Jan-Jan’s Baklava

Published 10:29 am Monday, April 2, 2018

Baklava may be known for being a Greek dessert, but Jan Justice has turned it into an Alabama treat.

“Mine is not Greek baklava, mine is Alabama baklava,” Justice said. “I call it Alabama baklava.”

In the 1980s, Justice began making the sweet treat after her close friend showed her how, and she never quit. Though she only made it a few times a year before, Justice said there is no telling how many pans of it she’s made recently.

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“A good friend of mine, Candi Duncan, had made some and I said ‘wow, that stuff is good. I want to learn how to make that,’” Justice said. “So I went over to her house and she taught me how to make it and I’ve been making it ever since.”

Although she’s made it for years, and now makes it to sell, Justice said she still enjoys a bite every now and then.

“I eat a lot,” Justice said laughing. “When I first started making it, every time I made a batch I would cut out a half of a section because I felt like I needed to taste every batch because I needed to be sure it was right. But then I made so much at Christmas time I quit tasting every batch.”

Justice said she completed the ServSafe training which allows her to sell her product in Mark’s Mark, of which she credits for helping her really get started.

“Mark’s Mart has helped me a lot,” she said “They’ve been my biggest cheerleader.”

With Alabama’s Cottage Food Law, Justice is able to sell the baked good out of her home.

“It is a great opportunity for semi-retired people like myself to have fun and make a profit,” Justice said.

Although Justice said it’s not hard to make the baklava, it is very tedious and time consuming, and she said she definitely still has to concentrate as she’s making it.

“It takes a little while to put it together and do all this, but the reward is people just enjoy it so much,” she said. “I have to stay focused. It takes concentration. You would think this would get to be second nature and you wouldn’t have to do all this counting, but I do.”

To make baklava, Justice begins by mixing together her pecan mixture while her butter melts. Then she begins layering her pastry with a good helping of butter between each thin pastry. After several layers, she pours in the pecan mixture, then repeats the process until it’s time to add the top, which she saves the best pastry layers for.

After more butter, she cuts the raw product into particular sized pieces, and then the pan goes in the oven.

The baklava bakes for an hour, then the pan comes out, and a honey and sugar mixture gets poured over the freshly browned pastry. After about an hour of cooling, she is ready to package the treats to be sold.

“I just love when people come up to me and say how much they enjoy it,” Justice said. “People just don’t cook as much as they used to, and I think they appreciate when they know somebody has taken the time to make something that’s a little bit fancy.”

Justice said although she enjoys it herself, she really makes it for others to enjoy. It wasn’t until several friends that she trusts told her to sell it that she considered it.

“Since I retired, people have started more than ever to ask me to make it and sell it,” she said.

“So I finally, … said OK, I’ll do what it takes.”

She decided to get busy coming up with a plan, and decided to call her new business Jan-Jan’s Baklava.

From making it for social gatherings to making it to sell, just hearing how much people enjoy it is all the motivation she needs to continue spending hours in the kitchen.

“I guess it’s a southern hospitality thing that it makes you feel good when something that you’re doing is making other people happy,” she said.

“It just really makes me feel good, it just delights me that people are enjoying it as much as they are.”

Justice had never advertised her baklava until she sold it at the Holiday House in downtown Selma. She put on Facebook once that she would have some there for sale, and there was no looking back after that.

“I put one thing on Facebook to encourage everyone to come to Holiday House and that was like the announcement,” Justice said. “People didn’t know I was doing this. From there, I was just overwhelmed. That was the only marketing that I did.”

Justice said there are plenty of recipes online, and each one is a little different, but she’s managed to perfect her technique, and using local ingredients makes hers more special to the people of Selma and Dallas County.

“It almost is an art and every batch is a little bit special. Every batch is a little bit different,” Justice said. “I probably won’t ever get rich making baklava, but right now I’m enjoying it.”