Metro-East Living

Learn to make jelly and jam with the pros at Turkey Hill Grange

The jams and jellies you buy at Belleville’s Old Town Market get their start in the Turkey Hill Grange kitchen.

Flavors vary — there are 65 to 70 varieties — as do cooks.

On a recent Wednesday morning, David Donley, Carol Asbury, Stacy Rutledge and Stacy’s 8-year-old daughter Emma chopped, measured, poured, stirred and canned spiced peach jelly (made with vinegar, cloves, cinnamon and sugar), hot blackberry jam (the heat comes from jalapenos), hot peach jam and zucchini marmalade.

Most fruits come from members’ gardens; others, they purchase.

“I had extra zucchini in the garden and I donated it,” said Stacy, 39, of Belleville. “Zucchini tastes like whatever you put it with. Somebody found a recipe for it. This recipe has pineapple, lemon and candied ginger.”

As long as more than half of the ingredients are grown locally, the recipe is a go.

Grange members have been making jams and jellies for 18 years. The large kitchen has everything they need, from funnels and ladles to jar holders and magnets for lifting sterilized lids from hot water. An immersion blender is a time saver.

“We used a potato masher before,” said David, who will be 80 in October. Raised as a farm in Pennsylvania, the retired Air Force meteorologist had a garden most places he lived. “When we started the market, I increased the size of our family garden to two acres.”

Best sellers? “It’s kind of hard to say,” he said. “It’s probably peach and strawberry and hot pepper. We sell a lot of strawberry rhubarb.”

“Blue Goose is my favorite,” said Stacy. “Blueberries and gooseberries.”

“I like triple berry,” said Emma, 8, a third-grader at St. Clare in O’Fallon who wants to be a ballerina someday.

“We make 800 to a thousand jars a year,” said David. “We sell 800 at (Belleville’s Old Town Market) — it’s open every Saturday through October — and 200 are sold here. For a big dinner, we might sell 30 jars.”

A small jar costs $4; sugarfree is $5; and large is $6. Return the jar and lid and they’ll give you 25 cents.

“We’ve got six dozen jars back so far this year,” he said. “It’s a good recycling effort.”

‘Dave talked me into it’

Carol, a retired preschool teacher, had success making freezer jelly at home, but wanted tips on cooked jelly.

“When I made it at home, I cooked it too long,” she said. “What I had was like candy. It was kind of like taffy. It was a mess.”

“I did that once,” said Stacy, who has been canning since she was 10. “It went out in the trash.”

Jelly-making is a science. As ingredients cook in large pots on the stove, a balance of heat, sugar and acid allow pectin to do its thing — turn the fruit syrup into jam.

“What we used to do before commercial pectin is we would take the juice, put the sugar in and cook till it gels. ... Pectin speeds up the process.”

How do they know when it’s ready?

“Take a little,” said David, “put it on a teaspoon, put it in the freezer for just a minute or two and see if it gels.”

If the jelly is runny, keep cooking.

“It’s the first year I have successfuly made blackberry jelly and jam,” said Stacy, a stay-at-home mom who also has grown stepchildren. “I’ve been coming here and judging the time. They cook the fruit a little bit longer than I had, before they put sugar and pectin in.

David, a Grange member since 1949, joined Turkey Hill Grange 24 years ago. He’s community service director and promoter.

“It’s a family organization,” he said. “We do community service with a special interest in agriculture. We have 200 members here. We offer scholarships. ... We support two food pantries.”

And they welcome new members.

Carol, 79, joined recently. She and David have known each other since 1993 when they became master gardeners through University of Illinois Extension Service. Carol tends a large garden on a small city lot in Belleville.

“He (David) said, ‘Come on, Carol, you need to join the Grange.’ I’m glad I did. Everyone is so friendly and accepting, and I have only been here a month.”

Soon, the new member was up to her elbows in hot blackberry jam with Dave and Stacy.

“Dave talked me into it,” she said.

Stacy likes that she can bring Emma along on jelly-making days.

