How Heidi Skoog turned a day of berry picking into a career
By Lauren Regnier
WHO is Heidi Skoog?
It was one of those magical Midwest summer days—a warm breeze sent waves across the strawberry patch as the sun popped out between puffy, white clouds. Heidi Skoog and her husband, Kern, dashed off into the field, empty boxes in hand, competitively filling them with plump, sun-kissed berries. At the end of their venture, their berry booty was way more than they had imagined.
After pondering what to do with their loot, Heidi decided to whip up a batch of jam to share with her friends. The first flavor that popped into her head was Strawberry Balsamic Black Pepper, so she went with it. Call it beginner’s luck, but her friends begged for more after emptying their jars. “Don’t be dumb,” her friend Beth Bowman said when Heidi ran out of jam to give away. “Go buy some berries and do it again!” And with that, she embarked on a new journey.
WHEN did she start Serious Jam?
Heidi’s business, Serious Jam, has been steadily growing since her first batch of Strawberry Balsamic Black Pepper in 2009. What started out as sweet stocking stuffers for friends and family are now finding their way into cupboards all over the Twin Cities and beyond. Even though demand is greater, Heidi refuses to scale up ingredients to mass produce her product. “It loses a bit of soul,” she says. “As with almost anything in life, the bigger it is the less attention it gets.” She prepares her jam in small batches with a single fifteen-quart pot, to ensure each jar tastes the same.
WHY is she so serious?
In addition to keeping it small-batch, Heidi is also serious about keeping it local. She is proud to say that all her fruit—with the exception of lemons and cherries—is delightfully local.
Heidi’s friend Heather Everhart, who has worked alongside her at farmers markets, has seen the positive feedback this farm-to-table mentality has with customers. “[Minneapolis] is a conscientious town,” she says. “People care about where their food comes from.” Heidi is able to share where she gets her ingredients and what her process is with the customers because of the connections she has built within the community.
WHAT makes her different?
The unique and ambitious jam flavors sets her apart from other jam makers. “I catalog flavors in my head that come from really weird places,” Heidi says. Her first batch—Strawberry Balsamic Black Pepper—came from a date night when she ate strawberries drizzled with balsamic and sprinkled with black pepper. Her Black Currant and Smoked Vanilla bean jam also came from a trip down memory lane when she recalled someone describing the flavor of black currants as “smokey.” Heidi doesn’t research or test out recipes. “It just has to come to me,” she says.
Heidi’s favorite flavor came from an impulse purchase at the liquor store after falling victim to an aesthetically pleasing bottle of plum liqueur—which she actually thought tasted terrible. But she was brought back to the boozy memory after smelling a batch of plums, so she decided to create a jam with it. The skin of the plums soak up the sugar, creating little bits of fruit leather, she explains. “I love plum jam. It’s the most amazing, underrated jam.“
But Blueberry Bourbon Sage is hands down the most popular flavor with the customers. “If I don’t have [it] at every sale, I get some flak,” Heidi jokes. Heather, a diehard lover of Blueberry Bourbon Sage herself, recalls Heidi’s fan club of regulars who come to the markets. “It’s pretty impressive for such a young business,” she says.
WHERE can you find her?
The Twin Cities has laid a great foundation for Serious Jam, but Heidi wants to broaden her horizons. In the future, she hopes to explore the nostalgia of jam in other countries. “I’m really interested in those tiny moments that people have with jam,” she says. “That wistful look people get when they talk about their aunt’s, or their mom’s, or their grandma’s jam.”
For now, you can find Heidi and Serious Jam alternating between Mill City Farmers Market and Northeast Farmers Market every Saturday during the season—May through October—and at various winter markets she posts on her website. She also provides in-house jam to Honey & Rye Bakehouse in St. Louis Park and Rustica Bakery in Uptown Minneapolis, where they use her jam for specialty cakes, toast, and even in cappuccinos! Make sure to stop by one of the bakeries or pick up a jar of your own at a farmers market to enjoy your own sweet memory lane. If you missed her in town, you can purchase her jam online at SeriousJam.com.
Lauren Regnier is a Los Angeles based food writer, photographer, and recipe reconstructor. She is the innovative mind behind Ditch the Recipe, a food blog that encourages home cooks to alter recipes according to their taste buds. Follow her blog for ideas that go beyond a list of ingredients.
Lauren Regnier is the creative mind behind Ditch the Recipe. As a Los Angeles-based writer and home cook, she hates following recipes. Her blog is all about using your taste buds instead of measuring spoons and cups. Follow her writing on her blog