Modern Gingham Spreads the Message of Colorado Preserved Fruits

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Kathy Lee has been cooking up jams and other preserves for her company, Modern Gingham, since 2012, and the fruits of her labor are beginning to ripen. Her raspberry-violet jam, made with organic berries and crème de violet from Colorado's Golden Moon Distilling, won a national Good Food award earlier this year, which has gained Modern Gingham recognition outside of Colorado as well as the opportunity for Lee to showcase her products in Chicago on May 1 at the Good Food Mercantile. Lee says the event will help grow her brand in the Midwest.

Lee is much more than a maker of preserves; she's also a forager and proponent of local produce, much of which would go wasted without her efforts. Many of the berries, apples and other fruits that she uses come from trees and bushes in Denver and beyond, many growing on public land or going unused on private property. She has become an expert tree spotter and asks permission to pick and harvest on private property, generally returning jars of preserves in return for access. "Two years ago, all my plums were hand-picked, not from orchards," Lee notes. She also finds wild cherries, crabapples, rhubarb and currants growing in alleys, on vacant lots and on farmland throughout the state, and has even collected citrus fruits from wild-growing trees in Arizona.

Because the batch es at Modern Gingham are so small — a busy day may yield just 300 jars — Lee is also able to work with farmers who have small amounts of produce. Rather than buying in bulk from big producers, Lee explains, "I'm more interested in being contacted by a small farmer who says, 'I have eight pounds of black currants — can you use them?' Because I can!"

Lee also works with other foragers, like Denver's Hunt & Gather, to help locate rare regional fruits like paw paws, huckleberries and wild blueberries. "That's another forager-finding food that would otherwise go to waste," she explains.

Many of Denver's urban farmers are losing acreage due to the city's development boom, but there are still plenty of hidden trees and shrubs waiting to be picked. Lee loves to hear from people throughout the city who have crops of fruits and berries they won't be able to use. She also plans to organize foraging walks this summer with small groups of two or three budding foragers at a time. You can contact her through the Modern Gingham website if you'd like to participate.

Lee sells her preserves on her website as well as at a growing number of specialty food shops and liquor stores. With her labor-intensive approach (each batch is cooked on a stove top in small copper pots) and dedication to foraging, her production is relatively low. "Some people say it only matters how many units you sell — but to me it matters how good the food is," she says. "I'm not interested in being in large grocery stores."

A recent batch of apricot-orange marmalade yielded only fifteen jarss and she sold them all at Cheese + Provisions in the Sunnyside neighborhood. "The story of where I find the fruit, that I know the farmer or I know the grower, is more important to me," Lee explains. 

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.