Tell us a little about the journey that led you to Gee’s Jams?
When I lived in Brussels my eldest sister Lara made marmalade which we would try and get to Brussels as quickly as possible via any visitors we had! It was a way for me to keep in touch with family, with Malta and the unique flavours in our food which taste the way it does due to the influence of abundant sun throughout the year. When we returned home in 2012 I noticed the sheer number of Seville oranges that remained unpicked on trees…….and became motivated to do something about it. I tried a few of my own samples and decided that it was convenient to preserve foods for when they are out of season. This led to a whole load of new learning and experimentation. The Gee’s Jams range was born after our Seville orange and gin and tonic marmalades won silver and gold awards respectively at an international competition in the UK!
Who has most influenced your cooking?
During this new immersion into the world of preserves, I did a lot of studying and digging into the different techniques used to preserve both fruit and veg. I also attended a few international workshops which covered different food preservation techniques. Through my work as a lobbyist for the big lighting manufacturers in Europe, I was exposed early in my professional career to the concept of reduce, recycle, reuse and in time I came to see that food preservation was a great way to perpetuate this cycle in food. Following a number of courses I took at River Cottage in the UK, I met and was introduced to the cooking philosophy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who ‘cooks local’. Hugh has an eye for ingredients that can easily be sourced within the radius of a few miles around River Cottage just outside Axminster.
In my travels I was also fortunate to meet Pam Corbin aka Pam the Jam who has written extensively about different preservation techniques. She has a very lighthearted, contemporary approach to preserving and a lot of the products Gee’s Jams now produces, found their origins in a Pam Corbin recipe. Throughout the middle part of this journey of discovery, I noticed that my diet had also changed to incorporate plant-based foods which have a tendency to occasionally taste a little bland.
Following a course I did with Rachel De Thample in 2017, I was inspired to incorporate both jams and marmalades which I had been working on, into many of the plant-based food recipes I was eating at the time. This was a real revelation because it was clearly possible to eat the daily recommended amounts of fruit and veg blended with fresh flavourings from the Gee’s Jams range. The possibilities here are endless – no one dish tastes the same! Rachel also taught me that certain preserved foods are also key to restoring the balance of good bacteria in the gut after a course of antibiotics for instance!
What does a “day in the life” look like at Gee’s Jams?
No one day is the same…! I divide my time between food preparation and cooking and I’m also a professional performance coach, so I spend a lot of my time with clients too! People centric businesses are my passion at the moment!
The business of jam making is very seasonal I find…….so depending on the demand for marmalades and jams I dedicate one to two days a week to perfecting and in some cases relearning my craft. Other days are spent producing products to meet any orders that come in and to keep stock levels healthy. All the products we produce are 100% handmade, including cooking, quality checking, labelling and packaging. By that I mean all raw ingredients are sourced locally – normally over the weekend. If for example we are making our popular chard and ginger or red pepper and chilli jams, we need to ensure that our farming contacts have the required amount of good quality chard, ginger and red peppers to make a decent amount in one or two cooking batches.
On arrival the products need to be sanitised, in many cases hand chopped and weighed out in the right quantities and prepared for cooking. My wife Rebecca, who is a qualified nutritionist, verifies the ingredients and labels are correct prior to going to print and if I’m really lucky my generous daughter Emma is on hand to help label the products a day or two after they have been cooked and sealed. Gee’s Jams has a few members of its growing customer base outside Malta, so the products occasionally need to be boxed and labelled for shipment abroad.
This sequence of events is more pronounced between December and March of every year with Christmas being a big driver for preserves as gifts, or jams and marmalades to be consumed over the period. This time of year coincides with ‘citrus season’ where preservers are granted a time window of about three months to stock up on raw citrus supplies to last the full year! Gee’s Jams currently processes approximately 200/300kg of local Seville oranges a year!!
What do you find most rewarding about making food?
The most universally rewarding thing about making food (jams and marmalades included) is the feeling you get once a recipe or particular innovation clicks with me and then with an audience….be it family, friends or a particular customer. This feeling is multiplied when our customers talk about themselves or their kids enjoying a particular product in the range at an emotional level either because it elicited memories of childhood or recreated past feelings of happiness or contentment. When Gee’s Jams received its first medals in 2018, that was indeed a very rewarding experience, as were the medals (three silver and one gold) awarded for our essential oil range in 2020. This signifies genuine recognition from an international panel of experts of the quality of local ingredients, the resulting taste and the overall finished product look and feel.
