Jams and jellies, joy and Jar’d: Local chef spreading it all to the community07/11/2023 11:39AM ● By Richard Gaw
Gail Brennan of Jar’d appears at several artisan festivals throughout southern Chester County and beyond. Photo courtesy of Gail Brennan
By Gabbie Burton, Contributing Writer
Oxford chef Gail Brennan manages to keep passion and excitement in her already unique life and career through a seemingly humble occupation of making jams and jelly.
Brennan lovingly describes her business Jar’d as a “labor of love, fueled by passion.”
Having started selling her creations about four years ago, Brennan’s commitment to her business comes from her lifelong love for cooking. Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Brennan’s love for cooking was first inspired at home through her mother.
“She was an amazing cook and I wish at the time when I was younger, I had realized that,” Brennan said. “I knew her food was amazing, but I didn't pay attention to what she was doing and how she was doing it.”
While cooking has always been her passion, it is not her first career path. Brennan previously served 20 years in the U.S. Army before graduating from Drexel University with a Culinary Arts degree.
“When I joined the military, I wanted to be a cook,” Brennan said. “But the time that I had to wait to get in was going to take too long, and I was ready to go in, so I settled for being a mechanic instead.”
While “settling” for being a mechanic might seem a bit unusual, Brennan revealed that was in fact the case. She had no prior experience in mechanics and had never even driven a car before her time in the military. For most, that would seem an intimidating choice; however, Brennan manages to make it feel almost normal.
Eventually, at the time of her retirement, Brennan worked as the Equal Opportunity Advisor for the Ordnance Brigade at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland which is what brought her to Oxford.
Brennan’s eclectic career and life path may make a small business about jams and jellies seem unexpected but the local community and environment provide an explanation.
“You’re not going to find many people in Brooklyn doing canning,” Brennan said. “It’s bigger out here. I think that’s what got me into it, because of the environment -- the area where I live.”
Brennan makes her products with locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, a feat again made feasible due to the environment and community.
“I think it's important, especially when you're in a small town like this, to support local businesses, as much as you can,” Brennan said.
Brennan cited the Oxford produce auction as a favorite way to accomplish this goal and experiment with new flavor combinations.
“'I’ll go to the auction and see what I can get in bulk and based on what's available that will decide what I come up with,” she said. “It’s an exciting process, and I love it.”
Brennan culinary training gives her an edge in understanding flavor profiles and coming up with new exciting combinations. But ultimately, her inspiration in the kitchen comes from a strong creative fearlessness.
“I'm not afraid to experiment with combining things, or how things go together,” Brennan said. “I guess that's where the inspiration comes from, just being willing to try whatever.”
Additionally, Brennan recognizes the influence and need to stay fresh and exciting in order to promote customer interest.
“It's not enough just to make strawberry jam, or just to make peach jam. People are more excited about tomato jalapeno jam,” Brennan said. “They don't want the norm. They want to be adventurous.”
This fearless approach seems to working for Brennan, her business and her customers.
“That’s the rewarding part, Brennan admitted. “People are excited about what you’re excited about, that means that you’re doing something right.”
Jar’d features unique flavors in the jams such as black garlic bacon, vanilla cantaloupe and blueberry cabernet. Brennan is also expanding her line of wine jellies through a collaboration with The Acadian Wine Company in West Grove, which will feature their different vintages in jelly form. In addition to the jams and jellies, Jar’d also features baked goods, meat rubs and chili mix.
Brennan’s sells her creations at local markets, craft fairs and events, including the Clover Market in Kennett and most recently at the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center’s Family Fest on June 24.
Brennan shared her perspective on being an artisan in the Chester County community.
“There are a lot of artisans in the community and I think that everyone supports each other in the best way they can,” she stated. “It’s a craft, it’s an art and people are willing to pay more for that so the community does support you and whatever kind of art you do.”
Ultimately, Brennan continues to focus on the good and further expresses her gratitude to the community and her customers.
“I think what they're getting out of it is the fact that it's something new and exciting, something that they would never do for themselves,” Brennan said. “I think they appreciate and understand my passion for what I'm doing and they want to celebrate that with me -- and for me.”
For more information about Jar’d, new flavors and products and a listing of upcoming appearances, follow it on Facebook.