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Madam J's Sticky Fingers Jams and Jellies

Tuesday, December 19, 2017   (0 Comments)
Shepherd Express

Sheila Julson



Jeanine Becker grew up in a large family, and her parents regularly canned and pickled foods from her father’s garden. At age 4, Becker was put to work scrubbing pickles. She made jams and jelly throughout her childhood, and that hobby led to Madam J’s Sticky Fingers Jams and Jellies, Becker’s line of small-batch, low-sugar jams and jellies in more than 15 varieties ranging from classic to more unusual flavors.

Becker often gave her jams and jellies as gifts. When she bought her first house in 1983, it was near State Fair Park, and she was inspired to enter her jams in the Wisconsin State Fair. She won many ribbons, and soon people started calling her to ask if the jams were available for purchase. Seeing a business opportunity, Becker was inspired to act.

So without any formal business plan, Becker dove in. "I just started talking to anyone who would listen—store owners and people with other businesses—and asked where to start,” she said. Through this approach, she learned about commercial kitchens, packaging and label information. She put together sample product and approached specialty grocers to gauge interest and price point information, which led to her first order in 1998.

Becker has been a vendor at Bay Views’s popular South Shore Farmers Market since its beginnings, and her jams and jellies are still a draw. She uses her mother’s recipes, and some recipes she developed, to craft 14 basic jam flavors including strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb and raspberry. She also makes raspberry-jalapeño, red pepper and limited quantities of crabapple jelly, red currant and other unique flavors when produce is available. Becker also sources Wisconsin ingredients such as local strawberries, Door County cherries and blueberries from the Baraboo area.

Madam J’s jams are low-sugar. "When our grandmas made jam, they were putting in more sugar than fruit. That’s the way everybody made it,” Becker said. "I use more fruit than sugar, and when you look on the label at the ingredients, the fruit is always listed first.” Becker also offers two sugar-free varieties, raspberry and blueberry, sweetened with apple juice.

Becker said without hesitation that strawberry-rhubarb is her most popular flavor, "I think that’s because that flavor is so evocative; it reminds customers of the jams their mothers or grandmothers made. It takes them back to another place or time.”

Although Becker usually participates in the Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market, she’s taking a break this season, but her jams and jellies can still be found at Outpost Natural Foods, River Valley Ranch in Burlington, West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe, and Great Harvest Bread Company’s Delafield and Oconomowoc locations. She will be at the South Shore Farmers Market next summer.

Becker is also a certified master preserver through State of Wisconsin. She teaches food preservation classes for the Greenfield and Greendale recreation departments, and she partners with Groundwork Milwaukee to teach hands-on food preservation classes throughout the community.

Having a good product is just one aspect of launching a business, and Becker cites a "go for it” approach as an additional key to starting a food business. "I strongly encourage those interested in starting a food business to just give it a shot, rather than to be overwhelmed by what they perceive as barriers,” she said. "There are a lot of people out there willing to help; you just have to put yourself out there and talk to people.”

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