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From Unknown to Throne

Sugar and spice from Austin's Jelly Queens

By Kate Thornberry, Fri., Dec. 13, 2013

From Unknown to Throne
Courtesy of Jared Mossman

Looking for a unique hostess gift or stocking stuffer this holiday season? You couldn't do better than a jar of organic, locally made sweetness from Austin's own Jelly Queens. What makes it extra unique is that, although the Jelly Queens have achieved national fame, their products are nearly unknown here in their hometown. Their Blood Orange Lavender Marmalade was named a Good Food Awards Finalist this September, their jellies and jams can be found in more than 50 exclusive shops from Beverly Hills to New York, and they have a syndicated TV show set to begin airing in January. Yet their wares aren't currently sold in any Austin store. "Sometimes your hometown is the hardest nut to crack," laughs Donna Collins, the primary jelly maker. Collins, along with her partners Susan Schmidt and Peggy Maxson, make, distribute, and sell their small-batch, very original products.

What makes these jellies so special? "It all started with my Champagne jelly," says Collins. "My friend Susan signed me up to compete on MasterChef with Gordon Ramsay, as a surprise. And it was a surprise to me! I made it all the way to California. My dish was a Dutch baby with fruit and Champagne jelly; I must have made a hundred batches of jelly, getting it just right for the competition. One of the judges, Ferdinand Metz, the executive dean of Le Cordon Bleu, pulled me aside and said, 'Never mind whether you win this or not – you need to go home and get this jelly into production. It's one of the best things I have ever tasted.' So I took his advice, and here I am." Then Collins told me her secret: "Everything we do has a little twist of something special in it; either Champagne or wine or ale or lambic or port. We even have one we make with mead. The alcohol cooks off, but the complex sugars remain."

Their biggest sellers are Banana Nut Bread Jam and Black Garlic Rosemary Sauce, though Collins says that the fact that those two are available nearly year-round might have something to do with that. "We mainly use locally grown, organic produce, so of course many of our flavors are only available at certain times of year. For instance, we are out of the blood orange marmalade until January, when the next crop comes in." Flavors now available include Strawberry Black Pepper Jam, Four Berry Jam, Raspberry Chipotle Jam, Peach Pepper Jam, Tomato Basil Jelly, Six Pepper Jelly, Sassy Apple Fig Jam, Shallot Onion Fig Jam, and the two top sellers.

The Jelly Queens also make ice cream sauces named the Ice Queens, and a line of spice rubs called the Spice Kings. Collins admits that she just loves caramel and began making a caramel ice cream topping for her own use. "It's a completely different process," she says. "But I can very proudly say that people tell me their knees buckle when they taste my caramel – it's that good." The Ice Queens line includes Chocolate Stout Sauce, Habanero Chocolate Sauce, and Spiced Caramel Sauce.

The Spice Kings evolved in an unusually modern way: Collins met a man on Facebook who made a line of spice rubs, and they traded products. She fell in love with the rubs (not the man), and found herself using them on nearly every savory thing she cooked. When she learned that the spice rub business was for sale, she got together the money and bought it.

The Jelly Queens' products are available at their online store, www.thejellyqueens.com.

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