to Petaluma Market and the Petaluma Creamery in order to select the proper accoutrements for a proper jam test.

First and foremost, we needed crackers. From the simple to the complex, we purchased a wide selection of crackers, including Saltines, Wheat Thins, multi-grain, and fruit and nut mini crostini’s. However, no tasting is complete without a collection of tasty crackers from Petaluma’s award-winning Rustic Bakery, which this time included their Rosemary & Olive Oil, Sweet Onion & Crème Fraiche, and Olive Oil & Sel Gris flatbreads.

Second, came the cheeses, and as you know, Petaluma is known for some of the best. Thankfully, Petaluma Market’s excellent cheesemonger, Marie Schmittroth, guided us around the globe to select cheeses that would compliment the spread of sweet to savory jams. We ended up with many of our local favorites, like Point Reyes Homestead’s Bay Blue, Marin French’s Brie, Achadinha’s Capricious, and Chèvre from Laura Chenel’s, along with a couple of sharp Irish cheddars and a Taleggio, which is a slightly less runny - more sticky Italian version of brie. With a nice mix of both cow and non-cow cheeses, there was only one thing missing from our basket, and that was ice cream. Not wanting to distract from LaLa’s flavors, we chose vanillas from both the Petaluma Creamery and Straus Family Creamery to finish out our meal.

After a lot of cracker plating, cheese cutting, and jam jar lid removal, we sat back in wonderment at the cornucopia of sights and smells laid out in front of us for our tasting enjoyment. With so many jams, there was no way to reach them all from one seat, so we started with those in front of us and then moved on to the jams in front of others that were receiving the most “oohs” and “aahs.” As would be expected, the sharp and hard cheeses went great with the sweet jams, while the sweet soft cheeses paired perfectly with the savory jams and marmalades. Add in the half a dozen different cracker options and the flavor and texture combos became too much to comprehend.

Every jam had its advocate, with some preferring the savories to the sweets, but everyone agreeing that with the right accompanying cheese and cracker, they were all excellent. Current seasonal favorites included Apple, Pear, Cranberry, Blueberry, Chai Seed and Strawberry,

Carrot Cake, Mango Lime, and a Strawberry Lemon Verbena, drawing its Lemon Verbena from plants that have been growing in the yard of Goodrich’s Westside home for nearly a century.

Flavors that garnered special attention, both for their uniqueness and their excellent flavor, and are also currently available, included the Tart Cranberry Habanero, Peach Basil, Strawberry Rosemary, and Tomato Basil jams. The Cranberry Marmalade and Brandy Peach Butter were also huge hits. Another pleasant surprise was the Winter Jam, which is a delightfully delicate earthy mix of apples, brown sugar, orange and lemon peel, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and two types of raisins.

Goodrich traces her jam-making roots back to her grandmother, who immigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area from her home in Glasgow, Scotland. “When she arrived, she only had $5, but she had her recipe book,” says Goodrich. “She knew if push came to shove, she could always make money from her recipes.” Goodrich’s Scottish Marmalade is a direct nod to her grandmother, and anchors a line of marmalades that spans from grapefruit to cranberry and from spicy to sweet to tart.

Goodrich’s life story is as interesting and varied as her jams. And just like her jams, she is easy going and laid back, never bragging about the incredible life she has led, which has included living everywhere from Mammoth to

Montana, and even Berlin, Germany, before the wall fell. Any given part of her life could make for its own story, just as any one of her jams would be perfectly fine as the lone jar on the table, but when taken as a whole, both her life and a collection of all her jams are truly something to behold. Just visiting with Goodrich is an experience unto itself.

Goodrich was born in Oakland, spent her childhood in Seattle, returned to Orinda for high school, before heading back north to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon to earn degrees in English Lit and Economics. She would later get her masters in teaching, along with an MBA. She has had many career paths, including working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs setting up schools, selling real estate in Marin, and acting as art docent in Palm Springs.

