Too Jam Good: Homemade jams, salsas, pickles and more from Carlton and Jeannine Winslow

Published 6:43 pm Sunday, June 11, 2023

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By Kim Armstrong, N.C. Cooperative Extension, Dare County Center

It was the bruised tomatoes that started it. “We didn’t want to be wasteful,” says Jeannine Winslow. So, she cut away the slight imperfections and transformed the crimson orbs into a flavorful salsa. Enjoying a sense of accomplishment and desiring to do more, she found herself standing at the stove stirring simmering pots of peaches, strawberries, blueberries, figs and raspberries, sometimes tossing in sprigs of dill or thyme or bright green leaves of basil as the mixture thickened into jam. Then cucumbers became pickles and other things were pickled that may never have been pickled before. Chow chow, commonly known as a simple relish, morphed into a chunky mix of broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots and peppers, becoming nearly a meal or at least a hearty side dish. Jeannine and her husband Carlton took stock of the variety of products and found them to be good. In fact, they were Too Jam Good. And just like that, their business was born.

Try capturing Jeannine and Carlton’s enthusiasm for their business in a canning jar bubbling in a hot water bath and an explosion would ensue. “We want to stand out from all the other jams and jellies,” says Carlton. He and Jeannine work together to get the taste just right by putting their own spin on recipes, old and new – it’s a literal jam session. “You can’t have a business called Too Jam Good and not be different,” he says.

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Speaking of which, the credit for that clever moniker goes to Jeannine. She has a real knack for nomenclature as the whimsical labels on each jar of jam reveal. With names that immortalize family members or family lore, friends, employees or are just a play on words, Jeannine’s creativity knows no bounds. There’s Sprout, Sprout, Let It All Out (Brussels sprouts with cranberry and bacon), Takes Two To Mango (spicy mango and habanero), Roadside’s Hibiscus on Your Biscuits (hibiscus, blueberries and raspberries) and OBX Heat on the Street (raspberry, lime and jalapeños) to name a few.

In their jam flavor collection (there are currently 53 varieties), even old-fashioned apple butter, gets fresh treatment. “I remember my mom and grandma sitting on the front porch peeling apples or potatoes or snapping beans,” Carlton says. With a nod to that memory, he makes apple butter the way his mom did, and incorporates the apple peelings to add texture. Appropriately, he christened it Momz Apple Chair Butter. It’s their bestseller. Applely Ever After is apple butter enhanced with caramel and cherry. And still another riff is Cuz’s Backwoods Bourbon Butter, infused with the not-so-secret ingredient of bourbon. To call Carlton’s versions “new and improved” is an understatement. “One of my favorite things is to convince a customer to try my apple butter,” he says.

The jams are versatile, not just for toast or smearing on a peanut butter sandwich. In other words, think outside the jar. Several of the flavors are great for enhancing chicken, beef, pork and lamb entrees. Others are delicious as a topping on ice cream or cheesecake, or in a strudel. The jams infused with a little heat (Getting Figgy With It) are especially tasty with cream cheese and crackers. A spicy dollop on a Sunday evening grilled cheese sandwich will take it over the finish line.

In a totally unexpected use of their products, customers shared how they were using the jams in their old fashioneds and margaritas. This bit of intel resulted in Jeannine and Carlton creating a line of mixers for alcoholic beverages. Merry Little Mixer contains sweet pineapple, tart cranberry and jalapeños and is perfect for making sangria. It’s That Thyme contains sweet pineapple and thyme and makes a nice addition to vodka or sparkling wine. In another response to customer feedback, they created a line of sugar-free jams, which they aptly named It’s About Jam Time.

They encourage customers to try a product by generously offering samples of everything they sell. “We want the customer to know whether they like something before they buy it,” says Jeannine. An enticing bit of marketing strategy.

Pickled pineapple? It’s time we had that conversation. The jar is labeled Carlton’s Remix and contains sunny yellow pineapples in a spicy brine of jalapeños and basil. Hmmm, what has Carlton been up to? “It’s unusual,” says Jeannine, “but it works.” Don’t hesitate to give them a try, as according to Carlton, “It will change your life.” When not eating them straight from the jar, he suggests deploying them on tacos and pizzas. It’s the kind of snack that will snap you out of that late afternoon slump. Life-changing, indeed!

Those asparagus, okra and Brussels sprouts best not think they’re going to escape the pickling process. We’re looking at you, Tyler Ray’s Spicy Asparagus, Whatever Pickles Your Okra and Every Day I’m Brusselin’. Go ahead and unleash the flavor from a jar of Caul Me Cauliflower but be forewarned. One spoonful of this perfectly pickled mixture and the phrase “just one more bite” will play on repeat in your head.

Carlton and Jeannine make their home on the Currituck farm where Carlton grew up among fields of towering corn stalks, vines of tomatoes, sweet watermelons and trees abundant with pears. Carlton’s father, Howard Winslow, is fondly remembered for offering door-to-door delivery of fresh produce as he drove his truck from Southern Shores to Corolla, Carlton and his siblings aboard lending a hand. With his agricultural background and knowledge, Carlton is in his element at the Tomato Shack, the welcoming roadside farm stand that he and Jeannine own and operate in Duck. There, they sell local produce (including eggs and meats), mostly from Currituck and Hertford, and of course, their array of Too Jam Good products. Their three children pitch in and their youngest, Brianna, operates a lemonade stand there, serving refreshing beverages as she chats with customers, enthusiastically promoting their products.

A restaurant-owner friend allows Jeannine and Carlton the use of her commercial kitchen to prepare their products. Local produce is used when available (supplementing with in-season produce from the grocery store when necessary) and all their products are preservative-free. When the canning operation is underway, the air is thick with the sweet scent of bubbling fruit, and the magic begins, as they experiment with a little bit of this and little bit of that, letting their creative juices flow. They make a good team – supporting each other in all aspects of both their produce and jam businesses. In fact, their harmonious relationship is the inspiration behind one of their jams, We’re A Peachy Pair.

Theirs is a true recipe for success that suggests a take on an old adage, “When life gives you bruised tomatoes, make salsa!”