The first time I ever ventured to Roncesvalles, it was in order to visit Kitten and The Bear (KATB). The beautiful store kept popping up on my Instagram feed, showing promises of tea parties filled with house-made jams and freshly baked scones. I was not disappointed. Kitten and The Bear’s Sophie and Bobby, the happily married duo and one of the loveliest couple that I have come to meet, run a shop that is filled with products that are imbued with the apparent love and knowledge of preserve making. Today’s trip to the shop aims to acquire insight into their art.
The one thing that always made Kitten and the Bear so photographable is not only the beautiful minimal decor featuring vintage tea pots and Paragon teacups, but always the generous amount of natural light that flows into the store. The chandelier hanging near the window adds an extra touch of intrigue; whenever the light hits the crystal prisms, a small rainbow appears in the store. Depending on the time of day, it’s location varies, adding a touch of magic throughout the space. Shelves along the wall, clearly displayed for the public but out of direct exposure to the light, showcase the weekly preserves crafted at the store.
Sophie and Bobby warmly greeted us for a demonstration of strawberry preserve making. While being one of the simpler preserves made at KATB, the fruits still require being macerated for 24 hoursin a mix of water, sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice. The overnight process allows for some of the sugar to melt and the addition of the citrus keeps the colour of the fruits intact, while acting as a natural preservation during the jamming process. An interesting aspect of the production process at KATB is that no other additives are added to the preserves. While most jams feature chemical preservatives or the addition of pectic to thicken the product, Sophie prefers to allow the fruits to speak for themselves. The textural quality of the product thus differs based on its raw ingredient. Instead of sourcing solely local produce, KATB is intent on finding the best quality products to create their preserves. Bobby and Sophie understand that the varietal of each fruit and the conditions in which they are grown may affect the water, sugar and textural qualities of the product. Ontario strawberries are not ideal due to their water content while Californian strawberries make for the prefect jam ingredient.
The main characteristic of the Kitten and The Bear jam that differentiates it from others is its cooking vessel. The use of copper pots made solely for sugar cooking makes it a lot easier to control the temperature at which your preserve is cooking. It also prevents the burning of the sugar which often gives it an undesired caramel flavour. This method of jam making only results in smaller batches but it makes for the best preserves on the market. After the preserve is ready, the pre- heated jars (at 250 degrees, right before the beginning of the cooking process in order to sanitize them) are filled, carefully cleaned and lidded again before going in the oven once more for an extra 10 minutes. Once done, the jars must sit for 24 hours before they are fully set.
A recipe is easy to learn but the ability to adjust your preserve making to all the different parameters that may effect it is an art that is earned simply through hardship and perseverance. Sophie graciously offered a recipe for the blog but instead I will encourage you to go visit the Kitten and the Bear store. Just like anyone could hold a paintbrush and dip it in paint yet nobody could fully replicate the Mona Lisa, one simply cannot replace the depth of experience enjoyed in the company of Sophie, Bobby and their beloved preserves.