Downtown Home & Garden jamming with jelly and pickle contests

Borden - downtown home & garden jam contest

This past Saturday was the 12th Annual Jam Contest and Public Tasting at Downtown Home & Garden. This Saturday, Oct. 9, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. is the "2nd Annual Pickle Contest & Public Tasting."

For a business with a storefront that has graced Ashley for more than 120 years, the jam and pickle contests reveal the perspicacity and vanguard thinking of the magnetic owner, Mark Hodesh.

National interest in growing, picking and preserving food parallels the state of the economy. As to the National Gardening Association reports in its recent survey, “food gardening in the U.S. is on the rise… More Americans are recognizing the benefits of growing their own produce, including improved quality, taste, and cost savings.”

As you can’t control the rest of the world, at least you can control what you are putting in your mouth.

As I stood with Hodesh and watched the gathered tasters, I asked him why he decided to start the jam contest 12 years ago.

“Well, you know that canning is so much fun," he said. "It is also a record of what happened in the summer.”

He smiled at the milling participants, gestured towards the table replete with colorful jars, and continued, “That is the diary of the summer. So this year, very few strawberries, not a very good strawberry year. A lot of peaches, a great peach year.”

Hodesh paused, thinking, as a big smile crinkled his face.

“Jam making is fun," he said. "People of all ages enjoy it, and this [contest] is a way for people to share, to share their summer experience with each other.”

There was much evidence of sharing, exclamations, excited whisperings and conspiratorial asides. “Have you tried 34?” “Did you see the Dandelion Jelly?” “Oh wow, what a beautiful color this is!” “I think that pawpaw is a tropical fruit.” “No, pawpaw is actually native of the Midwest, what did you think of the jam?” “This is delicious!”

I met Amy Lesemann, who submitted two entries along with her daughter, Caroline Elliot. This is their third year participating in the contest.

“We make jams every year and give them as gifts for the family – and so it was really cool to see that this was going on," Lesemann said. "Every year we look for a new and a different kind of recipe, because that is what makes it, something unusual.”

Borden - downtown home & garden jam contest

All ages were present – spreading dark red jams, citrine yellow jellies, light orange butters, and bright red marmalades on top of bread in order to pop into smiling mouths.

There were 69 jars available for tasting, with a scorecard that listed all of the names: Michigan-Possible Blueberry, Gorgeous George’s Grape Ginger Jam, Peachy-Keen Spreadable Butter, Elderberry Jelly and Heirloom Tomatillo Thai Jam to name a few. Certain tasters were silent and secretive, masticating solemnly with intense expressions, holding ballots close. Some families called over to each other over the cheerful table.

As Hodesh shared, “It is the egalitarian country fair – where everyone gets to vote.”

The 12th Annual winners are: - First place: The 23-quart Presto Pressure Cooker was awarded to Melissa Richards for her Sweet and Spicy Pizza Jam. - Second place: Mickie Wordhouse’s Kiwi and Asian Pear jam garnered the stainless steel Foley Food Mill. - Third place: The Zyliss Mandoline went to the victorious Allison Stupka & Juliana Fried for their Benzie County Black Raspberry Jam.

If you would like to participate in the pickle contest, drop off your entry to Downtown Home & Garden by Oct. 8. Voting will take place 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 9.

Here is the article on

Storing harvest bounty: canning vs. dehydrating

Borden - jars of dried veggies

Last winter I received Mary Bell’s Food Drying with an Attitude: A Fun and Fabulous Guide to Creating Snacks, Meals, and Crafts - and I put it aside because I did not have a dehydrator. Like last year, I started this season with drying tomatoes in my oven, but the tomatoes take two full days to dry in the oven at 200 degrees. So I bit the bullet and bought an electric dehydrator - one built for the task.

