Jam Maker Dafna Kory Turns Hobby Into Thriving Business | Civil Eats

Jam Maker Dafna Kory Turns Hobby Into Thriving Business

Dafna Kory discovered the delights of jalapeno jam during pre-dinner nibbles at a Thanksgiving gathering. She went out to buy a jar, couldn’t find the mighty spicy condiment anywhere, so she began experimenting with making her own. It became an instant hit among her posse.

At first the self-taught preserver thought her D.I.Y. hobby would just make nice gifts for friends and families. The she moved from San Francisco to South Berkeley, saw the abundance of plums, apples, and lemons growing in her new backyard, and a jamming business was born.

She foraged fruit in a hyper-local fashion. She made batches of jam in her home kitchen. She personally delivered by bike. Demand for her jams grew by word-of-mouth.

Friends who had friends who owned stores began encouraging her to branch out beyond her inner circle. So she started shopping INNA jam (the name is, indeed, a playful pun) to local places like Local 123, Summer Kitchen, Rick and Ann’s Restaurant and The Gardener.

About a year ago, with orders coming in a steady stream, it became clear that Kory, now 28, needed to either gear up and focus on turning her after-hours pastime into a fully-fledged business or scale back and remain a hobbyist. She decided to take the plunge.

A freelance commercial video editor, Kory hasn’t looked back. She began working in a commercial kitchen in North Berkeley, selling her pickles and preserves at events like ForageSF’s Underground Market and the Eat Real Festival, and offering workshops for other D.I.Y.ers.

The UC Berkeley graduate now spends nine months of the year working full-time on her budding food business, and supplements her income in the winter months with editing gigs.

In a year she hopes to devote 100 percent of her work day to INNA jam.  Kory also pickles, though that product line is on hiatus while she ratchets up production to meet demand for her increasingly popular jams.  She delivers locally by bike, ships interstate, and offers an annual, seasonal subscription (a 10-ounce jar retails for $12).

Last year, Kory was featured in a photo spread of local food artisans in the New York Times Magazine Food Issue. Not too shabby for a relative newbie.

A child of Ukrainians who emigrated to Israel, Kory has childhood memories of playing in fields and picking fruits like pomegranates and apricots in the small village north of Tel Aviv she called home. Although she now considers herself a California girl, moving to Orange County at age 10 was a huge culture shock.

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She went from being a straight-A student to dropping out of high school. She dabbled in community college down South, and eventually found her way to UC Berkeley, where she designed her own major and began making documentary films before graduating in 2004.  She feels at home in the Bay Area.

We met last week on an unseasonably balmy February afternoon chat in the courtyard at Local 123, where there was ample parking for her bamboo tricycle.

What do you like the most about preserving?

I like transforming raw fruits or vegetables into something totally different while maintaining their essential taste. I find most jams too sweet and most pickles too salty; I like to work with the essence of the produce itself.

There are several local preservers—June Taylor, Blue Chair Fruit, and Happy Girl Kitchen—come to mind. What’s unique about what you do?

I focus on single varieties sourced locally; other local jammakers tend to mix fruits with other ingredients. I’m really trying to pull out the complexity of a variety, whether it’s a Polka raspberry, Seascape strawberry, or Blenheim apricot, and let its uniqueness, natural subtleties, and bright flavors shine.

That’s why when I first started and I foraged a lot of my own fruit, I’d name the jars after their location, like Russel Street Meyer Lemon Jam. The taste of these jams reflected the locations they were grown in. I think you can taste the difference.

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And locally I deliver by bike, either my bamboo tricycle or the road bike hitched with a cargo trailer. I think I’m the only one who does that.

It’s a coup to land in an outlet like the New York Times Magazine so early in your career. How has that impacted your business?

Well, let me say first that I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and was fortunate to be included in the shoot with all the other local food artisans the magazine featured. It was an awesome nod to up-and-coming Bay Area food producers. But it wasn’t like it was a profile of me or my jams.

So, in that sense, I see more of an impact on business when a magazine like Sunset features my product in a photo and write up that says “this is good, buy this jam, now.”

What challenges have you faced launching a business in Berkeley?

It was hard to find a commercial kitchen with enough space for what I do. Making jam takes up a lot of room; you need a place for all those jars, space to prepare fruit, and the pots are big. That’s why I work from 5 p.m. to midnight when I can have the kitchen to myself and spread out.  I found a place on the Ohlone Greenway, so I can bike there, which is key.

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I have a lot of respect for June Taylor, she really set the stage for the rest of us. She elevated the art of jam making and eating jam as something of value and importance in this community.

Photos: Courtesy of Sarah Henry, INNA jam

A version of this piece originally appeared on Berkeleyside

Sarah Henry is a freelance reporter whose food articles have appeared in The Atlantic, Grist and Eating Well. Sarah is a contributing editor to Edible East Bay and a regular contributor to Edible San Francisco and KQED’s Bay Area Bites. She has also written about local food for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and California. Sarah got her journalism start on staff at the Center for Investigative Reporting. Sarah is the voice behind the blog Lettuce Eat Kale and tweets under that moniker too. Read more >

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  1. That is cool doing what you love is great, blog on cooking and I have so much fun! I definitely need to try these jams and pickles!I love jam but I agree so many of them are to sweet and for the pickles some do put whey to much salt!
    thanks for this great post!
  2. I literally just got a big water bath canner for my birthday today. I can't wait to try it! And I like that Dafna uses jam to bring out the essence of individual fruit, instead of mixing them up into a sticky sweet mess. I've long wanted to try making apple sauce out of different heirloom varieties to see if they taste much different from each other. This fall is clearly the time to try, but I'll be jamming and canning berries first.

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