Lori Baltazar turns a sweet craving for jams into a passion project

Published September 3, 2020, 5:51 AM

by Nina Daza-Puyat

Find out how her blended fruit jams will make you re-imagine your next meal.

Most of you probably know Lori Baltazar as one of the pioneer bloggers in the Philippines. Her famous blog Dessert Comes First had a long, illustrious run in cyberspace for 12 years (from 2005 to 2017). Her bestselling book of the same name, published in 2013, is a chronicle of her fascinating journey as a food writer and lover of sweets, and a compilation of Lori’s favorite dessert recipes—her own and some of her favorite pastry chefs’ and home bakers’.

What has Lori been up to since then? After beating cancer in 2016, Lori says she has learned to slow down, reassess her life, and reboot. She began to focus on traveling and seeing more of the world, spending more precious time with her loving husband Bin and teenage daughter Boo. She fell in love with her hobbies again and even discovered new ones. 

And then Covid-19 happened, rudely and abruptly interrupting everyone’s lives. This pandemic has brought out something creative and intuitive in Lori. If we took a peek into Lori’s kitchen today, we would find her busy cutting and weighing fruits, measuring sugar, and sterilizing jars. Over the past three months, Lori’s kitchen has been humming with activity and smelling oh-so-sweet, churning out bottles of “Small Pan Jams,” described on the label as “low-sugar, fruit-forward jams.”

What prompted you to start making and selling jams?

It all started with a crazy, couldn’t-be-quenched craving for guava jam in May. I was able to order a lone jar from a home-seller in one of those Viber food communities but it only served to intensify my craving. So I ended up paying an obscene price for a box of Taiwanese pink guavas, cobbled together a recipe from various sources, and attempted to make my own guava jam. In a word: fail, embarrassingly so. Looking back, I can’t believe I was cheeky enough to foist that rubbish on family and friends. 

Is it something you’ve always wanted to learn? 

I didn’t grow up eating loads of jam. It made an occasional appearance on our breakfast table, but that was it. Though sugar runs through my veins, I’ve always thought that all jams are just way too sweet. I still do, so when I started to make jams, I made them the way I preferred them, with much less sugar so that I can taste the fruit. 

And no, I never ever thought that I’d be making jams one day. A few months ago, I would’ve laughed in your face if you’d even mentioned it. 

Why the name “Small Pan Jams?” What is the advantage of doing small batch production in jam making? 

I was throwing around names such as “Just Jams” or “Lori’s Jams.” Not very catchy, no? And then I thought that maybe I could name my business after something in my kitchen, so why not Small Pan Jams (SPJ), because I make my jams in small pans.

Cooking jam in small pans and thus, in small batches, allows for the fruit to be cooked more quickly, resulting in fresher, brighter flavors. Smaller batches are also more manageable plus they have a higher chance of setting. 

How many kinds of jams do you have now? Which ones are your bestsellers? 

I release new flavors every month but I generally have about five to six flavors on rotation. I also offer marmalade; I’m obsessed with it and I’m on a mini mission to get Filipinos to like it, too. 

Fig Balsamic, Blueberry Bergamot, and Goddess Strawberry are the flavors that fly out my front door. 

What is the difference between jam and marmalade?

Jams are crushed up fruit while marmalade has the peels and juice. Marmalade is also chunkier and a touch (or a lot!) more bitter. 

How did you come up with the unique flavor combinations in your jams?  

I am always fiddling with flavor combinations that I love so I start from there. I had an orange the other evening and I washed it down with some Pinot Noir—wow, the pairing was divine! So, I will try that in a jam soon. Other times, someone will mention how they like such-and-such together, so that’s another creative spark for me. Inspiration and imagination are everywhere and I just try my best to pay attention.

One thing worth noting here also is that I categorize my jams so that there’s something for everyone: sweet, savory, tart-sweet. I also like to think of it as: classic, special, experimental (i.e. limited offering). My jam flavors are admittedly more for adults and/or mature palates, but I am working on having a few (just a few!) “friendlier” flavors.

Were there any flavor-blending experiments during kitchen testing that didn’t work out?  

There was this fig + mustard jam that called for an unholy combination of red wine and yellow mustard. In theory, it sounds workable … but it wasn’t. I still cringe just thinking about it. 

Who are your taste testers? How many times do you usually make a batch before you’re 100 percent satisfied with the results?  

I have a small group of friends whose palates I trust completely. Still, I am the primary taste tester—if I don’t like it, then I prefer to spare them from my kitchen abominations. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to nail a flavor on the first try, others are a seemingly never-ending go-round of try, try, try again.

Now that Metro Manila is under quarantine, how are you able to source your suppliers for fruits and jars? 

It’s really easy because everyone is online now. God bless Lalamove and Mr. Speedy!

While jams are perfect for breakfast or tea time, they can be used in a variety of ways. What are your favorite ways to use your jams, aside from spreading them on toast or crackers?  

Jams and marmalades are surprisingly versatile and that’s what I hope to show my customers. Look:

  • Generous smear of jam on morning oatmeal with granola.
  • On scones, shortbread, jam bars, and other baked goods. 
  • Swirl into yogurt, ice cream, and atop cheesecakes and panna cotta.
  • Level up a grilled cheese or deli meat sandwich with some jam.

As for marmalade, it makes a marvelous glaze for ham, poultry, and pork. 

It’s also a sweet and spicy base for BBQ glazes, salad dressings, and sandwich spreads.

My new favorite way to use marmalade is a few spoonful in a cup of hot water: citron tea, the way the Koreans do it! Or a spoonful in a gin and tonic for a marmalade cocktail.

How are you marketing your products and where do you sell them? 

I don’t do much marketing quite frankly. As I mentioned, this is just a hobby. My daughter handles the Instagram page and that’s it. Sales are mostly word of mouth. 

What are your long-term goals for this business? Do you intend to continue doing this on a small scale or do you hope to expand into a bigger enterprise? 

It sounds so unglamorous but I have no long-term goals for SPJ. It started on a whim and I’ve just been living it up day to day. As with my blog, the second I feel jam is irrelevant or I derive no more joy from it, I’m out. 

What has been your biggest motivation in continuing Small Pan Jams? 

I live for the days when customers tell me they like a certain flavor or how they never knew jam could be less sweet. That is so gratifying to me. Above all else though, my constant motivations have always been my husband and my daughter. They make me want to give my best. 

To order Small Pan Jams, go to Instagram: @smallpanjamsph.