It was while living in Palm Desert that she met her husband, Don, while on a Sierra Club hike, among the Bristlecone Pines of the Eastern Sierras. “This nice gentleman sat next to me at lunch and we got into a discussion about our preferred hiking food,” says Goodrich. “We talked throughout lunch about the advantages of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” The very next week Goodrich attended a Sierra Club canoe trip in the Owens Valley, and as luck would have it, the only seat left was in Don’s boat.

Although stuffed to the gills, two of us could not resist finishing out our jam tasting with jam-topped ice cream, and were glad we did. The tart jams, such as the Tart Pear, Cherry Lime, Tart Cherry Apricot, and Cranberry Marmalade were excellent on top of vanilla ice cream, and are a healthier alternative to chocolate and hot fudge toppings. For those that want to amp up the sugar a bit, LaLa also offers caramel infused honey. But as I already knew, nothing beat LaLa’s Blueberry Balsamic Vinegar as an ice cream topping.

With about a year’s worth of stockpiles, we also tasted a lot of jams that are currently out of season, such as Apricot Basil, Aloha Strawberry Pineapple, Dried Fig, Apricot Lavender, and Strawberry Rhubarb. All kept well on the shelf, but due to their lack of processing, need to be refrigerated once opened.

LaLa’s Jams are so memorable that when visiting Sarah’s Eats & Sweets for an article, I suggested that Sarah might want to talk with Goodrich about coming up with a better jam for her Monte Cristo sandwich. The sandwich was good, but the jam was not adding anything. I have not tried it yet, but here that Goodrich’s custom red pepper pineapple jam has really amped up Sarah’s sandwich.

Goodrich named her jam bar and farmstand “LaLa’s” because that is how her dearly departed brother said Leslie’s name when he was a child.

A good portion of Goodrich’s business is wholesale, supplying stores, like the venerable Mendocino Market, as well as custom orders for wedding favors, party gifts, and baby shower giveaways. Although she offers free delivery (within 25 miles), once you meet Goodrich it becomes clear why people would rather pick up their orders in person. Plus, that gives them a chance to try whatever fresh flavors of jam have recently come out of her kitchen. And because Goodrich produces her jams in small batches, by hand, she can accommodate special requests. If the fruit is available, and the flavors work, she is more than happy to accommodate. Or better yet, why not let Goodrich guide you through the ins and outs of jam making so you can make your own at home?

Now that she has her retail shop up and running, she has several classes planned per month. Currently, she has three classes planned, where students will learn how to make, and take home two jars of cranberry sauce, just in time for Thanksgiving. Classes are Wed, Nov 8 (10 A.M. – Noon), Tue, Nov 14 (Noon – 2 P.M.), and Thur, Nov 16 (5 – 7 P.M.). Additionally, kid’s classes will be held every Saturday in December.

Goodrich has also started inviting local artisans into her shop in order to offer classes on other types of crafts. One such class is the upcoming wreath making classes scheduled for November 2, where four students per class will learn to make their own long-lasting Manzanita wreaths. The first class runs from 10 A.M. – Noon and the other from 1 – 3 P.M. Taught by local wreath maker Ellyn Pelikan, the $55 fee includes materials and snacks. For those who do not have the time to make their own, Ellyn’s wreaths are available for purchase for $25, which is extremely reasonable for such a great decoration. “I try to keep my mark-up to a minimum, because I want to support other local businesses,” says Goodrich.

Continuing along that vain, Goodrich is always looking for ways to contribute to the Petaluma community in any way she can. Monthly, she donates 10% of her proceeds to a different Petaluma non-profit, with September’s donation going to Petaluma Animal Service. She also recently started a green transportation giveaway. Any customer who walks, rides their bike, or takes the bus to reach her jam bar receives a free 4 oz. jar of jam.

Goodrich makes her jams, marmalades, and butters from in-season, tree-ripened fruits, with no artificial pectin and very low levels of sugar. “I let the fruit do the talking,” continues Goodrich. “Sometimes it is sweet, sometimes it is tart, but it is always fresh and always tastes like the season.”

LALA’s JAM BAR and URBAN FARMSTAND is open Friday through Monday, from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M..

707-773-1083

www.lalasjams.com