Jam Fakers

I heard about this story from an episode of QI (Season F, episode "Fakes and Frauds).

I don't know about you guys, but I can go YEARS without ever eating jam. It's just not a staple of my diet. However it most definitely was a staple in the nineteenth century, especially in rural areas where people did their own preserving and had local bake-offs and Mrs. Smith down the street made her world-famous jam, which she'd give out in jars for Christmas.

The only type of jam that people probably didn't make too regularly was raspberry jam. Because the fruit was expensive and also it's a pain in the BUTT. My grandparents still make their own jam and let me tell you, people, it's a good thing they're retired because I don't know how they'd fit in a regular job when it's canning season.

So because raspberry jam was difficult to make, it therefore became expensive to buy. It is also delicious, so there was a high demand for it. Then some crafty opportunists got the brilliant idea to become jam fakers. There were plenty of large businesses that sprung up in the nineteenth century dedicated to faking raspberry jam as well and as cheaply as possible. Rather than using raspberries, they'd use rhubarb or other fruits, add appropriate coloring and claim it was the real thing. In one particularly unconvincing recipe, they used sweetened turnip jam, which I don't think anyone for a second believed was actually raspberry.

It will surprise you to know that this turned into a bit of a pyramid industry, because what made your fake jam really convincing were the raspberry pips. Now, obviously, they weren't going to go through all the trouble of digging out pips from raspberries–if they were going to do that, they might as well just make the jam for real. What they did, instead, was open up factories and hire hundreds, if not thousands, of workers to manufacture tiny pips out of wood. These wooden pips were small enough where people wouldn't notice what they were really made of when they ate the jam, or get hurt from ingesting too much wood. They were really important to help create the illusion that this jam was the real thing.

As you can tell, this was before we were required to put the nutritional information on food packages. It was also before a lot of the major labor laws got passed. Therefore, these pip factories were able to hire women and children at incredibly low wages in really bad conditions, using what amounted to slave labor to make their product.

When Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragette movement, discovered this business and learned the extent of its bad working conditions, she founded her own jam factory and sold real raspberry jam. She was less concerned about making an enormous profit and more concerned with providing women with a safe place to work. I'm not sure if she put the jam fakers out of business, if their business just dried up naturally, or if they were forced to close down once we had stricter food regulations.

All I know is, this is a heck of a lot of drama surrounding what you put on your toast in the morning. Thank god this is the only example of its kind. OH WAIT.

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One Response to Jam Fakers

  1. linda_lupos says:

    This totally reminds me of that Kate Beaton Sherlock Holmes comic, with Watson going “jam!” :p

    But seriously, factories full of workers faking *RASPBERRY PIPS*?? You can’t make this stuff up…


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