Children returned to classrooms this week but the school jam session on some teachers’ minds is still a month away. That’s when Patricia Reed returns to Seibert Elementary, where she taught for 32 years, to get feedback on the cornucopia of jellies and preserves she’s made for the Kern County Fair.
“They put it in their plan books already,” Reed said of the event, which coincides with the fair’s opening on Sept. 23.
“I spoil them, take croissants. And you have to have peanut butter with jam.” Reed, 68, takes her canning and preserve-making so seriously that friends have dubbed her the “jam queen.”
The title is well-deserved: Reed has placed at the fair every year she has entered since starting in 1996. Last year was a banner one, when she was named high-point winner, having received ribbons for 22 of her 31 entries.
“It is a hobby that has gone wild. My ‘unbusiness’ card says ‘jam obsession.’ I just laugh.”
The hobby was passed down as a family tradition from her grandmother, a Kentucky native who moved to Bakersfield from China Lake in 1969.
“My grandmother was my inspiration,” Reed said. “When I was teaching school I would come home and come into her house, with a wafting wonderful aroma of apples and peaches.
“She passed the whole process onto me. She hated jams that were store-bought so she always made her jam.”
Reed said they’d source some fruit locally: peaches from Al Bussell Ranch and boysenberries from a farm that grew them for Knotts Berry Farm.
“She inspired me to take family recipes and play around with them.”
The compettion begins Reed carried on the tradition after her grandmother passed away in 1994, working in the very kitchen where she had learned the craft. Two years later, Reed’s niece encouraged her to enter the Kern County Fair’s preserved foods contests.
“I entered seven varieties and all seven won,” including three first-place winners for raspberry, olallieberry and cranberry walnut jams.
“That was the bug that bit. Once you get involved in the community, it’s addictive.”
Reed continues to compete in honor of her grandmother.
“On my way out, I say, ‘Here we go again, Grandma. Wish me luck.’”
Her mother also encouraged her passion.
“My mother, bless her heart, she was my taste tester. I would create something and would run next door with a spoon.
“She was my cheerleader; I would take her out to the fair. We would put on our hats. I have photos of her holding award-winning jars at the fair.”
Reed’s mother passed away in 2012 but others have continued the tradition of taste-testing, including Reed’s brother, who lives next door in their southwest Bakersfield neighborhood.
“My brother has an English muffin with peanut butter and jam for breakfast every day.”
Competing each year has not only offered Reed a chance at victory but insight into the city.
“It really makes you appreciate your community and people that have lived here a long time.
“I gained a great respect for just going and seeing the different people who would enter the preserved foods. One person way back in the past, Pauline Jenkins, she entered things every year. She would enter every category. I just admired her so much.” Preserving foods has allowed Reed to carry on a family tradition.
“I think a lot of these crafts are developed by your own family history. My grandmother was from Kentucky. That craft was very important to your family’s survival.
“It’s a dying art. It’s a labor of love.”
Reed certainly remains passionate about competing. When asked if she would hang up her apron now that she’s won the overall preserved foods ribbon, she set everyone straight.
“I said, ‘No, I’m going to defend my title.’ I still have all my ribbons in the kitchen.”
She said to fit this year’s fair theme — “Aloha Ya’ll” — she’s looking at tropical recipes, including a paradise marmalade, with pears, and a South Seas marmalade.
“That’s part of the bug that bites. When you win something, you want to improve or at least duplicate what you’ve done.”
Reed shared two recipes with us that she often makes for holiday gifts: candy apple jelly for Christmas and mimosa jelly for New Year’s Day.
Reed said this delicate jelly is delicious served on bagels with cream cheese, croissants, toast or English muffins. Try adding fresh orange zest to this jelly before serving. Decorate jars with champagne corks as a New Year’s gift.
2 cups champagne
1 cup orange juice
41⁄4 cups sugar
1 box fruit pectin
1/2 teaspoon margarine or butter
Pour champagne and orange juice into 6- or 8-quart stainless steel stockpot.
Prepare jars: Fill a large saucepan or stockpot halfway with water. Place jars, lids and rims in water (filling jars with water from the saucepan will prevent flotation). Bring to a simmer over medium heat but do not boil water. Keep jars, lids, and rims hot until ready for use (to prevent them from breaking when hot liquid is added).
Measure sugar into separate bowl. Stir fruit pectin into champagne mixture in sauce pot. Add margarine or butter, to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Quickly stir in all the sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.
Ladle quickly into prepared jars, filling to within one-fourth inch of the top. Wipe jar rims and threads with a clean, damp paper towel. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw on bands until fingertip-tight. Place filled jars carefully on canning rack and lower rack into canner, making sure jars are covered by at least 1 inch of water. Process 4-ounce and 8-ounce jars for 10 minutes; process 1 pint jars for 15 minutes.
Note: You can also process jars using the water bath method recommended by the USDA. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has the guidelines at nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html.
CANDY APPLE JELLY
This kid-endorsed jelly makes a delicious glaze for over baked apples or ham — applied during the last 30 to 40 minutes of cooking time. It also jazzes up homemade applesauce.
4 cups apple juice
1/2 cup red-hot candies
1 package (13⁄4 ounces) powdered fruit pectin
41⁄2 cups sugar
In a large saucepan, combine the apple juice, candies and pectin. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar; return to a full rolling boil. Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; skim off any foam and discard any undissolved candies. Carefully ladle hot mixture into hot sterilized half-pint jars, leaving a quarter-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe rims and adjust lids. Process for five minutes in a boiling water canner.
Yields about 6 half-pints.