Things We Love: Bhuira Jams
Our mornings begin with multi-grain toast slathered with spoonfuls of warm ginger-spiced apple jelly. And for a few minutes every day, breakfast conveys us to a cool and lush apple orchard laden with the ripe, crisp and tart fruit. While the label on the jelly jar says Fabindia, few know that the jams, jellies (made using the juice of the fruit and not the pulp like in jams and preserves) and chutneys sold by the clothing and home furnishings chain are actually by a brand called Bhuira.
The origins of the brand can be traced to the summer of 1991. That’s when Linnet Mushran, the British wife of a Kashmiri working and residing in Delhi, visited her husband’s summer cottage in Bhuira for the first time. An agrarian village in Himachal Pradesh, Bhuira lies in the relatively tourist-free depths of the Sirmaur district and is a precarious 30-minute drive up a narrow and beaten slope from Rajgarh, a town known as the “peach bowl of Asia”. Because Bhuira is poorly connected to districts and cities like Solan and Chandigarh where the big markets are located, the high cost of transportation means that farmers in the village are left with very small profit margins. They’re thus often faced with an excess of fruit going to waste. As her family cottage was poised in the centre of an apple orchard, and there was a surplus of fruit grown by small farmers, Mushran decided to launch Bhuira Jams from the village in 1999. The brand started with the excellent apple ginger jelly, which is also our top pick from their 27-item product range. Today, their annually production figure is 70 tonnes, up from 20 tonnes in 1999.
Until recently, Fabindia, which struck a deal with Bhuira 11 years ago, was the only place in Mumbai where you could buy the brand’s products. By the end of this month however, Bhuira will be retailed across the country through the popular online furniture store Pepperfry.com. The entire range of Bhuira’s well-balanced, fruit-loaded jams, jellies and chutneys including the cape gooseberry jam, black cherry jam, guava jelly, bitter orange marmalade, strawberry jam and tomato chutney, will be up for purchase on the site. Rebecca Vaz, a Mumbai home baker, daughter-in-law to Mushran and now also her business partner, is Bhuira’s mascot in our city. She’s responsible for the expansion of Bhuira as Mushran, who is now 72, is keen to handover the reins. Vaz intends to have the brand stocked across Mumbai’s restaurants. Last week, Jam Jar Diner in Andheri began selling Bhuira.
It’s fitting that Vaz, who makes a monthly visit to Bhuira village, has been absorbed into the business, as the enterprise is run entirely by women. The company employs 19 village women as permanent staff, and during every harvest hires over 100 more for plucking, sorting, cleaning, skinning and cutting fruit. Said Vaz, “Part of the reason Linnet Mushran has maintained the jam business is so that these women can stay self-sufficient.”
Mushran’s recipes are her mother’s and in that sense Bhuira can be described as a homemade jam. Bhuira is also artisanal in the true sense of the word. The products, quite remarkably, are made entirely by hand from the plucking of the fruit to the bottling of the jam. “It’s a source of pride in addition to income,” said Vaz. “They’re [the employees] thrilled that they are contributing to a product named after their village.”
The intensive labour yields superior quality preserves that have become indispensable to our diet. Bhuira is reassuringly preservative-free. In addition to fresh fruit – stoned varieties such as plums, apricots and cherries are farmed in the valley, while oranges are sourced from Nagpur, strawberries from Haryana and cape gooseberries from Aligarh – the products contain only lime, sugar and fresh apple juice. The Bhuira labels state that the goods are made by “happy mountain women”. Judging by the comforting taste, it’s a totally believable claim.