Blog: Chicago Welcomes the Queen of Jam | The French Pastry School

Blog: Chicago Welcomes the Queen of Jam

Chicago Welcomes the Queen of Jam
Lindsay Koriath |
August 1, 2008
Queen of Jam

Christine Ferber has earned more than international acclaim as a Master Pastry Chef and Master Jam Maker, more than national awards for excellence in her craft, and more than orders for jam from the President of France. She’s done more than publish a variety of books on jams and pastries, translated into many languages, and still more than received invitations to teach all over the world: She has earned the nickname, “The Queen of Jams and Jellies.”

How did she attain such a title? You might discover the answer by traveling to her hometown of Niedermorschwihr in Alsace, France. You might find the answer in one of her numerous books such as Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber. Or, you may have been one of the lucky few to learn her secrets as her student in a three-day Continuing Education class at The French Pastry School.

Professionals in the pastry world came last yearfrom all over the country to gain from The Queen’s wisdom. Before sharing the secrets of her confiture recipes such as her Alsatian Apple Jam, Strawberry & Elderberry Blossom Jam, Wild Raspberry & Chocolate Jam, Pear & Fig Jam, or Spiced Bell Pepper Chutney, to name a few, Ferber addressed her new students in English, in a warm, serene voice, telling them about her history and the story of her inspiring career. Clearly, her listeners were in the presence of a master truly devoted to her craft, someone, as she explained, who has been working toward her goals for more than 30 years.

Ferber told her students she comes from a village of 350 people called Niedermorschwihr in Alsace, France, located approximately five miles west of Colmar, about 50 miles southeast of Strasbourg, and found along the beautiful route des vins d’Alsace. Located in the Haut-Rhin department, the village is nestled in an area that produces several grape varieties. The rich soil and relatively dry climate create an ideal environment for growing grapes and other fruit. The one-road village is comprised of old stone houses and a gothic church in the center of the town with a steeple dating back to the 13th century. Christine Ferber’s father came to the village in 1959, the year before Ferber was born, to open an épicerie, or small grocery store. Soon, he began baking breads for their clients, all of whom came from the village. The town was not connected by any greater road to other villages, so their only clientele came from Niedermorschwihr. Ferber dreamed of learning the art of pastry and adding this dimension to the family business, but pastry apprenticeships at that time were available only to men. So, at age 16 she went to Belgium where she studied for three years. “Learn pastry, and you can travel,” her father had told her.

After her apprenticeship in Belgium, Ferber went to Paris to work for Chef Lucien Pelletier, a renowned pastry chef who appreciated Ferber’s ambition, strength, and the fact that she was from Alsace, a region known for its tenacious workers. At age 18, she competed and won the Championnat de France, a national pastry competition.

After returning to her home in Alsace, Ferber worked toward her dream, contributing pastries to her parents’ business. She often went to Colmar and Strasbourg to gaze at the beautiful pâtisseries and dreamed of one day owning her own pastry shop, as fine and as stunning as those she visited in the neighboring cities. She had no intention in those days of creating a jam business. After all, nearly everyone in the village had their own garden and did their own canning. She made jams and jellies, but had no intention of selling them, until one day when a visitor to the family épicerie noticed one of her lovely jars of cherry preserves on the shelf.

“That’s not for sale,” Ferber’s mother, who had declared that she was the jam maker in the household, told the visitor. “That’s just for decoration,” explained her aunt. Nevertheless, they sold the jar of cherries to their customer. Despite her family’s doubt and “affectionate criticism” as Ferber said, she continued making jam and found that their clientele enjoyed her innovative creations. It became a game for Ferber, coming up with new recipes. With practice, she became an expert in understanding fruit and the conditions which facilitate ideal flavors. She used only fresh, seasonal ingredients and developed close relationships with the local farmers. She continued to make pastries as well and found that one supported the other; someone came to their store for jam and bought pastries, and vice versa.

Ferber’s jams were first recognized in the national French newspaper, Le Figaro in 1992. Today she is visited every weekend by journalists, writers, and enthusiasts eager to see and taste her jams and pastries. Her products and books are sold worldwide, as far away as Japan whose sales make up one quarter of her earnings. She still operates out of her parents’ épicerie which continues to earn three percent of the total revenue.

Christine Ferber’s visitors, readers, and students can discern that her dedication, imagination, talent, passion, hard work, and the homegrown fruits of Alsace are some of the qualities that make her the Queen of Jam. But to understand completely, you have to taste her jam for yourself.

© 2008 Lindsay Koriath - The French Pastry School