“She’s been helping me at home make jelly,” said Stacy.

“I put the lids on:” said Emma.

“She gets to work with that magnet,” said her mom as Emma used a magnet on the end of a stick to retrieve lids from hot water.

The jam and jelly makers follow health department rules when it comes to processing.

“When it’s done, we put it in jars, then put it in the canner and bring to a boil for 10 minutes.”

Garden exchange

Stacy and husband John live on 9 acres off East B Street Road that include 150 feet of blackberry bushes, six blueberry bushes, 12 apple trees, different varieties of pear trees and more. The property used to belong to David.

“My husband and I were going yard saling one day,” said Stacy, who grew up in Labadie, Mo. “We saw signs for his estate sale, dropped in, looked around and asked if he was selling. My husband liked the lake. I liked the fruit trees and garden space.”

So did David until he and his wife Mary moved into Belleville a little more than two years ago.

“The nice thing about that location is you don’t find many places like that in the suburbs,” he said. “When we bought the property (in 1971), it was set up with fruit trees. My goal was I wanted something to eat, from early in spring to frost. We had strawberries, blueberries, apricots, cherry trees, plums, peaches, berries ...”

“It’s nice how he planted something that blooms every month,” said Stacy. “You don’t have to get out there and get everything at once.”

They sold 50 pints of their mulberries to a gourmet restaurant to be used in muffins and pies.

“I never thought of making mulberry jelly,” she said.

“My favorite we don’t make,” said David. “Elderberry and black raspberry. Years ago, you could go along the road and get elderberries. Now that they spray and there’s so much dust, you don’t want to do that. We don’t have source for elderberry.”

“I guess we need to plant some,” said Stacy.

Hot peppers and candied ginger

Some Grange canning recipes are tried and true. Others come from the back of the pectin box. Some are new. Stacy experimented with spiced peach juice leftover from a Grange dinner.

“I decided to make jelly out of the juice because it tasted so good. I took five cups, brought it to a boil, added a box of pectin, boiled another minute and put it in jars.”

Voila: Spiced Peach Jelly.

“Zucchini is ready to be canned,” David called out.

He used a funnel to fill jars as the others lined up to finish the process. Talk was about where they get the best deals (Aldi’s for sugar), candied ginger (It’s not difficult to make, but can be purchased in the bulk food aisle of the supermarket.), and hot blackberry jelly. (It tastes great on meat.)

“When we make the hot stuff, we have to experiment with different kinds of peppers,” said David. “The Hungarian wax pepper and jalapeno (for hot blackberry) came from Old Town Market.”

A typical batch calls for 1/2 cup peppers, seeds included.

“That’s where the hotness is,” said David, noting that they process the jars under health department rules. Each jar’s label explains how the jam or jelly is made and what’s in it.”

During quiet moments, the pop of clicking lids signaled the jams and jellies were prepared properly.

“That’s what we like to hear,” said David. “There goes another one.”

If you want a recipe or tips on making jelly, give them a call at 234-8227. Or stop by and they will show you.

Jelly-making tips

Cut fruit into 1/4 to 1/2-inch cubes or smaller. If not, it’s hard to eat and put on bread.

When you first start, be sure to get the get juice or jam to a good boil before you start dumping everything in,” said Stacy. “Otherwise, it might have too much water in and won’t gel.”

Adding lemon juice to the jelly-making process helps it gel.

Butter keeps the hot jelly from foaming so much. “If not, you have to scoop all that off the top,” said Stacy. “That’s a lot of jelly you’re wasting. The foam doesn’t look good in jars.”

Want to buy homemade jelly and jam?

Who makes it? Turkey Hill

Where do they sell it? Belleville Old Town Market, 7:30 to noon, every Saturday through October, located on West A Street, northwest of Illinois 159 (Illinois) & West "A" street.or at Grange events, 1375 Illinois 15, Belleville, 618 234-8227

How much does it cost? $4 for small; $6 for large; $5 for sugarfree

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