Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: So jar, so good

July/August 2020 California Bountiful magazine

Terroir in a Jar founder preserves more than imperfect fruits

Tabitha Stroup creates a variety of products for farmers to sell using their imperfect or excess produce. 

Tabitha Stroup said she was heartbroken by food waste, so she took action to help stem losses for farmers and create a "sense of place" in the products she makes. Today, Terroir in a Jar, based in Soquel, develops jams, sauces and a plethora of one-of-a-kind items for farmers to sell using their imperfect or excess produce.

You have a background as a pastry chef and wine and cheese teacher. How did you find yourself in the jam-making business? My lifetime passion came from my grammy and great-grammy. Their past in homesteading ranch kitchens, victory gardens during World War II and their love of preservation inspired me to start Friend in Cheeses Jam Co. in 2011. Today, those products are distributed nationally.

Last spring, I got an idea: What if I took farmers' unsellable produce and made shelf-stable, legal-to-sell, unique-to-the-farms products with a "sense of place"? I can then sell those products back to the farmer at a rate that they can in turn sell for a retail profit and bring what would otherwise be a loss to a gain for the farmer and our community. That crazy path brought me here to Terroir in a Jar. It was lightning in a bottle.

How did you settle on the name Terroir in a Jar? It is a nod to my wine background ("terroir" refers to the complete natural environment—including climate, soil and topography—that influences wine production) and a wink of respect to my farm partners as I create their sense of place.

Stroup samples heirloom apples with farmer Tom Broz. 

How have you seen jam-making improve the situation for the farmers you partner with? Despite the name, we are well beyond jam. We create everything from jam, jelly, marmalade and shrubs (drinking vinegars) to syrups, hot sauces, margarita mixes and culinary vinegars. We recently acquired a commercial freeze dryer, which will change the game.

We are creating a new revenue stream with years of shelf life: winter farm pantries chock full of provisions for the pantry to become a terroir-driven, edible lifestyle. It not only enriches the community's ties to its farmers, but creates a revenue circle to build a better place to live. It also keeps the carbon footprint of one's pantry reduced. I could go on forever.

What is your favorite food preservation story? Every time a farmer picks up or we deliver a batch of product is a special moment. I love seeing the look on their faces when they open the jar or bottle and taste my interpretation of their farm. I'm creating jars and bottles of possibilities.

Stroup says she likes to create a "sense of place" in the products she makes. 

What is your favorite fruit to preserve? Oh, please! This depends on what is in season and what mood I'm in. But that's like asking a mum who her favorite child is.

Tell us about your culinary background. I graduated with a bachelor's degree in food science from the California Culinary Academy in 1995. I was the pastry chef and forager at the James Beard Award-winning Theos Restaurant in Soquel, now named HOME, from 1996 to 1998. I then helped open Convivio, a Northern Italian scratch restaurant, and was pastry chef and kitchen manager. I made all dough, from pasta to bread, with my wild yeast, and all pastry. Then I moved on to become a wine broker in the Santa Cruz Mountains region, which turned into a role as the caterer for several Santa Cruz Mountains wineries, pairing wines with sensory exercises. Next, I taught at The Cheese School in San Francisco from 2003 through 2005. I've also taught wine and cheese education and Santa Cruz Mountains wine history classes at local community colleges.

What is a typical day like for you? I get to the kitchen early each morning, but from there every day is different: Either I'm off to a farm to pick up produce, or I'm diving into hundreds of pounds of product, or I'm working on recipes, or working with the state's food-safety officials for approval. I may be bringing a new employee up to speed on training. But mostly I'm laughing, jammin', teaching and—I hope—pouring love into my staff, products and the community. My days are a never-ending love note to the Pajaro Valley. I live in the center of the region, and it's my community through and through.

What makes the Pajaro Valley unique in your eyes? There are so many different microclimates here, from cool, coastal evenings with rolling foggy nights to hot, dry valley floors with mineral-rich soil, and everything in between. The hills, valleys and coast are a recipe for perfection. 

Stroup creates products that range from sauces and culinary vinegars to jams and margarita mixes. 

Tips for stemming food waste at home

Tabitha Stroup of Terroir in a Jar in the Pajaro Valley said she hates to see food go to waste. She takes imperfect produce from local farms and preserves it, bringing year-round possibilities for people to enjoy their community's farms. Even if you can't make your own jams and freeze-dried fruit, here are tips in Stroup's own words for stemming food waste at home.

  1. Buy within the seasons.
  2. Buy only what you need and shop often. 
  3. Composting is a great way to keep food products out of landfills, but some people don't have the space in their homes. In the Pajaro Valley, we are fortunate—we are surrounded by small farms like Hedgerow in Soquel, where she takes all of our green waste and feeds her pigs, llamas, tortoise, chickens and bunnies. See if there are small farms near you who can help. Nobody needs to be perfect in reducing food waste, but we can try harder.
  4. Think about what can come next for spoiled food before you toss it. Rotten bananas are almost the perfect houseplant food! 

Follow us on: Facebook Twitter YouTube Pinterest Pinterest