A fellow Food Warrior and I traded in the food trucks, bicycles, and breweries of Portland, Oregon on a rainy Wednesday afternoon for a trip to the farmland of rural Washington. We crossed the Columbia River and drove miles along a winding road flanked by colorful trees until we came upon a quaint log cabin.
No, this is not a fairy tale. This is the very real story of Grandma Candy’s Jams, a story about two of the kindest, most interesting people you’ll ever met. Upon our arrival, Murray Falk, Candy’s husband, immediately ushered us in from the rain and announced that he had put the coffee on. They led us to the living room where we all sat down to talk black caps, marionberries, and jam.
This old-fashioned hospitality and deep roots in tradition make Grandma Candy’s Jams so authentically delicious. “My grandpa used to have an apple orchard around the corner,” Candy says of her childhood, and she still uses an old family recipe to create the black cap jam that she sells today. This recipe is kept secret–so much so that her husband claims, “Grandpa doesn’t even know it!”
Originally made with white sugar, the jam recipe underwent a significant change when Candy’s father was diagnosed with diabetes. White grape juice was substituted for the sugar to make a diabetic-friendly collection of spreads. This simple alteration yields a product that is mildly sweet and lets the black cap truly shine. For those still looking to satisfy a sweet tooth, all the jams are made with regular sugar.
But that’s it—you’ll find no high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, or artificial sweeteners here. Grandma Candy doesn’t need to rely on anything other than carefully grown berries and a little something sweet to make her delectable jams and spreads. The Falks grow the black caps, marionberries, and blueberries themselves on their property outside of La Center, Washington. Dedicated to producing a completely natural product, they never use any chemicals.
When it comes time to harvest the berries in late-July, Grandpa Murray and Grandma Candy recruit the help of their ten grandkids and six great-grandkids, as well as other children from the community. Murray explains, “It’s our opportunity to give them a chance to earn a little summer money and give them good work ethics. Plus, they know they’re going to have a break with cookies and a beverage.”
Candy, a self-proclaimed “canner by nature” strives to create the highest-quality products possible. After the berries have been picked, she oversees the production of her jams and spreads as they are processed in Newberg. They have a very trusting relationship, as evidenced by the fact that the processor is the only person that Grandma Candy has shared her secret family recipe with.
Since Candy tends to the berry plants and manages the processing, it’s up to Murray to run the shipping department for this small business. Did I mention that Murray is a retired mailman? These two people complement each other very well, and that’s evident in the success of their business. What started with selling berries off the front porch has turned into a thriving company with a presence in some of Washington’s biggest farmers markets and bazaars, as well as an online store.
To think Candy and Murray have achieved all of this in their “retirement” is quite amazing. Candy retired in 1994, Murray retired in 1996, they began Grandma Candy’s Jams in 1998, and they haven’t stopped since. Murray firmly believes this is the trick to living a healthy, full life: “I would much rather keep moving,” he proclaims.
Candy and Murray certainly won’t be letting up anytime soon as the holiday season is quickly approaching. Their days will be filled with Christmas bazaars and shipping orders to loyal customers. The energy and dedication that the couple shows may surprise many, but Murray doesn’t think twice about it. “There’s nothing you can’t do,” he says. After our inspirational visit, I honestly believe it.
Portland Fall Food Warrior