Dafna Kory at Berkeley’s Local 123 Café. Photo: Sarah Henry.
Dafna Kory at Berkeley’s Local 123 Café. Photo: Sarah Henry.

Dafna Kory discovered the delights of jalapeňo 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 family. 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.

Kory 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.

Meyer lemon preserves. Photo: Courtesy INNA jam.

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 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% 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’s Food Issue. Not too shabby for a relative newbie.

INNA jam’s local, seasonal, organic citrus, stone fruit, and berry preserves. Photo: Courtesy INNA jam.
INNA jam’s local, seasonal, organic citrus, stone fruit, and berry preserves. Photo: Courtesy INNA jam.

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

What do you like 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 jam makers — 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 Russell Street Meyer Lemon Jam. The taste of these jams reflected the locations they were grown in. I think you can taste the difference.

INNA jam’s plenty spicy Jalapeňo delivered by tricyle. Photo: Courtesy INNA jam.
INNA jam’s plenty spicy Jalapeňo delivered by tricyle. Photo: Courtesy INNA jam.

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.

Do you have a local food hero or mentor?

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 in this community.

Where do you like to eat out around town?

I enjoy eating at the counter at Summer Kitchen; that’s my go-to place for a meal. Their dinners are so good, like their fried chicken. You get a complete meal for a good price and everything is balanced, there’s mashed potatoes and market vegetables with the meat. I probably eat there once a week.

My favorite hole-in-the-wall is Taqueria La Familia on Shattuck at Ashby. It’s totally Baja-style beer battered fish tacos. There’s nothing glamorous about the place but the food is good.

My boyfriend and I like to go to Jupiter and sit out in the courtyard on a nice day. We have pizza, salad, and beer — they have good micro-brews on tap.

Who are your favorite food purveyors here?

We shop at the Tuesday Farmers’ Market because it’s near home and at Berkeley Bowl. I like Berkeley Bowl East because it’s downhill on the bike on the way home. My boyfriend likes Berkeley Bowl West because there’s more space and no people with clipboards out front.

Acme is my local bread of choice; it’s airy, crusty, and super fresh. I like the baguette, whole wheat seeded, walnut, rye — all of it. I can smell the bakery when I’m cycling by late at night (or early in the morning) from work. It’s a great accompaniment to my ride home.

Kory will teach two Meyer lemon preserving workshops at Local 123. Learn how to make Meyer lemon jam and traditional Moroccan preserved lemons on Friday, February 25 or Friday, March 11 from 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.

June Taylor’s way with fruit: esoteric, steeped in history [1.7.11]
Berkeley Bites: Paul Arenstam & Charlene Reis, Summer Kitchen & Bake Shop [8.6.10]
Outrage on College: where did the fried chicken go? [1.27.11]
Dense, airy, crusty or soft: Berkeley’s best baguettes [8.16.10]
Essence of Berkeley: food shopping as worship [6.14.10]

Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and become a fan of Lettuce Eat Kale on Facebook.