From the western North Carolina town of Waynesville, Jessica DeMarco and her brother, Dan Stubee, are “preserving tradition” at Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon through handcrafted and seasonally produced jams, pickles, and artisan foods.
Where did the notion of reinvigorating preserving traditions begin with DeMarco?
She shared, “My grandparents were farmers so we had a food- and farm-loving family, although our family garden was smaller when I was growing up. We had big family dinners at our grandparents’ house that nurtured my enjoyment of food, and I always loved being experimental in the kitchen. In college, I was an English major and that felt like one direction for my creativity, but I wanted something more experiential versus a traditional path, so I decided to go to California School of Culinary Arts (a Le Cordon Bleu school) in Pasadena.
“After culinary school, I worked as a pastry chef. Then I started a family and was trying to come up with things to do that would allow me the flexibility I needed to also be a mom.
“Preserving tradition had always come through as a theme for our family, so I started exploring that more. I began to think of it as literally making preserves, but also as inspiring people to think about food heritage and maintaining food traditions so that we don’t lose them or have to call them lost arts. Also, preserving foods was a way to be self-sufficient and plan for the future which had also been values in my family.
“I didn’t know much about how to can or preserve, so I obsessively researched. I pored through old cookbooks and immersed myself in anything I could find. Then, I just got in the kitchen to see what I could come up with. I experimented with so many recipes and tried so many things before hitting on it. The Red Pepper and Peach Jam was our first home run.”
Flash forward, and three years later, that Pepper and Peach jam was a Food & Wine Magazine Editor’s Pick. The jam lineup has expanded to include Blueberry Bourbon Jam, Apple Moonshine Jam, and savory Oven Roasted Tomato Jam. Other twists on classic southern favorites include Copper Pot Garlic Dill Pickles, Southern Style Pickled Okra, Spicy Jalapeno Dill Sandwich Chips, Dilly Beans with Pickled Peppers, and Onion and Peppercorn Pickles.
Why Copper Pot and Wooden Spoon?
DeMarco continued, “As I became self-taught through my early research and recipe attempts, French chef Cristine Ferber arose as the gold standard in jam making and preserving, and she always uses a copper pot. Copper pots are sought after because of their even heating and evaporation. This is perfect for jams so that they can cook down without the bottom of the pan scorching. And of course no cook is properly equipped without a traditional wooden spoon.
Preserving Agricultural Traditions and Seasonality
“We work with farms that we know within our own and surrounding counties. 90% of our produce comes within 60 miles of where we live. We are in very close conversation with farmers about the status of their crops. If we have a bad season we’ll get peaches from down the mountains in South Carolina, but generally, we are staying as local as possible.
“Traditionally, folks couldn’t just go to the store in February and buy strawberries, and we work with all our ingredients on a seasonal basis. In North Carolina, you only have May as your strawberry season so you have to stock up while you can and get to work.
“My brother and I normally have our own domains, but in the summer we are both in the kitchen up to our elbows in peaches and strawberries. As the business started to grow, it became clear it wasn’t going to be something I could do on my own. He is a jack of all trades. He has a construction and plumbing background so he is very handy, and is also a graphic designer so he created our logo and does the marketing. Now he does most of the kitchen management and supervises production. We work well together.
“It’s also good to have another palate since no two people are going to like the same things. We want a variety of textures and tastes to fit an assortment of preferences so that everyone can find a product they can enjoy. My brother eats all the pickled foods and I eat all the jam. Our pickled okra is a customer favorite but it isn’t necessarily my own. My boys are 11, 8, 6, and 3 months old, and the Apple Butter goes fast in our household.”
When asked to hit on the challenges and highlights of her culinary journey with Copper Pot and Wooden Spoon, DeMarco shared, “It has been really interesting to experiment with recipes and see what different flavor profiles work or don’t. Take tomato jam, for instance. There are so many interpretations. We tried one version that you often see with cinnamon and brown sugar, but it kind of comes across as baked bean. Our final version is more savory—using red wine, garlic, and herbs—and came through as such a nice spread with cheeses; that’s more the direction I was hoping for.” If you haven’t tasted it and need proof that they got it right, note that it was featured in Garden & Gun Magazine’s 2012 Made in the South Awards.
“Tomatoes are challenging because we seed, peel, and roast all the tomatoes by hand. But we love strawberries and blueberries because the scent of the berries just fills the room, and the hint of bourbon in the Blueberry Bourbon Jam just makes you want to relax on the porch. When its winter and I taste the strawberry jam, it takes me back to summer.
“One really great part of it all is the nostalgic aspect of food. We like sharing that with people and want to make food an experience rather than something that is just consumed. Rather than being something that is simply nourishment, we hope everyone who tastes our foods takes away a memory.”