What I also find particularly rewarding in terms of my association with food is that this year we have been able to set up a collaboration with two charities, one in aid of Clongowes Wood College in Ireland in its efforts to raise funds for Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin. The other in aid of our local Foodbank Lifeline Foundation with whom Gee’s Jams has launched a limited edition homemade marmalade and strawberry jam, aptly named ‘H.O.P.E.’- after the Foodbank’s motto of Helping Other People Eat. In both cases, Gee’s Jams has pledged to donate half of the proceeds from the sale of products in these campaigns as a donation in support of these organisations.
What do you find most challenging?
I find working with natural ingredients most challenging. Depending on its ripeness, citrus fruit contains different levels of natural sugars. Typically marmalade producers use two portions of sugar to one portion of fruit. The Gee’s Jams’ approach has been to cut down significantly on the use of sugar in the final product by adding small amounts of pectin as a gelling agent. Our signature jam or marmalade is typically one with a very light gel set using as little sugar as possible but enough to achieve that light set and to comply with the requirements of European regulations for preserves. The sugar profile of the fresh fruit we use is always different, hence the challenge to determine on each batch, the right amount of sugar to use to ensure that a light pleasing set for our marmalades and jams is achieved.
Why use local ingredients?
I have always loved our local ingredients simply because they taste much better. Prior to returning to Malta 2012 I lived in Brussels for a number of years and due to the local climate it was just not possible to find local fruit and veg with the same taste profile as those you can find in Malta. Another reason is that local ingredients need to travel much less far to the Gee’s Jams kitchen to be processed and are hence much more sustainable from a ‘food miles’ point of view. Prior to the pandemic, Saturday mornings at Ta’ Qali would be full of colourful people, produce and throngs of activity concentrated in the usual area of the park. I look forward to that scene returning in the not too distant future.
Tell us about the products you make. What’s in a jar of your jam? What’s special about it?
Gee’s Jams produces about 14 different products in total split into two categories, jams and marmalades. You will see on the shop section of our website geesjams.com/shop that it is possible to look at the different products from the point of view of the different categories. Our original product and biggest seller today is our Seville orange marmalade with gin and tonic. This can be used as a ‘straight’ marmalade to apply on your toast in the morning or as a sponge/cheese cake filling for example, but you can also add a spoon of it to your gin and tonic, which gives it a special twist! Other products containing aperol and prosecco, cointreau, irish whiskey and homemade limoncello have also found their niche with many of our customers locally and across Europe. Our latest range of marmalades contain hints of herb essential oil combined with tender thin cut peel. In the marmalade range the only product that does not contain alcohol is our original Seville orange marmalade.
We also produce a total of four jams made from the best local produce we can find. Our plum and brandy jam is hand-cooked in small batches. The summer version is made with gorgeous, golden coloured plums and the winter version is dark and warm, perfect for those cosy evenings by the fire with a good book! Our top selling jam is made with sweet red peppers, flavourful red chilli peppers, lime and sugar. It is great as a marinade or ‘rub’ for pork, chicken, beef or fish to be cooked or barbecued. It can often be found on a cheese platter! It is also the core element of the many plant based dishes we prepare at home.
What is your all time favourite jam and why?
It’s difficult to choose but my favourite has to be our strawberry jam for it’s beautiful colour, it’s light texture and exquisite taste. Once you open a jar of strawberry jam the most difficult thing to do is to stop eating it! This requires real restraint and for this reason we make family sized jars when requested!!
Top jam making tip?
Believe it or not, jam making has taught me that humility and patience are required in equal measure. Just as you think you’ve cracked the code to an ideal gel set or recipe, nature or science tells you otherwise. I’ve had all sorts of kitchen failures in my early days and I never really improved until I had the patience to document the full production process from start to finish and then move forward based on my observations or learning, making small adjustments depending on the fruit or veg in front of me. This process is analogous to life really! One other thing is that citrus fruit provides a great canvas for experimentation with different flavours. I would encourage those on their own culinary journey to experiment constantly with different flavour combinations with a view to innovating new products and tastes.
What is your secret talent, in or out of the kitchen?
No particular talent! I am driven and believe that whatever you do in life, passion will see you through. Go create!