I met April McGregor in the spring of 2006 at Lex and Annie Alexander’s annual crawfish boil at their house in Chapel Hill, NC. About to turn 30, I had just moved to Durham from Washington, DC, to take a job with Counter Culture Coffee. The Alexanders had recently opened 3 Cups, a coffee, wine, chocolate, and tea retail concept ahead of its time, and by virtue of our mutual connections to golf (both of us played in college) and coffee, Lex was kind enough to invite me to their annual shindig. I had not idea at the time, but the crowd was a Who’s Who of regional chefs, farmers, restaurant cooks, wine importers, journalists, activists, and others who had done a great deal to shape this extraordinarily vibrant local food community.
I was mostly excited about the crawfish. My mom’s family is from Mississippi, and between the time I spent there growing up and the many visits to friends and family in Louisiana, I knew my way around a table heaped with steaming mounds of mudbugs, potatoes, and corn on the cob. I had enjoyed living in Seattle and DC (with Peace Corps service in Zimbabwe in between), for the most part, but while in those places I often had a feeling of uprootedness. Landing a job with a globally progressive, trailblazing coffee company in North Carolina offered both a new professional frontier and an opportunity to live in a state that encompasses both the Appalachian and Southern agrarian cultures that had done so much to shape me.
Elbow deep in Proustian crawfish at the party, I happened to overhear someone say something about desserts involving sweet potatoes in Mississippi. I followed the voice to April and introduced myself as someone who was half-Mississippian by most standards (the other half being East Tennessean) and we’ve been friends ever since. At the time, April was pastry chef at Chapel Hill’s amazing Lantern Restaurant, where she had been honing her skills and palate while discovering her passion for working with seasonal local fruits and also researching vernacular preserving traditions around the world. In my first conversation with April, I immediately connected with how much thought she seemed to put into the foods she made, the people that grew the ingredients she used, and the complex socio-economic-cultural landscape of the pan-Southern food community. I went to Lantern not long after that and had her cooking for the first time. ALL of the food was excellent, and April’s creative dessert menu stood out as both innovative and respectful of the culinary history of the South. April had also been experimenting in her home kitchen a lot, and within a year of our meeting, she launched Farmer’s Daughter Brand in 2007.
Farmer’s Daughter Brand’s mission is to “make the most delicious pickles and preserves their customers have ever tasted using the finest local produce and age old techniques.” As steeped in folklore and tradition as they are fresh produce, they seek to revive, popularize, and promote old Southern recipes, botanical varieties, and forgotten flavors; to celebrate regionalism; and to create our their own interpretations of the tastes and spirit of this region. The most important ingredients in every jar of Farmer’s Daughter pickles and preserves are peak season fruit and/or vegetables grown on small, local farms. They also work hard to source local produce that is organic or free from pesticides.
Small batch? Each pot of Farmer’s Daughter jam yields only 10 six ounce jars, a fraction of the batch size of even small industrial operations. Without the addition of pectin, they rely on evaporation to thicken their preserves, resulting in vivid, bright flavors that make every ounce of labor worth it. Each batch’s fruit is hand picked, hand cut, hand packed, and hand labeled. Every jar of jam is still cooked by April herself.
We are so proud to offer April’s Muscadine Marmalade as our October Featured Jam. Made with local muscadine grapes, lemons, rare Seville sour oranges, sugar, ginger, and sea salt, this marmalade offers beautifully bright, sunny orange flavor carried by the unmistakable sweetness of muscadine. In April’s words, it has “all the bright, bitter, citrusy bite of a classic British marmalade, but with the musky aromatics of our native Southern grape. Likewise, it is a tip of the hat to my Scottish heritage and my feral Mississippi childhood, where I would scavenge sticky, wild grapes from the forest’s edge.” The grapes are from Nancy and Andy Zeman of Benjamin Vineyards down the road in Saxapahaw, NC, and the extremely rare Seville oranges are from Citra, FL-based The Orange Shop, the last family-owned roadside citrus stand with their own grove. Seville “bitter” oranges are treasured worldwide for traditional English Bitter Orange Marmalade, the famed Mojo Criollo marinade for pork and chicken, and many other recipes.
We’re offering the Muscadine Marmalade in 6 oz jars a la carte, as well as in pairings with our Chai Spice and Almond Ginger nut butters. If Paddington Bear has a cousin in the South, I guarantee this would be his favorite marmalade.