This segment's Meet the Maker was written by our very own Keagan Perlette. You can find Keagan working the coffee bar at the cafe a few days a week, but outside of the cafe, she is a creative writing student and English Literature major at the University of British Columbia. Here, she lends her writing talents to this blog, and interviews Natalie Ferrari-Morton, the incredible maker behind East Van Jams. Her jams have been steadily gaining cult status amongst die-hard food-lovers here in Vancouver, and it is clear why. Read on to find out more about Natalie's story.
On one of the last beautiful mornings of the summer, we trek out to the suburban family home of Natalie Ferrari-Morton, the big boss behind preserve producer East Van Jam. Natalie comes out from behind the house towing a dolly that’s almost as tall as she is and, upon seeing us out on her front stoop, hurries us through the front door. Natalie brings us into her warm sun-drenched kitchen - featuring some quirky, olive-green, geometric 70's tile flooring - to bake us some biscuits while we talk entrepreneurship, motherhood, and the crafting of jam.
“I think, in a lot of ways, I feel like I’m not worthy if I’m not really busy,” she says, elbow deep in batter. And busy she is: Natalie is the sole employee of her booming jam business. It was a feeling of not being busy enough that was the catalyst for the inception of the company. After her second son was born, Natalie left a lucrative and stable career in the corporate signage industry and became a stay at home mom. “What really shocked me about becoming a mother was that there’s this listlessness that comes with it, for me,” she recalls. “[Motherhood is] rewarding and fulfilling but it doesn’t fully fulfill me. I needed way more stimulus.”
The story goes like this: “The actual jam product came into play [when] I befriended the woman who owned [the wool store] Baaad Anna’s on Hastings,” Natalie says. “I was struggling to figure out what the hell I was going to do next with my life, and she was like ‘Well, what do you want?!’ and I was like, ‘I think we should teach people how to can.’ We felt like there was a gap; we didn’t feel like it was really out there as a course option, and it was also the right kind of thing that we could do outside of our mom life where we could offer it in the evenings and our husbands would be home with the kids.” It was through teaching workshops that Natalie realized there was also a gap in the jam market that she could fill: everyone seemed to be interested in making delicious jams that had less sugar.
Natalie’s mandate, More Love, Less Sugar, comes straight from her desire to care for herself and her family while still enjoying the fruits of her canning labors. Natalie was already making jam for her family, but the overwhelming yield from the two plum trees in her backyard pushed her over the edge and into entrepreneurship. She had the materials, so now she needed to build a brand. That’s where the illustration talent of longtime friend Scott Bilstad came into the picture. “Part of the charm and the fun of it for me was coming up with the labels,” she says. “What [Scott] would do is he’d come to our house and he’d draw these little characters and we wouldn’t find them until two weeks later, he’d hide them around the house! And [then we thought], let’s make them into people who can somehow represent these flavours.”
The creation of each jam is an immersive creative process that seems to me more literary than culinary. “For every new character [there’s a new flavour],” says Natalie. “Some of my recipes came before the names, but others happened because of the character that developed; like... Hopricot was ‘Ok we have hops let’s use them somehow.’ So then it was just the word-mash rather than specifically wanting to go with apricots. The drawing, the name, everything, was done before I’d even tried the recipe! With Serene Nectarine, once I came up with the name Serene; she became loosely based on my old work mate from my old job who was always very much a mother figure to me, so I thought ‘What is serene, what’s calming?’ and so that’s how sage and lavender came in.”
"Some of my recipes came before the names, but others happened because of the character that developed; like... Hopricot was ‘Ok we have hops - let’s use them somehow.’ So then it was just the word-mash rather than specifically wanting to go with apricots. The drawing, the name, everything, was done before I’d even tried the recipe!"
- Natalie Ferrari - Morton
Natalie’s son is due back to the house after only an hour of school this morning. Natalie seems grateful for the break. I ask her what it’s like to run her own fast-growing business while raising two fast-growing kids: “It’s challenging on a regular basis,” she says, “I’m a bit torn because sometimes there are times when I think ‘When my kids look back at these years in their lives, are they gonna just remember momma always working? Or are they gonna have some [sense] of value around the fact that I was building something, and is that going to translate into them knowing what hard work looks like? It’s not magic all the time, but I hope it kind of gives them a sense of reality, that it’s not all about summer camp and ice cream stores.”
We've retreated to the backyard that grows so many of Natalie's ingredients (she gets the rest, of course, from local farmers). I feel very taken-care-of by Natalie; she is a woman who has her shit together (whether she would admit to it or not), bravely balancing motherhood with her personal identity and the goals that are close to her heart. As we slather her jams onto her fresh-from-the-oven biscuits, it is clear that she puts the same care and passion into each and every one of her delicious, homemade products.
You can find a variety of East Van Jams flavours currently stocked on our shelves.
Story: Keagan Perlette
Photographs: Issha Marie