Canning is a tried and true method of food preservation that has been used for centuries. This practical skill sustains resources and provides nutrients throughout the year, until next harvest season. With refrigeration and the ability to transport produce across climate regions, canning has become less of a need and more of a craft for those still practicing. I have always found joy in experimenting in the kitchen, so it was no surprise that canning caught my eye at a young age when a grandmother figure, Sylvia, brought homemade blueberry-rhubarb jam to a potluck. It was captivating to know that she had grown her own produce to make a product completely from scratch, something that I had only known to be purchased in a store. I quickly asked Sylvia to teach me how to make homemade jam, and my canning journey began there!
My summer days with Sylvia bring back vivid memories. The process truly began weeks prior to the day we would make jam, as Sylvia (a frugal woman with wasteless values) would call my mom informing her of which grocery stores had sales on the ingredients needed for my batch. Our canning days were ritualistic, beginning with collecting water from her rain barrel which would be used to wash the rhubarb. We would then pick rhubarb from her garden and wash it at her wooden picnic table. Sylvia would tell me how her garden had grown throughout the summer, and I would also hear about each of her neighbors’ gardens. Once the rhubarb was chopped and I was updated with the neighborhood gossip, Sylvia and I would begin working inside. We would make our way through the mud room of her house, weaving through stacks of empty Cool Whip containers and peanut-butter jars. We would wash each jam jar and open our cans of blueberries, scraping out every ounce, leaving none to be wasted. Once our ingredients were prepped, Sylvia would begin the cooking process and I would observe from her side. As the hot jam splattered on Sylvia’s stove and floor, Sylvia would wipe it, keeping her home spotless and the canning process efficient. When the boiling jam would splatter out of the pot onto her arm or hand, she would talk back to the jam, being sure it knew she wasn’t one to be messed with. Once the jam was cooked and canned, Sylvia and I would sit and have lunch together, waiting to hear the *ting* of the jars as they cooled and sealed, celebrating each pop as a token of our hard work.
After completing a batch, my mom would give a portion of the jams I made as gifts to family and friends. I always felt so proud to see people’s reactions when they heard I made it. Over the years, I spent one day each summer with Sylvia learning much more than just jam making. I learned the value of self-sufficiency through providing a resource for my family that we never again had to purchase at the store. I learned the skill of preserving fruit that came in abundance during its harvest season, thus minimizing waste. I learned generosity and care by working hard on something and giving it with pride to those I loved. I learned the reward of a thorough job as Sylvia meticulously cared for each jar of jam we made. As I got older and began working and went off to college, Sylvia and I couldn’t continue our tradition of making jam with each other.
It wasn’t until after college and in young adulthood that I made jam for the first time on my own without Sylvia’s guidance. It’s a cliché, but it truly was like riding a bike. I knew the steps; I prepared my ingredients, washed my jars, cooked my jam, canned it, and waited anxiously for the cans to seal and let out their *ting* just the way Sylvia and I always had together. My first solo batch was mom-approved and she was excited to gift my jam for upcoming holidays, bringing back years of memories. This attempt was a cranberry-spice jam and has grown to be one of my favorite recipes that I make every year. I continued making small-batch jams periodically to give to family and friends on occasion. When stay-at-home orders were put in place due to COVID-19, I began making jam and delivering it to friends to stay connected to them. Not long after, I was asked by many if I would ever begin selling my jams. Initially, I laughed at the idea as I never wanted anyone to pay for jam. I made it because it brought me so much joy to gift it! But after giving it some more thought and losing my part time job that I loved due to Covid, I decided to go for it and replace that time with something else that I loved. Not only was I able to spend more time making jam, I was also meeting new neighbors and spending time in their gardens, receiving their fruit for some of the jam I would make – a fair trade!
My jam making has not brought me extreme wealth, nor am I lined up for the next season of Shark Tank, but I have stayed busy developing a business! I began selling on Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor and then made an Instagram account: @Jamsby_Megan. I’ve also been in contact with the St. Paul and Minneapolis farmers markets to apply for next year, and both have expressed excitement to include a jam vendor! My friends responded with immense support in varied ways, sharing my content on social media, making me a logo, spending hours on the phone with me developing a brand and business vision, photographing my new flavors, voting to decide on new flavors and the offers continue to roll in. My jam business is a small production currently called ‘Jams by Megan,’ and I’m working towards a brand that will be called ‘Jam Fam’ alluding to the communal effort canning and preserving requires. Just as canning requires people to come together to provide what they have, Jam Fam has mirrored those values and has been a community effort.
Making jam has become an important part of my life. It’s sustainable and practical, and it allows people to work together and provide for one another. We can share preserved products with one another and enjoy them among a holiday meal, social gathering, family breakfast, or any other ordinary time you could use a little sweetness crafted with love. We all know 2020 has been a rough one. We have all overcome things we hadn’t imagined. Unique to other obstacles in our lives, COVID-19 is something we have to get through together – the entire world, together. In this difficult time of isolation, Jam Fam has been a way for me to connect with people over mutual love of the sweeter things in life. I hope you stop by my Instagram and holler if you need some jam!