By Katie Canales
Jennifer Windham was working in her garden one night, picking berries to fuel her hobby of canning jellies, when an idea came to her to can professionally. By the light of the Harvest Moon, her dream was born.
Jennifer now produces canned jams, jellies, marmalades, and conserves, among other items, through her company, Harvest Moon Canning, using mostly locally grown produce when possible. At the start of her business, she operated inside her home for a year until she realized that her kitchen was too small.
“I had stuff everywhere,” Jennifer says. “I had to get a kitchen! So I rented from [AG Farm] because I knew them from the market.”
Jennifer now operates out of AG Farms’ commercial kitchen. There, she produces and stores product for both her online and market stores.
Jennifer’s process differs with each product. She explains how each major food item she’s known for entails processing a different type of fruit.“If you’re making a jelly, it’s juice only,” Jennifer says. “If you’re making a jam, it’s chunky fruit. If you’re making a butter, like pear butter or apple butter – that doesn’t have any butter in it. Basically it spreads on your toast like butter. That’s how they get the name. It’s more like apple sauce, but thicker and stickier.”
She explains that marmalades are citrus-y, containing rind, and are popular in England where fans favor the thicker orange rind marmalades. Jennifer says she prefers a light citrus zest on hers.
As far as her orange marmalade goes, Jennifer says it goes well on a variety of things – meat being one. She’s experimenting with other flavors as well.
“The lemon dill – I’m not too sure what to put that on yet, but it’s got a real strong lemon flavor,” Jennifer says.
Nuts set conserves apart from jams. Conserves will feature usually two fruits and one variety of nuts, and serves well as a dip, among other things.
“You can put it with cream cheese or brie,” Jennifer says. “The cranberry conserve is really good with turkey and dressing; it’s a good substitute for the gelled cranberry sauce.”
Owning a culinary business and operating in a commercial kitchen requires certification, which Jennifer completed and got a license for a little over a year ago. Obtaining the license means understanding the science behind food production and food storage.
After processing the fruit and getting it to the desired consistency, Jennifer explains how the product is cooked, jarred and then cooked in a water bath canner for about 10-15 minutes.
Jennifer uses one-piece lids for her jars instead of the typical two-pieces. One-piece lids are easier to remove and more convenient, says Jennifer.
“What we do is we heat the lids in a separate pot,” Jennifer says. “Lids here, jars there. We get them hot before we even put the jelly in the jar because, if you have a cold jar, you can crack the jar by putting a hot product in a cold jar.”
Jennifer cooks the products at 220 degrees, which is gelling point, or at least close to it. This helps prevent any food poisoning and ensures the quality of the product lasts.
With springtime approaching, Jennifer says pineapple products will be in stock more often as they come into season.
“I have a product called Pineapple Paradise, and it’s a pineapple jam,” Jennifer says. “I also use pineapples in the pepper jellies, but pineapple paradise takes five pineapples for one batch. So you have to wait until it’s spring, until it’s easier to get. At the same time, we want to have the best quality product.”
Plantersville’s Jollisant Farms produces the strawberries for Jennifer’s Strawberry Jam. She explains how Jollisant’s strawberries are darker in colors, sweeter, juicier, and harvested without the use of pesticides.
“I can’t use anything else now because I know the difference, my customers know the difference, you can see the difference,” Jennifer says. “I’m not going back to a strawberry that’s not the best quality.”
Jennifer says that, in the future, she hopes for co-packer companies and retailers to take notice in Harvest Moon Canning. “Once I get at least one large retailer, I want to get some of our jams and jellies in the local stores here,” says Jennifer.
Until then, you can find Harvest Moon Canning Company products at the Brazos Valley Farmers Market in Downtown Bryan on Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 12 noon. For more information, visit HarvestMoonCanning.com.