Goods from the woods: Living Greens Colorado sells preserves made from locally-gathered ingredients at the Vail Farmers’ Market
Editors’ note: This article appears as part of a series about vendors at the Vail Farmers’ Market and Art Show. The series will be running throughout the summer.
Sure, you can buy a 32-ounce jar of Welch’s Concord Grape at the grocery store, but you can’t get Colorado Blue Spruce Jelly just anywhere. In fact, perhaps the only way you can get preserves made out of the Colorado State Tree is through Living Greens Colorado.
Based out of Penrose south of Colorado Springs, Living Greens is run by husband-wife team Bruce and Wendy Bradley. Bruce heads out into the wilderness and gathers greens to make jams and jellies, and Wendy helps sell the goods online and at farmers markets.
“A lot of people tell us where to go. On their property, they have this or that. It’s helpful,” Wendy said. “We’re able to collect things at different elevations at different times of the year.”
The company, while it is most known for its preserves, also makes drinking vinegars, lip balms and skincare products. In addition to its wooden cart at the Vail Farmers’ Market and Art Show, Living Greens sells products at the markets in Dillon and Aspen.
Bruce picks mostly everything by hand, which is a main tenet of the company’s dedication to wildcrafting and its “goods from the woods” motto. And he finds a wide variety of materials. Living Greens makes up to 14 different varieties of flower jellies, with the disclaimer that “all availability [is] contingent on Mother Nature,” according to the website. Some of the flower varieties include elderflower, dandelion petal, rose petal, sunflower petal, fireweed flower and more. That doesn’t even include the varieties of fruit, herb, evergreen and spice varieties.
Some of their particularly uncommon varieties include crabapple, wild staghorn sumac, red grape jalapeno, prickly pear cactus chili and serviceberry.
Living Greens makes both jams and jellies, and there’s actually a big difference in how they’re made. Jams – think strawberry or raspberry – are made by cooking the fruit with a small amount of water and sugar. The cooked fruit is pureed and then made into a jam. Jellies however, are made by boiling the ingredients in water, and then using the resulting “tea” to make the preserve. In Living Green’s situation, some wildflowers and herbs hold onto their seeds and can mess with the texture of the final product.
Historians have had a hard time pinpointing the exact origins of jam, but some of the earliest recorded recipes date back to the Ancient Romans, who improved on the Ancient Grecian method of preserving quince in honey by cooking the two ingredients together before storing. Early Middle Eastern cultures have also been credited with creating the earliest jams. Jellies didn’t come along until later, because it requires gelatin to set, and powdered gelatin wasn’t available until the 1600s.
Fruit preserve recipes came to the United States with the people who settled here, and the first Concord Grape jelly recipe was perfected in Concord, Massachusetts in 1853. The pioneers and early settlers of the West relied heavily on preserved foods, including jams and jellies.
Living Greens’ products can be used for much more than topping a slice of toast. Wendy recommends her customers try using it as a glaze for pork or chicken. Products can also be added to barbecue sauces, served as an ice cream topping, paired with cheese as an appetizer or snack, and many more options. Many of the wildflower varieties can also act as a vegan honey, and the taste is similar to bee honey.
In addition to the flagship preserves, Living Greens makes drinking vinegars, also called “shrubs.” Made primarily from wild fruit, these fruit-infused and sweetened vinegars date back to the 1700s and have made a comeback recently, most commonly in the form of Apple Cider Vinegar shots. Traditionally, pioneers drank it over ice after a hot work day. In addition to drinking it straight, it also makes a great mixer for cocktails, Wendy said.
“They’d be very happy to have fruit, and if it’s going bad then they’d pickle it. Then they’d flavor their water with it and then, ‘oh, this tastes pretty good with gin,’” she said.