We caught up with Candice Ross, an architect turned founder of STAGG Jam and Marmalade, a small batch jam and marmalade business in Brooklyn where she handcrafts naturally delicious recipes that go past traditional spreads like peanut butter and jelly. We talk about her love for canning, her family back home in Louisiana, the daily inspirations she encounters, and the amazing grandpa Stagg.
What did you do before STAGG?
I was a trained architect! I had worked as an architect designing global luxury brand stores for over a decade.
Did you have any experience as a food maker?
I started baking when I was about six or seven and quickly fell in love with the physics and engineering behind it. I actually credit baking to my path into architecture; they are both a study on form and function, both of which are meant to be shared and experienced by others. As for canning, my love for it started as soon as I moved to Brooklyn.
Where did you get the idea to start STAGG?
My mom, being as supportive and amazing as always, would – and still does, send me care packages as a way to make sure I was always taken care of. Our family has a lot of citrus trees, and when the season comes, we have a bit of an over-abundance. My mom would ask if I wanted a few grapefruits or oranges from the garden, and of course I said yes! Next thing I knew, I had piles and piles of citrus in my tiny studio apartment. Logic set in, and I started making marmalade – my way of preserving the love she would send. I could always open a jar and my family’s hard work, the Louisiana sun and rain – just home – would be right there in that jar.
Your business is named after your grandfather. How did he react?
He was very flattered for sure, but he was mostly happy to see that I was getting back to basics and doing something that really mattered to me. Hard work and creating is what he knows, so this company is a logical and obvious step to him – nothing super fancy. That said, he was in a bit of a rush to pull me out to the barn and dust off his original cattle brand as an iconic twist.
What’s he like?
My grandfather is a mechanic, and a crawfish, rice, and cattle farmer who raised five kids and is now a patriarch to over 60. There has never been anything complicated about his life; when my family needs something, he simply gets out there, uses his hands, and makes it. Providing simple, quality made food for the community is what matters the most to him. The driving force behind everything my grandfather does is love – a need to bring us all closer by sharing in the pride of what he makes.
How has he influenced you?
It’s exactly what I set out to do with this company: make simple, quality products I believe in and share that with the large community as a whole. Knowing someone can take home a jar of marmalade and use that as a base to create the best salad dressing, cocktail, or yogurt parfait they’ve ever had with that jar is what brings the greatest joy to me.
Where do you find inspiration for your delicious flavors?
The recipes come from day to day experiences and cultures that are close to me here in Brooklyn. For example, the Banana Jam started during a construction project when I would need to be onsite often. Being broke, I opted for peanut butter and banana sandwich lunches that were stored away in my bag. As you know, sliced bananas don’t age well, but a banana jam holds up perfectly – made those on-site construction days much easier.
How about the Seasoned Sorrel?
I live in an area of Brooklyn that has a strong Caribbean community. There is a common drink made, often around the holidays, with sorrel. It’s very bright and wonderfully spiced, sometimes spiked with rum. I always have a soft spot for traditional foods and instantly fell in love – the jam is a rendition of that drink.
We noticed most of your ingredients come from your hometown. Why is that?
It is important to me that I source my citrus from Louisiana. It’s little known that south Louisiana is rich with citrus orchards. The family farms there struggle and I want to support them as much as I can.
What do you love about working at STAGG?
I love this company because I get to work face to face with amazing people – really work with them, to create and share. I am surrounded by makers and people who believe in quality and the need to constantly image. There is never a dull moment!
STAGG growing rapidly – how do you keep a personal touch in your recipes and business?
I will always be in the kitchen at least once a week. I plan and design all packaging, labels, and recipes from start to finish. STAGG is growing faster than I have ever imagined, but I will never let a day go by where I don’t brainstorm about how to make a better or new product, or how to work with fellow makers on something. It’s my job to make sure this company is alive and to me, that means keeping customers, partners, and collaborated always at the front.