When looking at jars of Piedmont Provisions’ products like their Rosemary Habanero Pepper Jelly or Carrot Orange Bourbon Marmalade, it’s quickly apparent they’re not making your grandmother’s strawberry jam.
Piedmont Provisions is the brainchild of Heather Russell, founder, jam maker and inheritor of a strong preserving tradition. “My mom comes from a very large family and a long line of women who spent all summer in the kitchen putting up food. We farmed, we gardened and we put up what we grew.”
Russell says as a result she always put up food and then shared the results with friends at all kinds of gift-giving occasions. A spatial data analyst by training and cartographer professionally, a few years ago she decided to see if she could turn her passion into a business. In 2013 she completed the paperwork to open Piedmont Provisions and the next year was selling at local farmers markets. The response was so positive that she did quit her day job and now focuses solely on her new company.
Farmers markets are still an important part of her marketing strategy. “Once you establish yourself in the farmers markets, you find that you also gain mail order and wholesale customers.”
This year you can find a Piedmont Provisions booth each week at the Saturday morning Athens and Green Market at Piedmont Park farmers markets, twice a month at the Tuesday Ponce City Market and Saturday Freedom and Peachtree Road farmers markets and every fourth Sunday at the Grant Park Farmers Market.
The Athens, Georgia-based company sells a wide-ranging line of jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades, chutneys, hot sauces, shrubs and herbal vinegar infusions.
Russell began her business with about a dozen flavors of jams and preserves. “As the business grew, I started introducing new product lines and flavors. When we started with shrubs, not many people had heard of them. Now that they’re better known as cocktail mixers and drinking vinegars, I’m excited this year to offer more medicinal shrubs with calming herbs like lemon balm and lavender for stress reduction or dandelion and milk thistle for a cleansing effect.”
Fermenting is another form of food preserving that’s gaining widespread attention. “People have been fermenting for thousands of years. It’s one of the oldest form of food preservation. Fermented food is produced by brining food in salt and water and then letting the natural lactobacilli, or good bacteria, create an acidic environment that preserves the food.”
Russell says fermented foods contain lots of probiotics and cites studies showing the link between gut health and overall health. This year, she’s adding fermented foods to her offerings including fermented carrots, relishes, hot sauce, kim chi, sauerkraut and kvass.
When asked how she comes up with ideas for new flavors, she says she just dreams them up. “One day I sliced some mangoes and went out into the garden. I nibbled on herbs while eating the mango and when I found an exciting combination decided to turn that into a jam. The resulting jam is Mango Thai Basil Serrano Preserves and it’s a really good one.”
Not content to have her customers spread their preserves on toast or biscuits, she suggests pairing this preserve with chicken or fish or serving a slice of pear with a bit of chorizo, a bit of blue cheese and a spoonful of this preserve.
Russell began by renting space in a commercial kitchen but last year installed a kitchen on her own property. “We were certified last July and that’s very exciting. I have a few people who help me in the kitchen and we take January and February off to recharge.” By spring she’s back in the kitchen, making preserves and getting ready for the opening of the seasonal farmers markets she attends.
One of the things she says she loves about her business is the opportunity to support the local food economy. “It wouldn’t make sense to have our product sold in California. There are plenty of good jam makers out there. And that’s why I called it Piedmont Provisions. We are in the Piedmont plateau and we source our ingredients regionally, from where we live.”