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Dagstani & Sons Jams and Jellies

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Dagstani & Sons Jams and Jellies

As consummate searchers for Colorado’s best food artisans, we had the opportunity to spend the morning with Raj Dagstani, principal jam maker at Dagstani & Sons, to learn more about his zen approach to the art of small batch jam making. While sipping coffee and eating jam on toast, we photographed and asked Raj questions while he made his seasonal Apple Walnut and Thyme jam.
What was the inspiration/story behind starting a jam business?
It was my turn to make snacks for my son Emile’s soccer game and when I asked how many oranges he thought he’d eat, I was told “about 10″. Dutifully I multiplied that number by that of his teammates and I arrived with a cooler full of oranges. Well, it turned out his teammates weren’t altogether thrilled with the prospect of 10 oranges each, and that night I found myself with a cooler still nearly full of oranges. So I did what any self-respecting soccer dad would do: I made marmalade, lots of marmalade. And “Dagstani & Sons” was born…
Today, we make jam everyday and in small batches. It’s a discipline, a “conversation” with Colorado as we travel the seasons. It has become a craft that allows us to make a difference in some small but meaningful way and that is the goal.
Do you come from a family with cooking traditions?
I always ate everything as a child, I still do and my brothers and I were exposed to a great variety of food. Dad grew up in Baghdad and mom in the north of England and without trying, both of these places, and both of these people have found their way into our jams. Marmalades are my favorite. They’re a labor of love, bright, rich and warm and like mom, they’re bursting with enthusiasm. And middle-eastern spices are quick to make an appearance – saffron, cardamom, rose and orange blossom waters, ginger and vanilla bean. Exotic flavors that bring depth, emotion and mystery…
Describe your jams and the very ritualized/zen approach to making it.
Our jams are a sort of record of our time in Colorado. They tell the story of what we’re doing, whom we’ve met and what we’re thinking. We work with the consideration that someone, somewhere will be sharing our work at their table with family or friends and that’s inspiring to me and enormously personal. We try to make beautiful things that stand up to that responsibility, things that surprise and delight and leave you wanting more. Our working style is much the same. We combine flavors with simplicity in mind and in an effort to best show the quality of our fruit. We hand cut, dice, chop and sometimes simply “peel” all of our fruit in an effort to maintain the individual character of each flavor, apples hold their crunch and blueberries yield a loose set jam. We ask ourselves often if it can be made more beautifully and if it can be done we try, we try and we try again…
Using craftware with the spoons, cutting boards, etc… as part of your process makes you a “Curator” of these artisans. Please elaborate.
Our jams have become a passport to the most interesting people, artisans and craftsmen, farmers and cooks and each of them is vital to our work. We populate our kitchen with handmade tools like Josh Vogel’s cutting boards from Blackcreek Mercantile & Trading and Lance Herriott’s spoons from Herriott Grace. Our labels are letter-pressed by Kseniya at Thomas Printers and Mara Zepeda does calligraphy for our thank you cards. Steve Ela in Hotchkiss grows the most extraordinary pears and the peaches at Kokopelli Farms are amongst the best in the world. We’re just a nexus for these people and for their work and I like to think that we’re all celebrating craftsmanship and the power of hand-made things specifically for their ability to bring people together. It’s Karin and Rob at The Truffle who are the curators. They have assembled this amazing collection of foods and food-makers and their shop brings together a great community of craftsmen, cooks and artisans. I’m just fortunate enough to have collaborated with all of these people as their work brings out the best in mine.
How do you fit into Colorado’s local, seasonal, artisanal food movement?
There’s this great debate in our country right now that has cooks and markets deciding between the most local and the most high quality foods being grown. Here in Colorado and especially when it comes to peaches, pears and apples we are lucky to be in the position of choosing both at the same time! Our growing season is short but we produce some of the highest quality produce in the country. Think Rocky Ford Melons, Palisade Peaches and Western Slope Pears and Apples, there’s nothing better. We love that they are at once local and delicious. We also buy California fruit, Texas grapefruit, Florida citrus, some things from Washington state and some things from farther afield, things that are regional and that allow us to carve out a successful business model while celebrating all four seasons and a great variety of food and farmers. We chase the seasons because it’s the most fun and because who wants to eat strawberries in December…

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