Hillary Danner is proof that a creative person is bound to find numerous ways to express their creativity.
Her theater roots are strong. Hillary’s father is an opera singer, and her mother was an actress, dancer, choreographer, and director. “I grew up backstage, traveling with my parents, so cooking at home was pretty hit or miss,” she recounts. “But I also spent a lot of time with my paternal grandmother, who loved to entertain. I inherited her enthusiasm – and her china, which I still use for my dinner parties.”
As an adult, Hillary’s first creative outlet was her acting career. Early on, in her group of actor friends, she was the one who cooked. “Of course, they aren’t ‘starving artists’ any more,” she laughs. “I really embraced the love of cooking when I had my own family.”
After a second child, the family moved to a home in Highland Park, where the previous owners had planted a lot of fruit trees. “It’s lovely when they’re blooming and then they’re green, but when all that fruit starts falling, you realize that something has to be done about it.”
A neighbor suggested canning, so Hillary bought the Ball Canning book and the supplies and made preserves when her children were having their naps. “I had opened a small boutique in Highland Park that was a showcase for local artists and artisans. For art walks I decided to put out a wine and cheese and my jellies for customers to enjoy. I noticed that a crowd would develop around the jellies.”
Hillary also planted a vegetable garden at her home. “I didn’t have much of a plan. We had family influences from Texas, so I planted peppers. Even though I didn’t like spicy food, the plants were so pretty. When someone suggested I make pepper jelly, it sounded horrible to me! But I did it, and I found out I liked it.”
“When my friend Maria Newman and I made the first pepper jelly, I had to have a handkerchief over my mouth because I was coughing like mad while we were trying to remove the seeds from the peppers. So we decided to just leave the seeds in. Of course, the seeds are the source of the heat.”
Then the story becomes the stuff of Hollywood legend – except that it’s true. “My aunt, Blythe Danner, gave my jelly to Kate Capshaw, Steven Spielberg’s wife. She went crazy for it and wrote me a lovely letter. She said she’d buy a case and send it to Chef Mario Batali. I picked peppers randomly from my garden and made a pepper jelly, which turned out to be a very tasty combination. Chef Batali wrote about the jelly, and then while I was on vacation, my cousin Gwyneth Paltrow wrote about it in her blog Goop.”
When Hillary got back from vacation, she couldn’t understand why her email in-box had so much “junk” mail. It turned out that is was lots and lots of orders.
At that point, Hillary realized there was a business opportunity in her jellies. The name came from a nickname, Percy Jenkins, which then became, “Jenkins, are you making some jellies?” Jenkins Jellies was perfect.
Seeking even more creative outlets, Hillary has written a cookbook with recipes using Jenkins Jellies, and she’s thoroughly enjoying working with chefs to see how they use the jellies. “I love to interact with anyone who’s enjoying my jellies!”