Lillie O’Brien: the woman with a passion for preserving

An unrelenting excitement for capturing the juiciest, in-season fruit at its peak and preserving it in the form of delicious jam, led Melbournite-turned-Londoner Lillie O’Brien to begin a wildly successful venture: London Borough of Jam (LBJ). Beginning as a hobby and moving to a market before growing into its current Hackney-based store, Lillie’s labour of love now purveys a tempting array of picnic provisions.

We spoke to Lillie about her top jam combinations and kitchen secrets:

When was London Borough of Jam born?

I started LBJ in 2011, while I was still working as a pastry chef at St John Bread & Wine.

Have you always worked independently or owned a business?

No, this is my first time owning my own business, after 12 years of being a chef I decided to start something on my own.

How did the idea come about to start your little venture?

After being a chef for many years, and working long hours, I decided to do something on my own that didn’t involve late nights and weekend work. Little did I know that owning your own business would mean working all the time and, of course, at all hours! But aside from that it is very rewarding… at St John, where I worked, the cooking and baking is based around the seasons. So we had a daily changing menu based on what was in season. I really embraced this because, coming from Australia, I wasn’t used to such small windows when produce is available. I was in pastry at St John and so we preserved as much fruit as possible … especially in summer so that when the winter lean months came around we had something to play with. It also made it special waiting a year for a certain fruit to be in season and capturing it in a jar; it’s really exciting. I guess from this I decided that I really loved and enjoyed preserving so much that I started making small batches of jam at home. I started doing a fortnightly market and testing out my product.

London Borough of Jam

What’s your biggest selling variety of jam?

My most popular jam is the Fig & Earl Grey. Everyone goes crazy for it! I always joke that I could have that on the shelves in my shop and that’s it, because when it is in season everyone buys so much of it.

What’s the most unusual ingredient you include in your jams?

I think the wild fennel pollen is the most interesting ingredient that I add to my jams. It has a lovely wild aniseed flavour and really compliments stone fruits. It grows wild along train lines in the summer and you have to dry the flowers for the pollen. I don’t use any ‘exotic’ fruits as such, as they’re not really available in Europe unless they’re imported from really far away, and I don’t really like to use fruit from afar.

London Borough of Jam

Tell us about any new or interesting projects you’re working on right now …

I’m currently working on a project with an English department store, creating an exclusive range for them. I’m really honoured to have been asked to create such special flavours.

Where do you source your ingredients?

I source my ingredients mainly in the UK but I also use some fruits from Spain, France and Italy because they grow really beautiful fruit. And Turkey for figs when they are in season, as they are the best! England grows really beautiful berries so I always source those here, and plums. Italy is great for citrus and France has beautiful stone fruits like my fave, peche de vigne.

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Last year I moved my main production to a kitchen in Suffolk, where I now travel to make my jam. I still make some small-batch limited edition ranges at home but my main production is now in a slightly bigger kitchen. It’s still a small production unit but it means I can supply more people now whereas before I couldn’t, which was really frustrating. I had to upscale last year after four years of making all my jam at home and, with rental prices going through the roof, it meant I couldn’t afford anything here and had to find a space further out of London. It was pretty exciting to finally be able to start supplying more people and have some extra people to help me in the kitchen.

London Borough of Jam

What is it about home-style jams that really appeals to people?

I think its like any food product really: the smaller the production line, the better the product tastes. It’s also equally the quality of the ingredients used.

Best Kept Secrets

I khoollect a few…

Any kitchenware is very addictive, as I spend most of my time in there. I have to be careful as my kitchen isn’t super big and it seems to get a bit cluttered sometimes because I cant help buying things that I love. My new current haul of wooden spoons from Oaxaca in Mexico is really beautiful and I have them hanging in a custom, wooden-spoon wall holder from barn the Spoon. I also collect jars; I love glass as it’s wonderful for storage and it looks really pretty. I try to be an environmentally friendly person.

What’s your favourite item in your khoollection?

It would probably be my Mauvial Copper Jam pan. I invested in it when I first started making jam and I remember thinking how expensive it was but knew that I would have it forever … and it has been brilliant. Nothing ever catches and the heat distribution is wonderful.

London Borough of Jam

Your secret tip or go-to ingredient in the kitchen?

I always have Marigold Organic Bouillon stock powder in my cupboard, as it great for making a really quick broth for an emergency meal. I’ll cook some soba noodles for it and I usually have some greens in the fridge. I also try to have a good selection of herbs and cut/come-again greens in the garden for quick meals.

Who’s your #khoollectcrush and why?

I don’t really have any specific crushes; just respect for anyone who is doing or creating something different, from the heart, and is genuine.

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WRITTEN BY:
Sonya Gellert

Sonya Gellert is a contributing writer and associate editor for Khoollect. She lives in Sydney....

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Check out Lillie’s tips for making jam at home! And, follow London Borough of Jam on Instagram and Twitter.

You can also chat about your jam-making experiments on our forum.