By Whitney Parchman
Owner Elizabeth Madden celebrated the grand opening of Rare Bird Preserves late last month in the Oak Park Arts District. The space at 211 Harrison houses a commercial kitchen and multi-use retail area designed to host classes and parties.
With a background in fine arts, Madden attended the French Pastry School and quickly fell in love with small batch artisan preserve making. Thousands of jars later, the opening of the Rare Bird Preserves storefront represents the culmination of these efforts.
Upon entering the new space, visitors immediately note its relaxed elegance and are quickly drawn in by the selection of handmade goods from local and international artisans. An artisan herself, Madden’s support of others in complementary vocations highlights a movement she fell in love with over 20 years ago.
It’s no accident that her selections, much like her preserves, reflect a beautiful merging of tradition and modernity. Beyond the retail area the commercial kitchen provides the perfect setting for Madden and her team to practice and grow their craft. Inspired by the seasonal availability of locally and sustainably grown fruit, Madden uses a traditional combination of French and British preserving techniques to create modern flavor pairings.
Classic Preserves and Signature Curds such as Strawberry Rhubarb and Blackberry Lime are available year round online and in stores throughout the US. Those fortunate enough to grab an inspired exclusive blend (sometimes as few as 20 are made) enjoy unique flavor combinations such as Cherry Lime, Red Berries Rosé and Meyer Lemon Rosemary.
When asked how Madden develops these combinations she relates a cycle of experimentation, failure and reattempts. Persistence and passion have regularly guided Madden through this creative cycle and, to the delight of many palates, success. Tasting Table, an online guide for food and drink enthusiasts, describes Rare Bird Preserves as, “Deeply flavored… with intriguing combinations.” Whole Foods Market refers to it as, “Deliciously unique.” While Chicago Magazine has declared it, “The season’s perfect present for foodies.”
Patience is an equally important part of the practice. Traditional copper kettles and unrushed production methods allow the fruits’ natural pectin to be extracted. This traditional extraction method is an art in itself. According to Madden the process is simple, however, any-one who has attempted to make their own jam knows the best intentions can lead to either a syrup-like or overly dense consistency. In an effort to thwart failure, hobbyists and mass-producers alike frequently use a combination of animal gelatin and additives. The consistency may be a relative improvement, however, the flavor is often less vibrant.
Each jar of Rare Bird Preserves, in contrast, celebrates each ingredient’s natural beauty, taste and texture. When asked what she loves most about making her preserves and curds, Madden responds, “Just a few ingredients, put together properly, can have spectacular results.” We agree!
Check out Rare Bird Preserves in per- son at 211 Harrison Street right here in the Oak Park Arts District and online at RareBirdPreserves.com. Follow their mouthwatering Instagram @rarebirdpreserves.