Jammin’

A jam session in East Sandwich

EAST SANDWICH – The 103-year-old Green Briar Jam Kitchen here is a large, cheerful, blue and white room in which windows of all sizes offer light, a clear view of nature, and a place to set blooming geraniums. Ladles, spoons, strainers, and measuring cups hang neatly on the walls, ready for jam-making jobs.

By mid-summer, Green Briar’s popular workshops fill quickly. Last week, the subject was blueberry peach jam and participants ranged in age from mid-teens to a stylish 80-year-old grandmother. Mindy Sobota, from New York, visiting family here after finishing a medical residency, is typical of the attendees. “I totally love making jam,” she says, “and to work in a kitchen like this is an honor.”

Seated at low counters on sturdy blue kitchen stools, two rows of 15 women and girls prepare their ingredients, carefully skinning, then chopping, half a dozen ripe peaches. Instructor Andrea Harrington is reassuring. “This is very simple,” she says. “It’s a matter of getting good fruit and adding sugar.” Her class is filled with friends or family members; many, even out-of-staters, are jam kitchen repeats. Nancy Humes of Arroyo Grande, Calif., has come with daughter Sara, and remembers visiting Green Briar when she herself was a girl. “It’s a mother-daughter tradition,” she says. “The history here is amazing. Where we live in California, you don’t do this sort of thing.”

Cathy Schultz and her daughter Grace from Lebanon, Conn., Michele Kenerson of Acton, and Kris Winter from San Diego are in the area for a family reunion. “This is something fun to do with my mom and aunts,” says Grace Schultz. Jennifer and Kerry Starzyk from Los Angeles are visiting grandparents in Falmouth, and Michele Goldman of Franklin and her mother, Joyce Almeida of Colorado Springs, Colo., are also vacationing in the area.

When preliminary preparations are completed, the cooks begin stirring marble-size blueberries, chopped peaches, and sugar in a metal pot. Long rows of burners allow students to work side-by-side. As gas flames begin to heat the mixture, Harrington says, “Check your pots, and make sure nothing is burning.” Despite fans, the kitchen is warm. In order for it to thicken, the jam must cook for 15 to 20 minutes. As people stir and watch bubbling pots of dark fruit, they chat and swap stories, including a python-in-the-laundromat tale. Sweet smells and easy camaraderie spread through the spacious, immaculate kitchen.

From one end of the row of burners, out of the hubbub of conversations, comes a soft, but distinct sound. Dee Pelletier, lead of the Cranberry Shores Chorus octet, is singing “Bye, Bye Love” with fellow member Chris Powers of Yarmouth. Others in the kitchen, including the instructor, begin to hum along. Soon jam is starting to boil and thicken. According to Harrington, it is done when you stir the pot and see a “flash in the pan,” or you tip a spoonful of jam and the final two drops merge into one. Also, the jam will appear glossy.

Finished jam is spooned through a funnel into sterilized jars. Harrington advises students to fill their jars to the top ring, then release air bubbles with a knife and wipe the rim clean. “No mountains, no valleys,” she says. “Fill it, knife it, wipe it, lid it.” Everyone seems to know what to do as the cooks finish their tasks, then wash and scrub the pots at a large double sink.

Some of these jars will travel far; some will be gifts, some will be consumed by tomorrow on English muffins or thick slices of toast. Cathy and Grace Schultz plan to enter theirs in a fair back home.

“I could do this forever,” says former nurse Nancy Humes, leaving the workshop. “It’s such a natural thing, a healing, bonding experience. I’ve made jam by myself before, but it didn’t feel like this, with the women singing. The joy is in the sharing.

“This wasn’t just making jam,” she adds. “It was fellowship.”