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Get into a delicious jam at LaLa’s

It was once the stuff of rumors, its semi-secret location passed on by word-of-mouth and shared on the Nextdoor social media site. But LaLa’s Jam Bar and Urban Farmstand has come out of the shadows.

After three years as one of Petaluma’s best-kept secrets, owner Leslie Goodrich has officially opened her jam bar and farmstand in the little yellow house at 720 East Washington St., next to Lumberjacks.

You may be thinking, “It’s just jam. What’s the big deal?”

But when done well, jam is so much more than just the ingredient holding together a PB&J sandwich. Goodrich’s flavors span the horizon, covering just about every local fruit imaginable, even mixing in an herb or spice here and there.

LaLa’s Urban Farmstand offers much more than just jam. Other locally produced products include Petaluma Toffee Co., Sonoma Spice Queen, Big Bottom Market’s Biscuit Mix, TWG BBQ sauces and rubs, Two Chicks Beef Jerky, Zoe’s salamis, and Tre Sorrelle milk and dark chocolate covered Oreos and specialty nuts.

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.

Goodrich helped educate me on the distinctions between jams, jellies and marmalades. Jam contains pieces of fruit, jelly is strained jam with the fruit bits removed and marmalade is jam infused with the peel of the fruit, such as lemon, orange, grapefruit, and LaLa’s deliciously tart cranberry. Finally, fruit butter is a thicker jam that is more dense as it contains less moisture.

My food crew and I decided to try the roughly 50 LaLa’s jams we have collected over the past year. Although I am not above eating jam straight from the jar with a spoon, we stopped in to Petaluma Market and Petaluma Creamery to select the proper accoutrements for a proper jam test.

We purchased a wide selection of crackers, including from Petaluma’s award-winning Rustic Bakery. Next came the cheeses. Thankfully, Marie Schmittroth, Petaluma Market’s excellent cheesemonger, guided us around the globe in order 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, a slightly less runny, more sticky Italian version of brie.

Finally, not wanting to distract from LaLa’s flavors, we purchased vanilla ice cream from Petaluma Creamery and Straus Family Creamery.

As expected, the sharp 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-dozen different cracker options and the flavor and texture combos became almost too much to comprehend.

Every jam had its advocate, with some preferring the savory to the sweet, but everyone agreed 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 west side 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 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 Bay Area from her home in Glasgow, Scotland.

“When she arrived, she only had $5, but she had her recipe book,” Goodrich said. “She knew if push came to shove, she could always make money from her recipes.”

Her 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. Born in Oakland, she spent her childhood in Seattle and 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.

She met her husband, Don, while on a Sierra Club hike in the Sierras, among the Bristlecone Pines.

“This nice gentleman sat next to me at lunch and we got into a discussion about our preferred hiking food,” she said. “We talked throughout lunch about the advantages of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

We finished 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’s also offers caramel-infused honey. But 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.

A good portion of Goodrich’s business is wholesale, 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.

Because she 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. For the time being, she is offering jam-making demos, which are free to the public, starting on Sept. 29. Once fine-tuned, she plans to develop these into twice-monthly jam making classes.

Goodrich has also started inviting other 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 Nov. 2, where four students per class will learn to make their own long-lasting Manzanita wreaths. Taught by local wreath maker Ellyn Pelikan, the $55 fee includes materials and snacks.

Goodrich is always looking for ways to contribute to the Petaluma community. Each month, she donates 10 percent of her proceeds to a different Petaluma nonprofit, with September’s donation going to Petaluma Animal Services. 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-ounce 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,” she said. “Sometimes it is sweet, sometimes it is tart, but it is always fresh and always tastes like the season.”