Laid Off, She Got Herself in a Jam

When Kim Osterhoudt of Belle Mead holds a jam session, it involves no musical instruments. Instead, Osterhoudt, 56, owner of Jams by Kim, frees her creative juices to produce up to 18 flavors of all-natural, preservative-free, sweet and savory jams, jellies and preserves.

Working, often alone, in a commercial kitchen, “I make jam the same way my grandmother made jam,” says Osterhoudt (left). That means in small batches. using fruits and vegetables at the height of their season.

“Sometimes recipes suggest you use fruit that is not quite ripe,” she cautions, “but I always wait. I want my [fruit] to be fragrant and juicy when I make my jam, so I get the best flavor.”

Peaches are prime for picking right now, and last week Osterhoudt reached peak performance, putting up 130 jars a day, 13 jars at a time.

Sometimes people are disappointed when they return for a particular flavor and find the season’s supply has sold out. “In the fall I make a Bartlett pear jam and it is one of my most popular flavors,” Osterhoudt says. “It’s all gone now. People will have to wait until September or October until I can get them again.”

The enterprise can consume 60 to 70 hours of her week and is a long way from her former career in corporate human services. The divorced mother of one grown daughter found herself a victim of the recession when she was laid off from her job at a financial services firm in 2009, and she wasn’t sure what her future would hold. When a friend asked her what she really loved to do, she pulled a jar of jam out of her bag and the seeds of an idea were planted.

Osterhoudt made her first jar around age 12, when her grandfather gave her some of the grapes he grew to make wine.

“As a kid we canned everything,” she says, so it seemed only natural to turn the grapes into jelly. From then on, Osterhoudt was always jarring something and giving it away to friends, or showing up at work with her latest flavor and a loaf of bread.

A few months after leaving her job, the jam business was up and running. It has grown steadily in the past two years. Osterhoudt has won awards for her entrepreneurial spirit from both the National Association of Women Business Owners and the Intersect Fund, a New Brunswick-based non-profit that offers training and support for small business start-ups.

Keeping her operation small and focusing on high quality and flavor is a cornerstone of Osterhoudt’s philosophy. Artisanal businesses should always bear “the hand and the heart of their originator,” she says.

Currently, Osterhoudt’s hand-crafted, artisanal products, including blueberry and lemon; pomegranate and orange; carrot and ginger; and roasted garlic and sweet onion are sold only online (jamsbykim.com) and at the Summit, Princeton and Bordentown farmer’s markets, where shoppers can sample before they buy.

Each 10.5-ounce jar sells for $9.99. Usually Osterhoudt herself is on hand to suggest a number of uses for the products, including in appetizers, salads, marinades, glazes and desserts.

Here is a recipe from Osterhoudt you might enjoy…

Kim’s Jammin Delights
From Kim Osterhoudt of Jams by Kim
Makes two dozen large or four dozen small cookies

Ingredients:

½ cup sweet butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1½ cups unbleached flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup sweetened flaked coconut or finely chopped walnuts
1/4 – 1/2 cup Jams by Kim’s Jam, any flavor
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Sift flour and baking powder together and add to the butter mixture. Add coconut or walnuts and stir until just incorporated into the dough.
3. Roll the dough mixture into 24 large balls (or 48 smaller balls) and place half on each baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart.
4. Press a small finger (or the back of a wooden spoon) into each ball and fill the hole with 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon jam. Bake cookies 10-12 minutes until lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack, and dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar.

SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.

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