Local business found itself in a jam after summer drought shrunk its berry harvest so it opened an ice cream parlor - Albuquerque Journal

Local business found itself in a jam after summer drought shrunk its berry harvest so it opened an ice cream parlor

Dimitri Eleftheriou, co-owner of Heidi’s Jam Factory, poses with a cone of orange cream ice cream with honeycomb, caramel and mini raspberry meringues at Heidi’s new ice cream shop. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

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On a patch of land in Corrales, green brambles stand in neat lines.

Depending on the time of year, the bushes might be dotted with white flowers or thimble-sized red and purple fruit.

The farm, which grows raspberries and blackberries, belongs to Heidi Eleftheriou, the creator of popular raspberry jam brand Heidi’s.

Every year, Heidi’s Raspberry Farm opens to the public, letting New Mexicans come pick their own fruit each harvest season. But this year, high heat and dry conditions made for a smaller-than-usual harvest, forcing Eleftheriou and her family to cancel the U-Pick program. However, the Eleftherious adapted to the change; they put the resources that would have gone toward U-Pick into a new ice cream shop, which opened Saturday in Albuquerque.

Since Eleftheriou started selling raspberry jam in 2001, her business has propagated, spreading to farmers markets and grocery stores around the state and country. Currently, Heidi’s products can be found in 13 states. Each week, thousands of jars of jam – made with raspberries grown on the farm – are cooked at Heidi’s Jam Factory.

This was just the second time that the U-Pick program couldn’t run; the first time wasn’t harvest related, but because of the business’s rapid growth in early years.

Heidi Eleftheriou and her son Dimitri Eleftheriou, owners of Heidi’s Jam Factory, pose together in their new ice cream shop in Albuquerque. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

“This is pretty new for us,” Dimitri Eleftheriou, Heidi Eleftheriou’s son, said. “Every year, we’ve had our blackberries fruiting and our raspberries fruiting – it’s kind of maintained the same yield.”

Raspberry season lasts from July to the first frost. Blackberries have a slightly shorter season, which runs through the month of July.

Albuquerque saw record heat July 19, hitting 102 degrees – beating the previous 100-degree record from 2019. Later that month, the 5-mile stretch of the Rio Grande closest to Albuquerque dried up.

“We have less water coming down our acequias so there’s not as many irrigation days,” Dimitri Eleftheriou said. “But the main thing is the heat.”

Between the high heat and worse than usual wind storms, the blackberry blooms were burnt off the bramble, Eleftheriou said.

“Everytime we got a good bloom, that only lasted for a few days – and then they would get burnt off,” Eleftheriou said. “So essentially our blackberries didn’t produce at all this year, and our raspberries produced less than half of the previous year.”

He said the family is planning to plant more drought-resistant berries for next year as a preventive measure. Although all the products contain some fruit from the farm, the company has sourced fruit from other places in the U.S., which could increase if the high heat persists in future summers.

Dimitri Eleftheriou said that seeing the farm first-hand helps customers connect with the business and the product on a different level.

“We lose that connection with our consumer,” Eleftheriou said. “It’s sad. That’s the first thing, and the second, of course, is financial.”

The cancellation of U-Pick, however, brought some opportunity. For the past few years, the Eleftherious have been thinking about opening an ice cream shop – because, “nothing goes better with jam than ice cream.”

Ava Delcielo, the head of sales at Heidi’s Jam Factory, stocks a shelf in their new ice cream shop in Albuquerque. It’s located inside Heidi’s Jam Factory at 3427 Vassar NE. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

“We would have liked to open sooner, but due to COVID-19, we just put all of our energy into the U-Pick, our farm and our jam,” Dimitri Eleftheriou said.

But now, they have the time and resources to focus on developing flavors and designing a new space. The shop was opening Saturday for Heidi’s holiday market, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will be open Fridays and Saturdays throughout the winter until its grand opening in spring.

The ice cream shop, which will feature flavors like Earl Grey sweet cream, yuzu and of course, raspberry swirl, is located inside of Heidi’s Jam Factory at 3427 Vassar NE. Customers will be able to see the jam made first-hand; Eleftheriou said it fills some of the connection gap left by U-Pick.

“This is a way for us to showcase our facility and people can actually see us in production,” Eleftheriou said.

In one way or another, Heidi’s will always have a presence in New Mexico, Eleftheriou said.

“We’ll always maintain Heidi’s products,” Eleftheriou said.

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