Posted by Cynthia Chaves on Dec 8, 2009.

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The Zen of Jamming

Gorgeous purple blackberries. Sun-ripened peaches. Crisp-looking rhubarb.

Bonnie Shershow loves “the sensuousness of fruits—their color, texture, fragrance, feel and taste.” The Cambridge resident also enjoys “washing, cutting, peeling and pitting”—step one in transforming fruit into jams, jellies, and preserves.

The recipe is simple: fresh produce, perhaps a little water, sugar and lemon juice. There’s not too much sugar.—the fruit should be the star, she suggests. Similarly, there’s no pectin. Bonnie feels that jelling agent can dull the taste.

In the old days, Grandma probably didn’t use pectin either. It doesn’t appear in Bonnie’s collection of old cookbooks until around World War II. Then, suddenly, she says: “Viola! There’s pectin.”

To make jam without that jelling agent, Bonnie simmers the jam slowly until it reaches the desired flavor and consistency. All of her jams are hand-made in small batches, bubbling away in copper pots. She favors copper for its even heat, although vessels could be used, she says.

Even the pot’s shape is important. They’re flared at the top. This aids evaporation which concentrates flavor.

She must be doing something right. Her strawberry jam was once named an “incredible edible” holiday gift by Food & Wine Magazine. Other flavors have been cited by the New York Times and Boston Magazine.

Bonnie works in the Formaggio kitchen in Cambridge, on Sundays when the bakers and others are gone. Her road to jam making started, perhaps, in her California childhood where she grew up in an Eden of orchards, fruits and nuts.

Bonnie moved to the Northeast and she missed those tastes. Recreating her childhood took a serious turn, however, when a romantic relationship went sent south. To mend a broken heart, she really started jamming. She cut and smashed and simmered and stirred. “I’m a very good stirrer,” she says with a smile in her voice.

The unintended result was fruit in jars all over the place. She couldn’t get to her closets, perhaps, for all the jam. Something had to give, so started she selling her product at small commercial stands.

Now she sells in gourmet shops and on-line (www.bonniesjams.com). Typically, she has ten flavors for sale: blackberry, peach ginger, raspberry, raspberry lime rickey, strawberry, strawberry rhubarb, red pepper jelly and a batch called “Black and Blue,” a mixture of blueberries and blackberries.

The word “jam” brings to mind hot-buttered biscuits and other baked goods. She says, however, that for one of her friends the jam “never sees toast”. It’s eaten straight from the jar.

Bonnie recommends other tasty uses for the jams, such as pairing them with different cheeses, using them as glazes on chicken, pork or duck, and even adding a dollop to kick up risotto.

For Bonnie, jam making goes beyond the tasty. It is “meditative,” “soothing,” “calming.” You can’t, after all, hurry jam.

PHOTO by Carl Tremblay, www.bonniesjams.com