Fall/Winter 1997 - Press Release

BECKET, MA. -- Berkshire Berries, this rural town's "berry special" jam and jelly company, now has a honey of a manufacturing plant in downtown Manhattan. And, come spring, owners David and Mary Graves hope to add several more urban sites without paying their thousands of "employees" so much as a plug nickel. As featured on a recent CNN television report, New Yorkers now are buzzing about "Big Apple Honey."

David Graves explains he has been harvesting honey here in Becket for several years, but it wasn't until last spring that he decided to experiment with setting up a bee hive on a downtown New York rooftop not far from the Union Square green market where he sells Berkshire Berries homemade jams and jellies.

The bees' efforts were so fruitful that during an informal taste test, New Yorkers voted the "urban honey" sweeter and more tasty than his traditional country clover honey.

While the hives are closed for the season -- like bears, bees hibernate during the winter -- David Graves says he hopes to expand production considerably come spring. Meanwhile, David and his wife Mary, together with their children, continue to make their jams and jellies.

The line includes three "naturals" -- garlic raspberry, hot strawberry and raspberry jams made with unbleached, all-natural cane sugar. The Graveses report that while the unbleached sugar imparts a darker tone to the finished products, the flavors compare more than favorably to those of the original white-sugar recipes. Like all of the Berkshire Berries products, the unbleached sugar varieties are made by hand in small batches in the Graveses' state-certified kitchen.

The family also continues to make its "Berry-Hot" jams and jellies: Berry Hot Strawberry, Berry Hot Cinnamon, Berry Hot Blueberry, Berry Hot Garlic and a zesty Ginger Jelly. Mary Graves explains that the hot-flavored line, like the unbleached sugar varieties, all are a result of consumer demand. "It started with our garlic jelly fans," says Mary. "They loved the flavor but said they wanted it hotter, like our hot pepper jelly. So we tried the hot garlic, and, while we were at it, we experimented with our strawberry jam which is made from our own native strawberries. The strawberry sounded a bit kooky, but, to our amazement, people love it. So, I guess it's here to stay."

The ginger jelly, she says, also is the result of a request. "As with any of our savory jams, the ginger is excellent with meats or in sandwiches," says Mary. "And one of our customers confessed she uses it -- and the hot strawberry and hot cinnamon -- in her peanut butter sandwiches which she calls her 'closet food.' Said it really gave the peanut butter 'oomph' ."

"But don't worry," Mary adds. "We still have our original flavors as well." The line of savory or hors d'oeuvre jellies also includes horseradish, garlic raspberry, plain garlic, green pepper and red pepper. The breakfast varieties are wild blueberry and dandelion jellies; raspberry, strawberry, orange fig and plain fig jams; and orange marmalade. With the exception of the fig and orange products, all are made from hand-picked, locally grown fruits and vegetables. Mary Graves says that while the breakfast jams tend to be just that -- for breakfast -- it is the savory or hors d'oeuvres jellies that are capturing the imagination of creative cooks. "Add a little to your usual oil and vinegar dressing and you have a whole new taste sensation," she reports. "Or try glazing meats or poultry with one of them. Better yet, try rubbing a little under the skin of chicken or turkey before you put it in the oven. Heavenly." Others find the jellies excellent -- and fat-free -- alternatives to mayonnaise in sandwiches.

Even though Mary and David Graves began making jams and jellies in their home back in 1978, it wasn't until 1991 -- when they purchased a small restaurant with a separate, certified kitchen -- that they could begin selling and shipping them nation-wide.

The jam/jelly products have been so successful that the Graveses closed their restaurant so they could utilize the space to expand production and make room for a gift shop. However, Mary is quick to point out that, despite the expansion, each variety still is hand-made in small batches using Mary's own recipes. The only difference is that she and David now often enlist the help of their children -- Shawn, Heather and Jeffrey -- to keep up with the demand.

As Mary puts it: She makes sure the ingredients are in just the right proportion and then others help out with the cooking, stirring and ladling into the jars. "And," she says, "nobody can screw on caps better than David!"

Today, Berkshire Berries jams and jellies are for sale not only at the family gift shop on Route 20 in Becket, but also in other retail stores and specialty shops throughout the Berkshire region and Massachusetts. The products also are available at New York's Union Square farmer's market as well as by mail order.

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