There I was, casually filling my Instacart with the whole milk, broccoli, and different incarnations of chicken that my family goes through endlessly, and then I saw it. “Bonne Maman INTENSE.” Strawberry, Blueberry, Cherry. Even that shy stone fruit Apricot got the capital letter make-over, along with the alluring melange players “Red Fruits” and “Orange Fruits.” I immediately knew on a visceral level that I’d have to try these new breakfast treasures as soon as the kind stranger shopping for my groceries could bring them to me.
Anyone living in America right now will tell you that we are going through a dark time. As our democracy flounders in the face of the vicious crisis-hydra of COVID-19, economic devastation, and unrepentant fascism dedicated to propping up white supremacy, average folks are looking anywhere (but mostly online) for a bit of hope. And behold, a shining new light in the fruit jams and preserves category. I thought, all is not lost. I thought, well looky-here, late-stage capitalism is looking out for us after all, with a new and exciting product offering. Add to cart.
The thing is, Bonne Maman is already the prom queen of the jam aisle. Their iconic preserves come in an elegant glass jar with a cursive script label, like a statuesque natural beauty with luscious lips and cut-glass cheekbones. Every flavor slides graciously over muffins, bread, and croissants with a burst of flavor. The checkered red and white top evokes the wholesome picnics of a family in color-coordinated polos, or a romantic mimosa brunch on a flower-bedecked terrace at a French restaurant.
Those other wannabe-rich jams and plebeian jellies can’t compare. Smuckers is some bottle blonde with dark roots and sticky lip gloss, the price tag hanging out the back of her shirt. Welches is for Peter Pan boys who never did grow up. And forget Polaner. She’s like those weird hard candies everyone’s aunt has in a crystal candy dish. Bonne Maman is the mysterious French exchange student who shows up junior year and teaches everyone to smoke cigarettes and draw perfect winged eyeliner. So why mess with perfection?
A new product-line release in the depths of a pandemic winter is audacious, like a bread-aisle Beyoncé, dropping a stunning visual album with no fanfare back when people hadn’t even realized the power of surprising the internet. Before I tasted my new Strawberry and Apricot INTENSE fruit spreads, I thought, I am literally not ready for this jelly. It felt like overdoing it, like Taylor Swift releasing two blanket-clutching folk albums in one lonely quarantine.
These days I only know that time passes because my Google calendar reminds me to change our sheets every other weekend. I wanted Bonne Maman INTENSE to be the culinary event of the season, which I’ve spent overachieving in the kitchen to wipe away the existential dread of living through 2020, now 2021. I was salivating, my petty suburban heart beating in overdrive, waiting for the alert that the groceries had been left in plastic akimbo on our front steps. I was ready for the absolute elevation of the home breakfast by a grandmaster of preserved fruit.
But then, a hard dose of slightly chilled reality. The thing was, these new INTENSE jams were just okay. Tasty, to be fair, but not a redemption. They have “more fruit, less sugar,” which means, frankly, that they are not as demandingly delicious as the original Bonne Maman preserves. And the jar’s smaller, just like the middle-class’s share of America’s wealth. The Apricot was better than the Strawberry, so I might get that one again.
INTENSE. The word that all messy, gorgeous people who love drama use to describe themselves, when what they mean is they’ll borrow your phone and disappear, or convince you that you don’t need to know where you’re staying that night, that their friend said it would be chill. This wasn’t that kind of delicious toxicity you know won’t work out in the long run but is still exciting. This was good marketing of a boring alternative, and the predictable disappointment that follows. I’m suckered again, America, now please pass the bread.