At Large

Outstanding women, artisanal jams

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Every three years, a search is conducted for “The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service” (or TOWNS) awards. While the board of judges (historically headed by the Chief Justice, the incumbent serendipitously a TOWNS awardee herself) looks for Filipino women between 21 and 45 years old who are accomplished and distinguished in their fields, they are further judged on a whole new other dimension.

Every awardee must be “committed to the promotion of well-being and uplift of the Philippines and Filipinos” and “possess a pioneering spirit as evidenced by projects that she has initiated in the service of our country.”

So it is not enough for a nominee to be acknowledged for her expertise or experience. She must at the same time give her accomplishments a social dimension that, trite as it may sound, makes a real difference in the lives of Filipinos.

Every awardee becomes a member of the TOWNS Foundation, a venue for sharing ideas and concerns, and embarking on projects that build on the combined expertise of its members. Most recently, the TOWNS Foundation, together with business and environment groups, launched a “road show” on climate change, with various TOWNS-women discussing the impacts of climate change in the country.

Entry forms for the TOWNS awards, which will be given out next year, may be downloaded from its website www.TOWNS.org.ph. Deadline is June 30, 2013.

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The launch of the 2013 TOWNS awards coincided with the inauguration of the “Crossing Afro-Asian Bridges” display of dolls and puppets, donated by a TOWNS awardee, Ambassador Rosalinda Tirona (diplomacy, 1983), to the organization.

Housed at the Museo Pambata, the display consists of rare and antique wooden puppets from Burma (Myanmar) where Ambassador Tirona served in 1990-1993 and was the only woman in the diplomatic service there. Also on display are dolls from various African countries, representing East Africa where the ambassador served in the following countries: Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda, the Seychelles, Tanzania and Uganda.

Now retired from the diplomatic service, Ambassador Tirona decided to donate part of her extensive doll collection in her belief, she said, that “to promote peace, it is essential that there be appreciation of each other’s culture as depicted in the dolls… If children appreciate the value of peace, we can look forward to a more peaceful and happier world for children and mankind.”

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“Artisanal” has become a much-abused word. Technically, it applies to any product made by a craftsman or tradesman, and thus implies several qualities: handmade, produced in small quantities, individual and unique. Lately, though, the label has been attached to anything that is not mass-produced, regardless of the quality of the product, or the intent behind the venture.

Still, it may not be entirely facetious or pretentious to describe the jams bearing “The Fruit Garden” label as artisanal products. They are produced in small batches, with formulations determined only after much experimentation and testing, and made from natural, seasonal ingredients.

Most important, the jams are the results of the personal efforts of Frenchman Pierre Marmonier, who used to work as an executive in a tobacco company here. Once, while grocery-shopping at a local supermarket, he says, “I couldn’t find any jam that I liked, and that was when I hit upon the idea of making my own jams.” The idea gained traction while he was on vacation in France. “My mother made jams at home, and would store the bottles in our basement,” recounts Marmonier. In Paris, he chanced upon stores and patisseries selling limited lines of jams made by home-based entrepreneurs. That was when he thought of creating a line of jams using tropical fruits.

The favorites of Marmonier’s foreign clients are the mango-based jams—“plain” mango, mango ginger, mango lavender, mango chocolate, and mango spices. Strangely enough, Filipinos favor the line of strawberry jams, including strawberry mint, strawberry banana and berry duet. For adventurous palates, “The Fruit Garden” offers more exotic flavors, including durian, jackfruit, guyabano, guava and passion fruit. Every flavor, every batch, is personally tested by Marmonier, who relies on his palate to tell him “if we need less or more sugar, more fruit, or more creative combinations.”

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Every bottle of “The Fruit Garden” jam bears the blurb “Cooked in copper cauldrons in small batches as per the French tradition.”

After that fateful trip to France, Marmonier and his Filipino wife Ria came home with three copper pots to start their venture. “Copper conveys heat evenly and ensures that your jams don’t burn,” he explains. As for the “French tradition,” he shrugs and says: “Well, I’m French.”

So far, most of “The Fruit Garden” jams are snapped up by hotels; some are available at the lobbies of Dusit Thani and Hyatt. Bacchus also carries some stock, while the Marmoniers can be found at the Legaspi Sunday Market and at Power Plant, personally vending their wares.

Marmonier concedes that “The Fruit Garden” jams are on the high end, but dares anyone to compare these with mass-produced jams. For the Christmas season, they are also coming out with a special “Wave Collection,” a boxed set of two “wave bottles” of limited-edition jams: “Berry Dream” made of blueberry, strawberry and the aroma of the violet flower, and “Tropical Paradise,” a mix of passion fruit, mango and pineapple. And bottled into every product, of course, is a very personal passion and devotion to the process of creation. Artisanal, indeed!

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