It’s not everyday you get to speak with a tree doctor. It’s perhaps even rarer that you cross paths with a jam maker. But a few weeks ago, I found myself speaking with a man who’s been both, and now has a jam label to his name.
The man in question is Joey, the mastermind behind GSH Conserves. His first job, he says, was with the National Parks Board, where he worked as an arborist — a tree doctor, in simpler terms. He later moved over to the Conservation Division, where he managed Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Five years later, however, he left, wanting to strike it out on his own and do something new.
Self-Taught Jam Maker
And something new he did indeed: Joey began experimenting with jam making, and professes to be a self-taught jam maker who spent hours poring over recipes and cookbooks, and testing and trying out new flavours in the kitchen.
“The only ‘course’ I attended,” shares Joey, “was the Preserves class held at River Cottage Cookery School in the UK last September. The class was helmed by two well known British jam making veterans, Pam “the Jam” Corbin and Liz “the Pickle” Neville and I learnt a lot from them.”
This was nearly a year after GSH Conserves was born; the brand is nearly two years old now, and during this time, Joey recalls, he has faced quite the uphill task. The transition from his first job, he explains, “was a very big switch, and I had to learn new things in a short time: making jams on a larger scale, handling my own marketing and publicity, making sales and also all the paperwork that comes with running your own business.”
Bringing Our Food Closer To Home
Joey informs me that GSH is the initials of his dialect name Gan Soon Hock; Conserves, on the other hand, is a play on the common word for preserves (of the edible kind) as well as a reference to the conservation of our natural environment.
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Incorporating his name into his brand, I thought, was an understated way to put a local spin on a product that many associate with the US or Europe. But to Joey, bringing the taste of home to his products goes way beyond just a name; it saves the environment too — literally.
He explains that one of the main reasons he decided to go into jam making was because he felt it would allow his brand to “feature the abundance of tropical fruits we have so close to home…jam is usually perceived as “exotic” and something that is imported from European countries.”
“[but] I believe that eating close to home reduces our food miles and helps us lessen the impact on our earth.”
So rather than the usual strawberry or marmalade, you can expect to find unusual flavours like Passionfruit, Dragonfruit Lychee, and Pineapple. Occasionally (or whenever the season permits, I presume) you might also get a taste of Joo Chiat Mango — it’s as local as jam will get.
Joey admits that it is often difficult explaining the concept of ‘food miles’ to Singaporeans. Nearly 90% of our food is imported, after all. That said, he does cite an often used example in a bid to help us understand: “The difference in the amount of fuel needed to transport Australian strawberries and ones from Malaysia [into Singapore] is very big, and that has a direct effect on the Earth’s resources. That is what is meant by food miles; the amount of miles your food travels to your table.”
So if you’ve been spreading generous amounts of peanut butter or Nutella on your toast in the mornings, you’re doing it all wrong.
The Power Of Social Media
A quick visit to GSH Conserves’ Instagram page and website reveals a beautifully curated set of images and photos; they wouldn’t be out of place on one of those lifestyle blogs or Pinterest boards that seem so commonplace these days. And Joey definitely understands the impact that social media has had on his business.
“Social media definitely has helped it to grow and gain awareness,” he muses. Not that GSH Conserves needs it, of course. When I ask if Joey plans to open a standalone store for his jams in the near future, he says quite certainly that he doesn’t have such plans just yet — he’s focusing on the quality of his jams and increasing the volume of production for now.
When I press further, he says that he has been working on some ideas for new products, but declines to disclose any concrete plans. Still, thanks to his regularly updated Instagram feed, I find out that apart from jams, Joey has also made a delicious looking Sweet Chilli Dip — which he recommends we enjoy with finger foods like ngor hiang or fried pork (and which I note a little too eagerly).
The Secret To Eating Jam
Jam, when left in the hands of most Singaporeans, would likely end up spread on a slice of bread, and gobbled down on hurried weekday mornings. But Joey offers up an alternative — and his favourite way — of eating jam.
“My personal favourite is Passionfruit jam and I love to have it cold on a piece of cream cracker — it is a fantastic afternoon snack. Oh yes, don’t forget a glass of milk!”
There it is; you heard it from the jam maker himself.
If you’d like to try out the jams by GSH Conserves for yourself, go here to check the list of retailers that stock them. Alternatively, follow GSH Conserves on Instagram, where they post updates on the location of their next pop-up store.