October 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, VEP followed the comforting, sweet smell wafting out of June Taylor’s Still Room and opened the door of her shop for a 4 o’clock interview and tasting.
June Taylor’s story starts in her native England, about ten miles north of London. As a child, June went to a technical school with an emphasis on arts and crafts, where she studied home economics, and, of course, cooking. There, not only was she taught how to cook food but also how to present it right and with hospitality, to pay attention to the visual appeal of what she would serve. During that time, she read a lot of cooking books and found what she would soon be committed not to do: drown the fruits in a lot of sugar and pectin. June then conceived of her project: to simply make good marmalade, make it from scratch, by hand. “All you need is a spoon, a bowl, and your tastebuds” she declared.
So in 1987 she started experimenting with marmalade, progressively building her business. June has been present at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza farmers market for 10 years — before then, starting in 1991, she sold her products at the the Berkeley farmers market. She moved to Fourth Street in 2004. June likes our Fourth Street warehouse area, “indefinite but comforting.” In the 1940′s, people were already making fruit preserves on our street, shipping the products directly on boats and trains. June considers herself an “off the beaten track” kind of person, so she wanted a location that both had a tremendous amount of activity and creativity, but wasn’t a major busy center. June is a Japanese food lover, and, like Peter Koch, she likes to walk to O’Chamé for lunch or dinner; when she needs a break, she simply goes have tea at her friend Donna’s tea house, Far Leaves on San Pablo.
As we talked to June over a plate of fruit cheeses — French “pâtes de fruit,” American “fruit leather” — and pears, she explained to us two important things about what she does: first, it is all about the fruit. Each fruit is different, and so is each variety of fruit. What product you can make depends on what fruit you have — and not the other way around. Second: time is key. Each fruit has to be picked at the exact perfect time — from slightly under-ripe to ripe. June receives her organic fruits from local farmers, whom she has long established connections with, working at Rockridge Market Hall — with VEP owner Elizabeth! — in the 90′s and presenting her products at the local farmers markets. What goes into her products is very important to June; she emphasizes the notion of respect: “if you do not know what goes into a product,” she explains, “you can not understand why you should respect it.”
Making jams, candies and fruit cheeses are ancient methods for preserving fruits, they go back to centuries ago, when food could neither be refrigerated nor imported, and when fresh fruits were available only seven or eight months a year. June always asks herself “how did they do it then?” and strives to go back to the essential. She recalled to us her childhood in England, when every child at school would wait in line to stir the Christmas pudding.
June also studies and reads antiquarian cookbooks: recently, she stumbled upon a collection of antique cookbooks, among which a handwritten receipt book from 1672, transmitted from generation to generation. However, despite all that, June is nothing like old-fashioned or Victorian: no gingham fabric over her jars, no fake straw in her boxes. June likes to think of herself as a translator and a medium, between the farmers, their fruits, and the public. She extends the use of fruits in new and modern ways. Her creations can be as simple as pure apricot jam, and as refined as Quince & Rose Geranium Fruit Butter, Diamond Princess Peach & Wild Fennel Syrup, or Page Mandarin Candied Peel.
For June, her biggest accomplishment is when people taste her jams and want to make their own, at home. She told us how she loves to think of her products in other people’s kitchens, used as creative complements. “Jam is not merely a condiment for breakfast!” Like VEP’s, June’s missions is not merely commercial, it is also educational. Once a month, June teaches a 5-hour class for small groups of about twelve people. June believes jam-making and cooking in general is a skill that is acquired through meticulous attention, intuition and repetition. As our eyes get trained to look at posters, and tell the artist of the time by simply looking at the image, the letters or the quality of printing, we can also teach ourselves to understand food intuitively.
If you want to learn more about June Taylor, visit her website, her facebook page, or stop by her shop. It is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11am to 4pm and will be open every weekend starting at Thanksgiving and on until Christmas.
Here at VEP we love the unusual and the ephemeral. We love pieces of paper that weren’t supposed to survive, but somehow did so. We strive to reach people with our message “some of these treasures survived! Come Enjoy them with us.” And June has a similar mission. She captures the season in small batches of confection and in jams and syrups. I hope you will come and explore “south of fourth street or so4a’ as we like to call our little hive of a neighborhood. Capture an ephemeral poster, capture some artisanal fruit preparation and you are sure to be delighted.
Interview with June Taylor at the Still-Room, by Elizabeth Norris and Candie SandersonThis post authored by VEP Intern Candie Sanderson Student at la Sorbonne Nouvelle Edited by VEP Owner Elizabeth Norris