A simple jam

Sharpsburg woman creates an enterprise

Sharpsburg woman creates an enterprise

July 30, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

A couple of weeks ago there were 20 pounds of blueberries in the basement of Bonnie Senay's Sharpsburg home.

"Jam me," they were screaming, she laughs.

She did and will continue to make jam for as long as the farms and fields of the Tri-State area yield fruit.

Senay, who took the 2000 Washington County Ag Expo's prize for Best Jellies/Jams, will be entering some of her homemade wares in this year's competition, but her jam-making activities have gone beyond the annual weeklong county fair.

For the past several years, Senay has sold her homemade jams at the Shepherdstown (W.Va.) Farmers Market on Sundays.

"She'll make jam out of anything," says Paula Green Shupp, administrative assistant with Washington County 4-H.

Everything Senay makes is from local produce.

Some of the raspberries she "jams" are from her own garden. She buys others from area farmers. Senay regularly gets a wide variety of fruits in a jam - strawberries, blueberries, black and red raspberries, peaches, plums and cherries. She made apricot jam for the first time this year.


She makes a few butters - peach, ginger pear, rhubarb.

Making jam was not something that Senay grew up with in Somerset, Pa. Her family - her husband, Terry, and their daughters, Laurel, 17, and Amy, 15 - moved to Washington County about 13 years ago.

Senay worked at a local nursing home, but after deducting child-care costs from her income, she determined a home-based enterprise would better meet her needs and allow her to stay home with her children. She first sold her preserves at a market in Mount Airy, Md., then Brunswick, Md.

Senay also works part time as a merchandiser, setting up and restocking displays of a wide range of products in area stores. This schedule also is flexible.

Some fruits are easier to jam than others. Blueberries are simple. Strawberries need to be capped and peaches need to be pitted, so those take more time.

Despite the fact that she makes so much jam and has been doing it for so long, sometimes, a batch will not set - will not achieve proper jam consistency. Senay isn't sure exactly why this happens, but pectin can be added and jam reprocessed. Another option is to use the more syrupy fruit as is. It works well as topping for ice cream, Senay says.

In addition to all the sweet fruits, Senay makes hot pepper jellies, using habanero or Scotch bonnet variety peppers, hotter than jalapeos.

"The hot peppers are not fun," Senay says. Her arms are not long enough to keep her far enough away from the irritating fumes, she says. She can only handle making two or three 12-jar cases a day.

Altogether, Senay figures she makes about 600 8-ounce jars of jam per season.

After setting up and waiting for the water to boil, the first batch usually takes about two hours. After that, it takes Senay about 20 minutes per batch.

Senay makes a lot of jam, so she buys her pectin in bulk. The water-soluble carbohydrate, obtained from certain ripe fruits, is what makes jellies and jams gel.

For someone who is not making a large amount of jam, Senay recommends following the directions on the small box of pectin available in grocery stores.

Her jam recipe adapts to different fruits. There's a lot of sugar in jam, and Senay says that is an issue for some. She hasn't attempted sugar-free spreads because laws demand they be made in commercial kitchens.

She experiments sometimes and has made a caramel apple jam - using brown instead of white sugar.

"People put it on anything," she says.

One difference between homemade and store-bought jams is the use of corn syrup in commercially produced products, Senay says.

People also appreciate that Senay's jams are made from local fruits and in her home kitchen.

"This is like Grandma made," she's heard them say.

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