The network of chefs, growers and food artisans on Orcas Island is so intertwined that the night before I met Audra and Gerry Lawlor selling their line of Girl Meets Dirt Archipelago Preserves at the Orcas Island Farmer’s Market, I had already tasted one of their wares in an elegant Prosecco cocktail tinged with rhubarb and lavender at The Inn at Ship Bay.
Turns out, the inn’s commercial kitchen is where girl meets stove to craft her chunky, jam-like “spoon preserves” and the firmer, concentrated fruit purees Audra calls “cutting preserves,” modeled after Spanish membrillo, or quince paste.
Quince, in fact, is their bestselling flavor. It comes from Willowrose Bay on Guemes, another of the islands in the San Juan archipelago. Audra says she is adamant about sourcing fruit only from the San Juans; often they pick it themselves. With the exception of rhubarb, she exclusively uses orchard fruit, almost all heirlooms, “a nod to the San Juan’s, and in particular Orcas’s orchard keeping history.”
The Bartlett pears she blends with aged balsamic come from one of Orcas Island’s original orchards. Orcas orchards also yield the Italian plums she makes into a cutting preserve, as well as a spoon preserve flavored with anise hyssop from her garden.
These preserves all pair beautifully with cheeses. A favorite of match of mine is the crabapple cutting preserve with aged gouda. I bought several flavors ($12 a jar) at the Farmers Market on a trip to Orcas in June (read more about that here) but you’ll find Girl Meets Dirt preserves in Seattle too, at Picnic, DeLaurenti, Pear Delicatessen & Shoppe, E. Smith Mercantile, Sugarpill, The Calf & Kid and Marx Foods.
Audra’s story of how girl meets boy and ends up making preserves on this remote island is by turns romantic and wrenching. It is most eloquently told by her in journal entries about acclimating to island life (complete with recipes) on the Girl Meets Dirt website, but here’s a synopsis:
Audra met Gerry while both toiled in the financial field in New York City. They married and three years ago moved into their “farmette” on Orcas, a sylvan island that must remind Dublin-born Gerry of the Emerald Isle. It was Audra’s dream but he willingly signed on. The plan was to start a family and a business. Four miscarriages later, it was time to get down to business.
“I put my head down and my chin up and built a business from scratch – hand-picked fruit, sugar, and a squeeze of lemon,” Audra writes. “I finally DID what I said I was going to do, after quitting my Wall Street job and moving across the country to an island in the middle of nowhere…We did everything we could to make our lives full, without that maternal & paternal longing for fullness we hadn’t been able to conquer.”
Then came a fifth miscarriage.
Despite these almost unbearable losses, Girl Meets Dirt was born last November and is already breaking even. This fall, the Lawlors expect to increase production–and not just of preserves. Audra is pregnant again, doing well, and the baby is due on Christmas Day.
“We’re still full of nerves occasionally,” she says, “a plague of our history of loss that I’m not sure will subside until there is a baby in our arms, but most of the time we finally feel peaceful, full of hope, and incredibly grateful.”