After writing about family farms last week, I heard from many of you, including Paul Buxman, one of our region’s leading practitioners of sustainable farming. He and his wife Ruth were making jam. “You wouldn’t want to write about that, would you?” I asked. Here’s his reply. It made me want to go buy fruit from the nearest corner fruit stand, and I hope it has the same effect on many of you. — Trudy Wischemann
It’s hard to fully describe just how rewarding it can be to cut up ripe fruit, mix it with sugar, bring it to a rolling boil, then pour it into canning jars. Cooling along a window sill the jars will rival the stained glass windows of a cathedral. The bright gold rings and lids which seal the jars create “table jewelry” at breakfast. If that weren’t enough, spooning out the translucent, highly colored jam onto a favorite piece of warm buttered toast (in our case, Ruth’s homemade ciabatta) can make breakfast the high point of the day. Living in an area known as “The Fruit Basket of the World” with something ripening every week of the year makes it easy to find freshly picked fruit for whenever the notion strikes. Virtually any fruit can be made into a delectable jam, jelly, preserve or spread. Making it yourself allows you to tailor everything to your preference … low sugar, high sugar, no sugar, tart or mild, a single variety or a mix. Whatever fruits you like best—stone fruit, citrus or berries—just buy extra when they’re in season to make into jam. The best way to go about this so you aren’t having to make jam every time the fruit is ripe is to slice up the fruit, bag and freeze it. There are one gallon size zip lock bags that hold about five pounds of fruit and two gallon bags that hold ten pounds. Before bagging the fruit, add about a half cup of sugar and one or two tablespoons of lemon juice to preserve the color. Recipes for making almost any kind of jam can be found with a brief internet search with plenty of tips to help you achieve success.
Ruth and I have been making jam commercially for over 25 years. We make about 5000 jars a year in a small commercial kitchen that I built. It borders our orchard so the view through the windows above the stove is very pleasant. We make peach, plum, nectarine, apricot, boysenberry, blackberry, and several varieties of marmalade. Our labels are simple with a top one that explains our growing methods and two side labels. One has a drawing of Ruth with our title and logo which reads “Fruit of the Spirit … Pure and Simple.” The other tells the variety along with the batch number. We hand sign every jar. When you make your jam, create a simple stick on label to explain the contents and date it. If you plan to give some as gifts, sign the labels. Handwritten labels add their own kind of sweetness to your jam beyond just the sugar.
A bit of interesting history about how our jam business got started. Twenty-five years ago our forty-acre ranch was pummeled by hail, leaving most all our fruit unmarketable. With a short term loan from our local Production Credit Association which had to be paid back by the first of the coming year, we really had no choice but to start making jam. With the help of many loving friends, who not only brought over empty jars, but bought them back after we filled them, we started Sweet Home Preserves. Neighbors signed on to help us slice and peel our fruit. Some gave us old chest freezers, many still working to this day. Holding on to our farm was possible because of the love shown by our community. Their kindness is something even sweeter than our jam.
In another column, maybe in the next edition of this paper, Ruth and I will share a few jam making tips of our own. We have learned something new almost every year about how to improve our preserves or our process. New discoveries keep it exciting in the kitchen. But don’t wait for our suggestions. Get started! Summer will soon be over and the last of the valley fruit will be gone.
May sweet “jam angels” inspire you and guide your homemade jamming adventures.
Trudy Wischemann is a longtime admirer of the Buxmans and their beautiful Sweet Home Farm. You can buy this jam at their annual Thanksgiving weekend open house in November. Send Trudy your favorite jam session experiences c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247, and she’ll share them with Paul and Ruth.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.