Nestled in the rolling, green farmlands just outside of Lebanon sits a small cannery, where on any given day, the sweet scents of locally grown strawberries, blackberries, apples and peaches permeates the air around it, as Sonya Staffan — aka The Jam and Jelly Lady — works her magic, in the little kitchen that love built.
Staffan was first bitten by the canning bug at a young age, making pink applesauce in the kitchen of her grandmother and great-grandmother. “We used the old-fashioned Red Hots candy to flavor it, instead of sugar,” Staffan said. She still uses the Red Hots means of flavoring applesauce today.
Over the years, she has turned her love of canning into a blossoming business. Not only does she sell her delectable creations both online and in her downtown Lebanon store, which opened in June, but she also offers various canning classes. In fact, TheDailyMeal.com, a “foodie” online magazine, recently recognized Staffan’s Canning Boot Camp class as the No. 1 food preservation class in the country.
“We are tickled to be noticed since it’s usually our jams that garner media attention, not the school,” said Staffan.
She explained that proper canning technique is essential in preventing harmful bacteria. In addition to extreme diligence in the making of her products, all recipes made by Staffan and company are tested by the Cornell University Food Venture Lab and are approved by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“I had a woman come up to me at a recent event and tell me that she’d found a canning recipe online. She’d never canned before so she followed the instructions carefully, canned everything and gave out her concoction to family and friends,” said Staffan. “They all ended up getting sick. The recipe left out an important step with regard to the processing. Canning without proper processing puts your family at risk.”
So, what are some of the incredible creations that have customers continually coming back for more? The Jam and Jelly Lady products feature ingredients that are locally grown and include: jams, preserves, conserves, relishes, salsa, fruit pickles, syrups and granola, just to name a few. Also, all food accessories sold in the Lebanon store are made by local artisans.
“It’s been a crazy good apple season,” said Staffan. “Our apple cinnamon conserve is hugely popular right now. It features just-picked Ohio apples, pineapples, raisins and cinnamon — but no sugar. It tastes like the middle of an apple pie. Even better, for those interested, the whole jar is only 1.5 Weight Watchers points!” Staffan says that her products do not contain pectin — a thickening agent often added to jams and jellies that requires a high sugar content to activate.
The most popular jam? “Hands down our Christmas jam — it’s a best-seller even in May,” said Staffan. “It contains four of Ohio’s best berries: blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. We say it has everything but the kitchen sink.”
Staffan invites readers to come and check out the store — dubbed “Lebanon’s Boutique Cannery,” which will be used in the backdrop for an upcoming Hallmark Channel movie being filmed in Lebanon called “The Christmas Spirit.” Staffan has been cast for a small part in the movie as “The Jam Lady.” The store is located at: 52 East Mulberry St. Store hours are: Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information on canning classes, to order products online or to check out many delicious recipes, visit the website at www.jamandjellylady.com.
She shares a favorite dessert recipe below.
14-ounce package caramels
3/4 cup melted butter
1 chocolate or German chocolate cake mix
1 jar of any of The Jam and Jelly Lady’s berry jams
1 cup chopped Pecans
1 can condensed milk
12-ounce package chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix melted butter, ½ can condensed milk, cake mix (dry) and ½ of the nuts together.
Place ½ the batter in greased 13x9 pan and bake for 6 minutes.
While batter is baking: in microwave, melt caramels with ½ can of condensed milk in a microwave safe bowl. Stir well to mix.
Take pan out of oven. Let cool a few minutes, then lightly spread the jar of Christmas Jam over the top of the brownie. Sprinkle 1 cup of chocolate chips and the rest of the nuts over the jam. Finally, carefully pour the caramel mixture over the nuts and chocolate chips.
Press remaining batter between hands, making flat medallions. Lay the medallions in the pan, overlapping their edges and covering the entire layer.
Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top of the brownie, and bake for 15 minutes more. Remove from oven and cool completely before slicing.
Jam session lingo
A glossary about jam, jelly and other spreadables in a jar:
Jam: made with mashed or finely chopped ingredients. The flesh of the fruit or vegetable is used, not discarded like they are in jellies.
Preserve: a spread containing sliced fruit ingredients that hold their shape while being cooked. Traditionally, it is spread on toast, but Staffan likes a dab of Peach Preserves on tender pork tenderloin or cold vanilla bean ice cream!
Conserve: is a very chunky spread, containing two fruits plus a citrus fruit, and perhaps a nut or raisin. It’s great spread on a bagel or even spooned on top of pound cake.
Relish: features chopped and pickled vegetables instead of fruits and can be served over meats and soups, or stirred into mayonnaise or creme fraiche to make a tartar sauce, also known as a remoulade. The Jam and Jelly Lady’s best-selling relish: zucchini relish.
Chutney: a spicy and sometimes hot condiment containing a primary fruit, followed by an assortment of secondary fruits, brown sugar, vinegar and spices such as garlic, ginger and mustard seed. Chutneys pair well with meats and cheeses.
Saving you time, money
Every Wednesday in Life, we bring you new recipes to try in your kitchen, plus time and money-saving cooking tips from chefs, caterers and food experts across our region.