Retiree cultivates passion for preserves

Staff writer

Retirement is full of flavors for 68-year-old Darlene Carlson. A retired occupational therapist turned gardener, Carlson enjoys making jam from produce she raises at Mockingbird Hill, her farm south of Lincolnville.

She enjoys selling her jam and other garden produce, such as fresh herbs, fruit, vegetables, and cut flowers at farmers markets in Hillsboro and Marion.

Carlson freezes or cans all the fruit from her orchards for later use, putting up a wide variety of produce including cherries, persimmons, apples, apricots, pears, peaches, plums, rhubarb, elderberries, strawberries, and just about any other kind of berry imaginable.

“One of my favorites is apple-quince,” she said. “I especially like the different aroma and taste the quince gives the mix. I have just found I am very interested in different flavors this year.”

Quince is a very tart fruit that grows on a tree similar to an apple, but instead of smooth skin has fuzz on the outside.

“Our apricots have an unusual tart flavor this year too,” Carlson said. “I think the key to getting the intense flavor in jam is finding the right combination of tart and sweet.”

Carlson said the secret to making good jam (which is thick and chunky, not clear like jelly) is using equal parts of fruit and sugar. She also believes in plenty of cooking time.

“I boil my jam for approximately six minutes,” she said. “That is longer than most recipes recommend, but I think that enhances the flavor.”

Another important aspect of making jam is understanding pectin, Carlson said.

“It’s not necessarily that all have the same amount of pectin,” she said. “Pectin in the fruit is what causes the mix to gel. You can buy it in a box and follow the recipe, but I like to make use of the natural pectin that each fruit has, which can get a little tricky sometimes.”

Other interesting fruits and flavors Carlson worked with this growing season include persimmons, pawpaws, and tomatillos.

“A tomatillo is a fruit that grows like a tomato but it has a husk on the outside,” she said. “I like to use those to make delicious salsa.”

Though Carlson cannot sell her salsa at farmers markets because of regulations, she enjoys it fresh or canned at home. Her jam, however, is a marketable item, preserved by the heat and sugar used in its formation.

“We gave sample of the apricot jam last week,” she said. “It really sold well and the customers seem to enjoy the unusual flavor as I do.”

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