By Lora Abernathy
Out of all the unique flavors of jams Vicki Miller has made — Blackberry Butterscotch, anyone? — her favorite is simply the Raspberry.
“It reminds me of my grandmother who made it,” said Miller, the owner of Messmakerbaker Gourmet Preserves, “and every time I make it, that memory always comes to me.”
Miller, a stay-at-home mom from Convoy, began making jams, jellies and preserves several years ago. Within the last couple of years, she has turned her hobby into a homemade business and soon will be producing three of her flavors commercially.
Behind the seeds
Miller, who lives on a farm with her husband, Rob, and three children, started canning seven years ago, creating a variety of flavors. She initially gave away her products, but decided to start selling them. She began setting up at farmers’ markets and, from there, her business grew.
What sets her products apart are the all-natural ingredients and the amount of fruit in each jar, she said. There are no fewer than six ounces of fruit in an eight-ounce jar.
“Almost every single market I attend, 90 percent of the time I have one person say, ‘Oh, there’s real fruit in there.’ Isn’t that bizarre that we’ve come to the point that we don’t care there aren’t blueberries in jam anymore?” she asked.
Miller keeps the fruits’ seeds, but skips the pectin, instead using lemon juice and a small amount of sugar to help preserve the product. The more pectin used, the more sugar required, and she likes to let the fruit’s own sweetness take center stage. Her products have a shelf life of 12 months. Once opened, they’ll last two to four weeks.
It’s not all in the name
The name of Miller’s business is more interesting than the story behind it, she said.
Several years ago, she was getting asked frequently for her recipes, and decided to create a blog to share them.
“(Messmakerbaker) was just the name that came to me for the blog,” she said with a chuckle. It was available and she took it.
Even though there is no baking required to produce the jams, jellies and preserves, friends encouraged her to keep the catchy moniker.
“I get comments that it’s so fun,” Miller said. “My husband would tell you, though, it’s true to form. When I cook or bake, I do make a mess.”
Inside the mason jar
Flavors such as Cranberry and Spiced Red Wine, Blueberry Amaretto, Raspberry Caramel and Peach Bourbon keep her customers happy, but one flavor helped put Miller on the map. She recently won the Ohio Signature Food Award from the Center for Innovative Food Technology and the Ohio Farm Bureau for her Raspberry-Habanero Jam.
The award means CIFT is helping take her product from her home to commercial production.
According to CIFT’s website, Miller and one other winner had the highest-scoring concepts based on “viability of the product, commercialization potential, business strategy and overall appeal to the marketplace.”
CIFT will help Miller with technical assistance, business planning, product/process development, shelf stability testing, labeling review, regulatory assistance, and batch product preparations for sampling, according to CIFT’s website.
Her jams will later be produced at the Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen in Bowling Green, “a commercially-licensed kitchen that educates and provides technical assistance to new and growing food businesses,” CIFT’s website states.
Miller said they are still in the testing and planning phase, and hope to launch commercially within the next 12 months.
Where she’s supposed to be
Miller is humbled by the success of her business, and credits her parents for setting a good example.
“My parents, first and foremost, taught me about God, which affected my entire life on earth and eternally and that flows over in my business,” she said. “There’s a verse that says, ‘Do everything unto the Lord,’ so when I make jam or vacuum, everything should be done unto that and they are primary examples of that — doing the best job you can do.”
Miller said she doesn’t feel special because she makes these jams and preserves, and believes God gave her this gift, despite going through times of uncertainty.
“There have been numerous times when I thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’ and it’s in those moments I get a phone call with a really large order and I said, ‘God, I get it. This is where I’m supposed to be.’”
Finding the Messmakerbaker
To place an order, email Vicki Miller at [email protected]
Bourbon Bread Pudding
Recipe adapted from “The Back In The Day Bakery Cookbook.”
1 1/2 pounds ciabatta (I like to use the baguettes instead of a large loaf), cubed into 2-inch cubes
4 cups half-and-half
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (I like to use vanilla bean paste for a rich vanilla flavor)
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup golden raisins (cranberries are a great substitute or do a mix of each)
Bourbon Glaze Ingredients:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 9×13 baking dish.
After cubing the bread, put in an extra-large bowl and pour the half-and-half over it, tossing it gently to soak the bread. Let it sit at room temperature while the custard is being prepared.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
Remove from heat, add brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla, and stir until well combined and smooth.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the butter-sugar mixture, stirring well until combined and smooth.
Pour the custard mixture over the bread, tossing gently to incorporate the custard and half-and-half mixture until well combined.
Gently stir in raisins.
Pour the bread mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread it evenly. Gently press down on the bread mixture to make sure it doesn’t fall over the sides of the baking dish. Make sure the liquid covers the bread.
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 55 minutes.
Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the bread pudding is golden brown.
Set the pudding aside while the glaze is being prepared.
Bourbon Glaze Directions:
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over the medium heat. Remove from the heat and add the bourbon and confectioners’ sugar, stirring until incorporated. Add the cream and mix until smooth.
Pour the glaze over the top of the bread pudding and let it sit for 15 minutes before serving. The bread pudding is best served warm, but it can be refrigerated, tightly covered, for up to 4 days. It is best eaten the day it’s prepared.
Pumpkin Doughnuts With Sour Cream Glaze
Recipe adapted from realsimple.com.
1/2 cup canola oil, plus more for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoon sour cream
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil two 6-compartment doughnut pans. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, egg and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Do not over-mix.
Spoon 1/4 cup batter into each compartment of the prepared pans. Bake until the donuts are golden brown and spring back lightly when touched, 12-14 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes, then transfer to metal rack to cool completely.
Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, sour cream and lemon juice in a small bowl. Drizzle over the doughnuts. Scatter on the sprinkles, if desired. Let glaze completely set before serving.
Lora is the editor of Salt magazine. She is married to Gary, is mom to a Great Dane and Yellow Lab, and trains and competes in triathlons. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @AbernathyLora.