Hot Fireman’s Pear Jam, Menage a trois Marmalade—jam makers Laena McCarthy, 30, and Livia Manfredi, 28 have been bringing tasty flavor combinations to restaurants, store shelves, and kitchens throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan with their company, Anarchy in a Jar.
For the past year, friends and roommates McCarthy and Manfredi have been concocting jam recipes in their home kitchen and producing up to two hundred cases a month in the Chestnut restaurant kitchen in Carroll Gardens. With local, seasonal jams that range from classic Strawberry Balsamic to Pear Ginger and Plum Port, they’ve become regulars at markets like the Brooklyn Flea and The Greenpoint Food Market, and have started providing jams to restaurants and stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, like at No.7 restaurant in Fort Greene and AKA Hotel in midtown.
McCarthy, a professor and librarian at Pratt Institute, grew up in upstate New York and learned jam-making from her mother. Over the past eight years, jam making became a bigger and bigger part of McCarthy’s life, and when she met Manfredi, a wine-importer who grew up in Napa Valley, the two decided to start Anarchy in a Jar.
“There’s something very therapeutic about making jam,” McCarthy explained. “It’s fun to cook something down and to play with fruit. It’s very simple as well, with simple ingredients. You can do it even if you have very little money. Also, it’s endless—you can have endless flavor combinations and endless experimentations with different fruits and how they mix together. What I find fun is the discovery of constantly coming up with new recipes and finding new ways to experiment; it keeps it interesting for me.”
McCarthy and Manfredi have strived to keep their business small, local, and green—sourcing from local farmers like Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, and developing relationships with farmers in upstate New York. Their batches are intentionally small, unique, and specific to the season, which allows them to experiment more without the pressure of filling consistent large orders from distributors.
“We want to keep it small. Part of what we like about our business and what I find so pleasurable is being involved in it myself,” McCarthy said. “There’s certainly no short-term goal in the next year or two of going bigger. One of the basic rules of our business is keeping it local and highlighting that. We do small, unique batches of jams so everything is done in an intimate way that keeps the flavor better and we’re able to use rare, seasonal ingredients.”
Though the “Jam Queens,” as they’ve come to call themselves, are relatively new to running a business, the recent wave of local food makers and food markets has helped them to thrive.
“It’s been really exciting, and people have been really amazingly generous,” McCarthy said. “I think we’ve been lucky that it’s such a great time to be making and producing food in New York. There are a lot of people doing it. And there has been a new surge towards local product as well. It’s an opportune time for us, and it’s really helped our business.”
“I’ve definitely been learning it as I go,” she continued. “Our fellow food-makers have been really helpful. It’s been nice because we’re all learning together. And New York is a funny place to produce food in some ways—there are weird laws and regulations. So it’s been really helpful having the support of our peers.”
McCarthy and Manfredi emphasize developing relationships with their customers—sometimes even personally delivering jam by bike on the weekends. Their website includes a regular updated blog, as well as the recipes for their jam and additional recipes and tasting suggestions such as using jams in grilled sandwiches, as a glaze for meats and fish, or even for risotto recipes. In their FAQ section, they answer questions about ingredients, types of jam, and the ultimate question: “Can jam kill you?” (The answer is yes, though it’s incredibly hard to do so). The Jam Queens encourage people to make their own jam, and have taught workshops at places like the Brooklyn Kitchen.
“Jam is something that people are a little intimidated by,” McCarthy said. “Even though it’s very easy, people are always afraid they’re going to poison someone or not get it right, or are afraid of sealing or something like that, so it’s a nice thing to guide people through that. We share our recipes because I’m happy for people to recreate what we’re doing. There’s no secret! It’s just fruit and jam. We try keep it all very transparent—what we’re doing, where we’re getting stuff from—so that people can share in the experience.”
So far customers have been very responsive, returning to the markets to share their jam stories and try new flavors. According to McCarthy, Greenpointers have been especially receptive to their unique combinations.
“Not to diss the Park Slope crowd, but they’re a little less creative with their palettes,” McCarthy said. “Whereas in Greenpoint, people tend to love the creative, interesting jams.”
Anarchy in a Jar will be at the next Greenpoint Food Market on February 13. For more information, visit anarchyinjar.com.