Liz Butcher's life-changing moment came one late-summer Saturday, as she peddled her homegrown specialty produce at the Cache County farmers market.
"Someone offered to pay me a quarter for a two-pound heirloom tomato," Butcher recalled, still appalled. But she did understand.
"With the economic downturn, a lot of people had turned to gardening, so there was not a lot of competition. With 50 produce stands, if you won't take 25 cents for tomatoes, you go home with lots of tomatoes.
"But I do have skills as a chef, so I decided to take my tomatoes and turn them into something people would pay for."
In that instant, Butcher's Bunches was born. Butcher's Logan company, small but growing, creates gourmet preserves from recipes she often makes up as she goes along. She sold her first bottles in June 2009.
Butcher uses locally grown fruit at its peak of sweetness, incorporating little to no sugar, adding unexpected layers of flavor, with ingredients that can include premium chocolate, roasted hot peppers, garlic, exotic spices or savory herbs.
The palate may sound sophisticated, but Butcher's preserves have wide appeal.
"When I take it to markets in Logan or Park City, I put it on a cracker with some cheese," Butcher reports, with a smile. "If people taste it, they always buy it."
Last winter, Sundance came calling, and commissioned jam to put in the gift baskets for the independent film festival's filmmakers. Fade to Black, a blend of black raspberries, rhubarb and winter spices, remains in Butcher's Bunches product line.
Butcher's Bunches preserves also sell in Salt Lake City, at foodie haven Tony Caputo's Market & Deli.
Through the company website, at www.butchersbunches.com, orders roll in from across the nation, Europe and Mexico. Individual jars sell for $8.50 to $10, and a four-pack of tiny sampler jars goes for $15. Customers get a dollar back for returning empty bottles.
But even with that, the profit margin sure beats a quarter for a large heirloom tomato.
Butcher, 45, a California native who moved to Utah to attend Brigham Young University, didn't always have a magical touch with ingredients. She laughs when she thinks back to the first meal she cooked for her new husband, more than two decades back.
"My mother always made amazing spaghetti, so I decided to make that," Butcher said. "I bought a pound of hamburger and can of Campbell's tomato soup, cooked them in a pan, and dumped them over noodles."
Her new husband dutifully feigned delight, but later confided the meal was horrible. Then he taught her some kitchen basics.
"My mother is a fantastic cook, but she was very clean-oriented, and she didn't like children in her kitchen," Butcher said.
But as a new bride, Butcher did have a sophisticated palate, from eating California's fresh produce, dining at trendy restaurants with her parents and siblings, and traveling internationally when her father's work in the computer industry provided opportunities.
Butcher helped support her growing family with secretarial and administrator work, but found her creative niche when she began work as a pastry chef at Crumb Brothers Bakery in Logan.
Butcher's eldest son and daughter had grown up and flown the coop by the time she started making jams, but Kenneth, 15, remains at home. Kenneth, who is autistic, doesn't tolerate refined sugar well because of his condition, so his mother began making sugar-free jams and was shocked by the difference in flavor.
"When a jam is half sugar, it's the sugar you taste," Butcher said. "When you use local fruit at its peak of freshness, instead of fruit picked green and ripened on a truck as it crosses the country, all the sweetness you need comes from the fruit."
Butcher uses a small amount of sugar in recipes that need it, such as lemon preserves. And she does buy tropical fruit grown outside Utah. But with those exceptions, her offerings are local, whole fruit and sugar-free — all resulting in the intensely rich, fruity, fragrant jam her customers crave, Butcher said.
And she's proud to support the local movement and economy.
"If local people didn't support me, I wouldn't be in business," Butcher said. "The local movement is huge, and it's been around for quite some time. It's important knowing where your food comes from and who grows it.
"With the salmonella eggs thing in the news recently, and mad cow disease a few years back, people want to know more about their food. With local food, there's much less chance of getting a food-borne illness."
And using Utah-grown fruit supports local farmers.
"A lot of small farms are shutting down, and can't survive in this economy," Butcher said. "It makes sense to support Utah's economy rather than, say, Iowa's, and you get fresher food if you buy local."
Butcher also donates preserves to her local food bank.
Business is bustling in this harvest season. Wearing a cheery apron made by an artist friend, Liz Butcher makes and bottles hundreds of bottles of preserves at least three days a week, with help from her assistant, Jamie Swenson. They labor in a kitchen rented from a pizza parlor, moving through air that is heavy with earthy, intoxicating fruit essence.
Son Kenneth is happy to harvest cherries and other fruits from the home garden, and he also suggests jam names, which often have a musical theme.
"He's obsessed with music," his proud mother said. "We all are. That's why our business motto is ‘Keep on Jamming.' "
Husband Corey hauls fruit and will collaborate with his wife to open a retail store in December. The business, in a Logan location to be announced, will also boast a pastry bar, and maybe a small cafe.
So Butcher will remain busy, but will she enjoy a break from bottling preserves?
"Uh, no," she said, surprised at the question. "The seasonal things will be over, but I've got pallets of fruit in a freezer, frozen at the peak freshness. This is a year-round business, and I love the work. This is my passion."
Flavor combinations currently available through Butcher's Bunches website:
• Rebel Yell Jam, made of peaches and sweat-inducing "chocolate habanero" peppers.
• Green Eyes Jam, with rhubarb simmered in cognac and lime juice, with some anise, orange oil and roasted ginger.
• Cantaloupe Island Jam, made of Green River melons, chunked and simmered with lime juice and sea salt, with a shot of peppermint schnapps.
• Pear Moutarde, pears blended with a variety of mustard seeds that have been toasted in fig balsamic vinegar, then pureed.
• Peachy Keane Jam, made with white-flesh peaches, key limes, coconut milk and a little sugar.
• Van Gogh Martini, with peach chunks soaked in pomegranate liqueur, then sauteed in Grand Marnier, then poured over black raspberries for a two-tone sunset look.
• Sunday Bloody Sundae, an ice cream topping with tart cherries, fresh banana, Madagascar vanilla beans and Valrhona Coeur de Guanaja chocolate.
• Traveling Wilberries, made with marionberries and lime.
• Black Raspberry Garlic Smash, with roasted Siberian garlic sautéed in sweet Marsala, then blended with fresh black raspberries.
• Gad Zukes! Relish, a seasonal offering with zucchini, yellow squash, red bell peppers, onions, garlic, a hint of jalapeno and some apple cider vinegar.