“I always thought that making jam would be really cool,” reveals Amy Acierno, proprietress of Miss Amy’s Preserves, when asked why she got into making artisanal jams, “and, I have no clue where that idea came from.” A visit to California’s Napa Valley, and its farmers markets, inspired her to start her own business.
“I wanted to be a hippie chick at the farmers markets, selling bottles of homemade vinegar with brown handwritten labels,” explains Acierno. She quit her paralegal job, contacted the market manager at the Town of Islip’s farmers market and discovered that they needed a “jam person.” So, with precious little expertise in jam making but with a whole lot of grassroots enthusiasm, in 1998 Miss Amy’s Preserves was born.
Sixteen years and some 40,000 jars of jam later, Acierno has certainly acquired the expertise. Her jams, hot pepper spreads, tapenades and mustard (made with Blue Point Brewery’s Oatmeal Stout) are sold at farmers markets, street fairs and events all over the island, and her online shop will ship worldwide.
Starting with four flavors, Acierno now produces 28 different flavors throughout the year. Each handmade “fruit forward” batch of preserves takes approximately four to five hours to make and contains four ingredients: fresh fruit, sugar, pectin (“for consistency of product”) and lemon juice.
Her favorite flavors? Without the slightest hesitation, Acierno states, “my Cranberry Jalapeño and Long Island Beach Plum.” The elusive and ephemeral beach plum, Prunus maritima, is foraged by Acierno herself. Beach plums are wild and fickle; some years she hits the mother lode and other years are disappointing. Beginning anytime from mid-August through early October, Acierno scours coastal areas from Breezy Point to Montauk for the prized stone fruit. “I can tell you roughly where to find them, but I will never give out specifics,” teases Acierno.
“Foraging beach plums is hard, time-consuming work. You have to deal with heat, humidity, ticks, mosquitoes and knee-deep poison ivy. I have to wear a turtleneck shirt, long pants and gloves. Preparing the preserves is also very labor intensive; there are leaves and stems to be removed and, the most heinous of all, that stone (pit). You do not want to bite down on a beach plum stone! But, the jam, and the taste of a Long Island summer, is so worth it.”