Fruits of Her Labor

At Spruce Hill Preserves, Molly Haendler concocts

delectable jams and jellies

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Photo by CJ Dawson Photography

For a while, Spruce Hill Preserves carried itself like some sort of jam and jelly speakeasy, selling jams, jellies, fruit butters and preserves without any licenses, from Molly Haendler’s small kitchen in West Philadelphia. There, she sold her flavorful fruit concoctions under-the-table to family and friends, and then subsequently, to the friends and family of her family and friends, and so on, and so forth. Soon, word of mouth had built her a serious following.

“People were telling me they had to go out and get another loaf of bread because it was so good they couldn’t stop eating it,” Haendler says. “People were approaching me.”

So once Haendler hit the 300-jar count in March of 2014, she decided to make it official. She took the name from her neighborhood and got the necessary licenses. And she moved production to West Philadelphia’s Center for Culinary Enterprises, a commercial kitchen space and business incubator made available to the local budding food entrepreneurs of Philadelphia.

For sourcing, Haendler buys from Beechwood Orchards in Biglerville, Pennsylvania, purchasing in-season fruits to make a better tasting product. “I like Beechwood because they have such a wonderful array of produce—especially apples,” she says.

Haendler supplements her Beechwood purchases with produce from West Philadelphia’s Mariposa Co-op and from Taproot Farms, which has a stand near Haendler’s jam stand at the Tuesday N3rd Market in Old City. (She also sells online at sprucehillpreserves.com.) But what really drives her dependence on farms is that because their produce is defined by the season, so is hers.

“The original purpose of canning—to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables for us in times of food shortage—has always been best suited for home-use rather than retail,” she says. “I provide special treats that can be enjoyed immediately or stored almost indefinitely for future use.”

Recently, food-cred in this town has been made attainable through chef collaborations and shelf space in specialty markets. The scene has welcomed Haendler with open arms. Her products are available for purchase on her online store, or at the Fair Food Farmstand, Metropolitan Bakery, and Farm & Fisherman Tavern + Market.

“There are lots of people making jams in Philly right now, but she’s one of the few doing it with local ingredients,” says Josh Lawler, chef/owner of Farm & Fisherman Tavern + Market. “She does savory jams, too, like her Carrot Jam with orange and cardamom. Her stuff is unique and provides sort of a next-level sophistication.” That same jam, because of its delicious utility, was featured back in August in a Vietnamese-themed dinner menu at Rittenhouse’s Twenty Manning Grill, mixed with dark rum and Vietnamese iced coffee.

Haendler also found a great working relationship with another entrepreneur at the Center for Culinary Enterprises, Megan Gibson, the founder and owner of PB&Jams.

“We soon realized that not only were our products a natural match for each other, but our personalities and creative processes jived as well,” Haendler says. And Gibson agrees: “Her flavor combinations are really unique, and it just made sense. I was searching for local preserves, and we met at the Center for Culinary Enterprises. We just work well together—from menu conception to taste testing, we do it all together.”

The collaborations and support are still somewhat surprising to Haendler. “I never thought I could do this. I spent years thinking I didn’t have the capabilities of doing this,” she says. “But I’m doing it, and I’m doing it well. I don’t want to stop. I’m going to make this a success, and I’m going to do whatever it takes.”