Saturday, August 16, 2008

Timeless Tradition and Artisan Food Making at E. Waldo Ward

So what's the deal with E. Waldo Ward, you may ask? Well, let me fill in you in with a little bit of history and it all started with marmalade. Edwin Waldo Ward was a luxury food salesman from New York who had a dream, specifically to make an English-style marmalade. Why English-style marmalade? Apparently, it was one of his best sellers and he felt that it could be made just as well in California. To that effect, he imported and planted Seville orange trees after he purchased 10 acres of land in the city of Sierra Madre.

Ward began experimenting with recipes in 1915 and two years later, built a factory and started making marmalade. His biggest customers were the railroads and Fred Harvey (famous for his restaurants and hotels along the railroad lines), for whom Ward made "ringlet" marmalade, which contained an artful array of round Seville slices. Eventually, Ward's business thrived and he purchased another 20 acres of land for a total of 30 acres where he grew the citrus for his marmalade. He also added other food items like jams and hand-stuff olives from Spain to his product line.

With the depression came some hard times and eventually, he had to sell the majority of his land. Present day, the Ward Ranch sits on between 2 to 3 acres of land. The original Seville trees Ward purchased are on private property elsewhere. What's unique about Ward Ranch is that the original house and barn are still on the property and are over 100 years old. Currently, Jeff Ward, fourth generation is now running the family business and amazingly enough, it hasn't been bought out by larger food companies as what tends to happen with small, family-run and owned businesses in general. Now you have some background, let's talk about their tour.

First, the tours are only during the weekends, but are completely Free. How often does that happen? So a few months ago, I set up one up. They start off inside the factory where Jeff gives a brief talk on the history of E. Waldo Ward. From there, he takes us through the process of how their food is manufactured. He starts with the olives, which are exported from Spain. Their various olives are hand-stuffed with a variety of ingredients, from pimiento to cheese and than hand-placed in the jars. No automation there.

He also mentions some of their other foo
d products, which have expanded over and beyond the orange marmalade E. Waldo Ward started with. The types of products they manufacture and sell now include everything from bbq sauces to pickled or brandied fruits to condiments to unique jams and jellies like the Wisteria Jelly we were able to sample later. In recent years, Jeff has come up with the majority of the new product recipes, so he's definitely the Pied Piper of E. Waldo Ward. While most of their products are under their own label, some are also private label for other food companies.

After the talk, we took a tour of his manufacturing plant, which is isn't very big, but what's so interesting about it is their equipment. Employees work with burners that date to 1915 as well as a 1930 stainless steel citrus-peel slicer with a wall full of accessories. Some of the products are made in
massive kettles, but many of the more delicate items -- say pickled peaches -- are cooked on the antique burners in pots hardly larger than a home-preserver might use. Two of the six kettles date from World War II. They're shiny clean, constantly in use. Pictures were also available so that we could see some of the equipment at work, from one depicting an employee stirring a large vat raspberry preserves to seeing a machine fill jars with the preserves to an employee screwing the lid by hand.

Then we actually got to sample some of their products and they included: wisteria jelly, four berry preserve, seville orange marmalade, sweet orange marmalade and an orange fruit spread. There's actually a difference between jellies, marmalade and fruit spreads, which Jeff explained, but I am drawing a
complete blank. To find out more, click here. Jeff also included pickled kumquats, which were deliciously tart. After the tasting, we went into another room where we saw a conveyor belt. Once the lids are screwed on the jars, the jars are placed in containers and go down the conveyor belt where other employees can pick them up and take them to the building where labels are printed and placed on all the jars.

After we checked out the packaging building, Jeff took us the kumquat trees that lined the walkway to his property and showed us a trick when it comes to eating them since they can sometimes be sour. Simply, roll the kumquat between the palms of your hands to help release the oils of the kumquat skin, then pop the whole thing in your mouth, skin and all. It actually worked and there just something so cool about eating a warmed by the sun piece of fruit right off the tree.

Now that we were educated on kumquats, we were able to check out their farming museum, which is right inside their 100+ year old barn. On the way there, Jeff mentioned that the large barn tower was actually a water tower at one time and apparently haunted. At night, sometimes, there's lights flickering up there. Once inside the farming museum, I had no idea what was what, but it all looked
well-used. So ended the tour. Afterwards, the retail store was open in case anyone wanted to purchase anything. By the way, they also have an online business, so if you can't make it to Sierra Madre, check out their website below.

Overall, this was as a short 45 minute tour, but what a joy it is to be able to visit a place where time-worn traditions are still in place and where just because you can change something, it doesn't mean you have to if what you have still does the job. Apparently, they even adhere still to the original marmalade recipe as created by E. Waldo Ward. Why fix something that isn't broke?

When you get a chance, try and take a tour of this piece of Americana. Come on, how often do you get to visit a small citrus farm and gourmet food manucturing plant right in the middle of the suburbs? If nothing else, you can drop by their retail store to pick up some product and even replicate the kumquat eating trick, but be sure to ask for permission first.

To see pics, go to:

E. Waldo Ward & Son, Inc.
273 E. Highland Avenue
Sierra Madre, CA 91024


Tom Aarons said...

What a charming background story and great review of the tour. Thanks!

pleasurepalate said...

Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed my post! :)

oddlyme said...

Okay - you got me.

Your write up sounded like so much fun and as I am a home jam maker - how could I resist? I called Friday and got a tour today - Saturday - and it was fantastic!

I loved it all and had to drag my husband out of the museum, he loved all the old tools.

I left with a box of jams and plans to use E.Waldo Ward as my secret holiday weapon. They ship : )

Thanks so much for sharing their story!

pleasurepalate said...

Hi oddlyme! I'm so glad that you decided to check out E. Waldo Ward. I've been there quite a few times myself and each time, I'm just so thankful that places like it are still around and hopefully, will be around for a long time.

oddlyme said...

One more thanks.

I picked up a jar of their pickled peaches and took them to my mom - who hadn't had the dish since HER mom had made them, decades ago.

They were divine. Flavorful and balanced.

Thanks for helping me give her a memory!

Bill said...

Ok whats the difference between a jam a jelly and a marmalade?

pleasurepalate said...

Bill: Check out the following link to get more info about the difference:

LA Farm Girl said...

Wow, you make me want to go and visit them! I am a farm writer and I had never heard of this place and am so glad I did!

Love your blog too!

LA Farm Girl

pleasurepalate said...

LA Farm Girl: They actually don't do much farming there anymore, but it's still a cool historical place to visit. :)