Sat, Apr 13, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Preserves of gold

Ten years after Ke Ya made her first jam that was so bad it was ‘inedible,’ her latest kumquat-based marmalade just won big at the UK’s World’s Original Marmalade Awards, and she hopes to promote different ways of using jam such as pairing it with meat, or even the Taiwanese favorite of braised pork rice

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Keya Jams’ kumquat, orange blossom and lemon marmalade won a gold at the World’s Original Marmalade Awards for “pairing well with fish.” Here it is paired with banded grouper from Penghu.

Photo courtesy of Keya Jams

Ke Ya (柯亞) still keeps her first jar of jam she made 10 years ago. It’s no longer edible, but Ke says it wasn’t any good to begin with. With little culinary background or prior interest, she had just taken up the hobby to pass time while recuperating from an illness.

“It was the end of spring and strawberries were cheap,” she says. “But I soon realized that you can’t treat this as child’s play. My failure ignited a competitive fire — there’s no way I couldn’t make something that wasn’t at least edible. It also piqued my curiosity about fruits, about sugar, about sourness…”

Last month, Keya Jam’s (好食光) latest concoction — a yet to be released Taiwanese kumquat-based marmalade with lemon, calamondin and orange blossom — earned full marks at the UK’s World’s Original Marmalade Awards, beating out about 3,500 contestants in the artisan category while bagging a double gold in addition to gold medals for “interesting additions” and pairing well with fish. Ke’s mandarin orange and Kavalan whisky signature as well as a kumquat, white wine and Earl Grey tea creation earned her two silvers and two bronzes.

On Tuesday, the media got a peek of the double-gold jam, which is a collaboration with Pekoe, a local food boutique run by food and travel writer Yilan Yeh (葉怡蘭), and will be available through Pekoe starting April 24.

“European marmalades use citruses from temperate zones, but I’ve felt that the king of citruses belong to the tropics or subtropics,” Yeh says. “Whether it be kumquats or calamondins, tropical fruits give off a stronger, more expressive flavor that’s not found in cold-weather fruits. I really wanted to see what such a marmalade would taste like.”

The jams were served with tea, scones and meat. Ke says that through her interactions with customers in Taiwan, she found that jam is used almost exclusively for spreading on bread — so the team worked with chef Jimmy Su (蘇彥彰) to pair the three award winning concoctions with fish, chicken and duck.

INTO THE WORLD OF FRUITS

In 2009, Ke found herself back home in Changhua after stress from overwork in the publishing industry caused a slew of health problems. While convalescing, she took advantage of an over-abundance of strawberries to try her hand at making jam. In Taiwan’s hot and humid climate, people traditionally dry or make wine with their surplus fruit in order to preserve them instead of making jams or marmalade. She soon realized, however, that the whole notion of using cheap, leftover or over-ripe fruit for preserves was not going to yield the flavors she wanted.

She spent the next few years traveling all over Taiwan, visiting farmers and learning the intricacies of fruit growing.

“I wanted to know how a good fruit is cultivated, who grew it and how to identify it,” she says. “You take the same species, but use different growing methods in a different environment with a different farmer — and the taste can come out completely different.”

Ke was so mesmerized with this world of fruit that she never returned to her office life in Taipei, setting up a small workshop in Changhua’s rural Shengang Township (伸港). The learning curve was steep, with many duds fed to her family’s pigs. Much of her expertise came through making mistakes. For example, she experienced a burning sensation in her eyes whenever she cooked strawberries. She switched to organic fruit after she learned that the cause was pesticide residue.

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