Meet Two Montaukers Who Make Tasty and Innovative Jams

Every year, Renée Akkala and Liz Zaccaria anxiously anticipate the three-month-long period when the East End’s wild fruits—beach plums, blackberries, rose hips, elderberries, wineberries, and gooseberries—begin to ripen. When the waiting is over, the best friends pull on their fishing boots, husbands’ wading pants, and thick T-shirts and trudge through both dunes and dense forest to forage under the blazing sun. “It’s not a pretty sight, with sweat dripping off our faces,” says Akkala, “but we share a lot of laughs.” 

Having fun is precisely why their partnership works. The adventure is as much a beloved pastime as it is the foundation for their small-batch jams and jellies business, Two Jammin’ Chicks. Both Montauk residents, Akkala and Zaccaria learned how to search for wild fruit from their grandparents. “It’s what we grew up doing with our cousins on summer days,” recounts Akkala. At Zaccaria’s wedding in 2014, guests received jars of beach plum jelly, made according to Akkala’s family’s recipe. “We wanted to share the local hobby of making jams and jellies,” says Zaccaria. “It’s so meaningful to us.” 

After the wedding, word quickly spread about the pair’s jelly, and the women started getting calls for orders, which prompted them to launch their business in 2015. Zaccaria and Akkala have since expanded their offerings from old family recipes to new variations, such as cranberry-habañero jelly (they gather cranberries along the coast and habañeros from friends’ gardens) and raspberry jelly, produced with fruit picked at a local farm. 

A recent addition: gin-infused beach plum jelly. To begin a batch, they extract the juice from two five-gallon buckets of destemmed and cleaned beach plums. In a collection pot atop a larger pot of boiling water, a strainer is filled with the fruit, which releases its juice as it is gently steamed. Once extracted into the collection pot, the liquid is mixed in a large clean bowl with sugar, locally made gin, and a thickening agent, then brought to a boil and stirred until it achieves the desired jelly-like consistency. Next, they pour the mixture into heated glass jars, which are capped with lids, submerged in a hot-water bath for 12 minutes, and left to sit overnight. “We were taught to respect where we’re from and be proud of it,” says Zaccaria, “and we want to carry on this tradition.” 

A version of this article appeared in the August 1 2018 issue of HC&G (Hamptons Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Jam Session.