I purchased the dehydrator week ago, reread all of Bell's engaging and intriguing book, and I have not turned the machine off since. I pack slivers of color, once hefty tomatoes and gleaming eggplants, into airtight jars and debate the pros and cons of dehydrating vegetables vs. canning vegetables. Here are my thoughts so far - I look forward to hearing yours.

Dehydrating pros

- Food is considered raw when dehydrated below 105 degrees (because it maintains enzymes and nutrients that are leached by higher temperatures).

- The labor involved is minimal. I cut the vegetables at night and pack them into jars in the morning.

- The equivalent ingredients take up less room when dehydrated than when canned.

Dehydrating cons

- Dried fruit and vegetables do not last as long as canned items.

Canning pros

- The recipe is finished when you open the jar, as opposed to drying the basic ingredients, and then making a recipe in the winter. (This could also be considered a con.)

Canning cons

- The labor involved is focused, hot, and continuous. From cooking the sauce, to the hot water bath, to preparing the jars - unlike dehydrating, it does not happen while you sleep.

This last point for me is the crux of the matter. A food preservation technique that is self-contained, creating results while I sleep, is incredible. To me, that is a winning food preservation technique.

Here is the article on

Berry jam: a novice's first attempt

Borden - blackberry jam on toast

As our household creeps toward food self-sufficiency, you would think our decision to keep backyard chickens would incite more concern than canning fruits and vegetables. However, botulism is a big word and scenes from Louisa May Alcott books where women in full-length wool dresses sweat over a hot stove in the middle of August stirring the gelling fruit are writ large in my psyche.

Last fall we canned tomato sauce for the second year in a row, and we did applesauce as well. I have learned the trick of the popping metal top and the stove was not that hot. So this weekend, inspired by the gorgeous fruit at Makielski's Berry Farm (site of my most recent Farm to Fork visit), I made blackberry jam - and I used their raspberry honey for the sweetener. I learned several important lessons.

#1 - I need a bigger stovetop or I need to make smaller batches.

It was a precariously balanced stovetop with two water sterilizations going for the glass jars, the large black canning pot, and the pot for the cooking of the fruit.

#2 - When the recipe says “Measured Ingredients: 4 cups mashed fruit” - read it twice.

I had measured out fruit, then mashed it, then put in the lemon juice, and then read that it is “mashed.”

#3 - Don’t wear a white shirt while making blackberry jam.


#4 - The whole house is infused with sweet warm berry goodness - absolutely divine.

Borden - Bowl of Blackberries

I followed the recipe included in the Pomona's Universal Pectin, which I purchased from Downtown Home and Garden. Based on my experience with applesauce last fall - I thought I did not need pectin. But I was kindly corrected by Mark Hodesh, owner of Downtown Home and Garden, who shared that apple and quince are the only two fruits that have high enough pectin to gel - otherwise one must augment. According to Wikipedia, guavas, plums, gooseberries, and oranges can be added to the high pectin list.

I am happy there are more weeks of blackberry, cherry, blueberry, and raspberry picking because I would like to experiment further. I am curious to hear from those of you who have done this before - aside from not wearing a white shirt, are there more things I should watch for as I dabble?

This is the recipe I followed (well, except for the fact that I put in enough lemon for 12 cups and only ended up with 9 cups of mashed fruit). It did gel and it tastes like blackberries.

- Wash and rinse jars; let stand in hot water. Bring lids and rings to boil; turn down heat; let stand in hot water. - Measure mashed berries into pan with lemon or lime juice (4 cups of mashed berries for every ¼ cup of lemon or lime juice). - Add proper amount of calcium water (an addition that Pomona’s includes that helps to activate their pectin, 2 teaspoons). - Measure 1/3 cup honey and mix in 2 teaspoons of pectin. - Bring fruit to a boil. Add pectin-honey; stir vigorously 1-2 minutes while cooking to dissolve pectin. Return to boil and remove from heat. - Fill jars to ¼ inch of top. Boil 10 minutes. Check seals - lids should be sucked down. Lasts about 3 weeks once opened.

Here is the link to the article.