hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News December 2015-January 2016


Fruits of summer, all year long

Jam maker grows home business through farmers market sales


Contributing writer



Anna Mae Clark started selling her homemade fruit jams at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market 15 years ago and now ships them to customers around the country. With the exception of oranges and cranberries, she uses only fruit grown in New York state. Stacey Morris photo

Anna Mae Clark’s days usually revolve around two appliances: the stove and the freezer.
And that’s fine by her. The proprietor of the cottage industry known as Anna Mae’s Homemade Jams has been making homemade, fruit-based jams since she was a teenager. It wasn’t until she began selling her wares at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market 15 years ago, however, that her product took off commercially.

Now, thanks to word of mouth and the Internet, her jams and fruit spreads are shipped around the country. But her factory remains quaint and modest: a four-burner electric stove, a few massive stock pots, labeled glass mason jars lined up like soldiers, a bucket full of lids, and of course, the fruit, much of which is grown in the back yard of Clark’s Saratoga County home.
She concocts her popular jams and spreads from a freezer full of locally grown fruit.

On a recent weekday morning she stood guard over a simmering pot of blueberry-peach jam, stirring occasionally as she fielded phone calls and added a showering of sugar and a dash of pectin to the bubbling berries. Clad in a hairnet, jeans, sneakers, and a comfy print top, Clark worked remarkably without an apron -- and spilled not a drop of the deep-blue nectar in the course of an entire morning.

With a CD of Irish shanty songs playing in the background, Clark worked methodically, often humming along to the melody as she used a giant pair of tongs to pull empty jam jars from a second stock pot filled with boiling water. Then she removed the blueberry-peach jam from the heat and added a few squirts of anti-foaming agent.

“The jars get a hot water bath to make sure they seal completely, and to avoid mold,” she said. “The only preservative I use is Fruit Fresh for peaches and pears -- in order to keep their color.”
Clark currently sells more than a 100 varieties of jams and spreads, with flavors ranging from simple single-fruit jams such as blackberry, grape, strawberry and apricot to blends such as peach-rhubarb, cornelian cherry, cranberry-apple-orange, Christmas berry and “apple pie.”
Her latest flavor honors the memory of her mother, who died in July 2014. Clark made a sample jar, brought it next door to the home of her 97-year-old father, Harry Bliss, and asked both for his blessing and a name for the jam, whose ingredients Clark declines to reveal.

“He took one look and said, ‘How about “In Memory of Lucy?”’”

The jam has become one of her best sellers.
“I grow a lot of my fruits right here,” she said, pointing out the window to bushes, trees, and a large greenhouse. “I grow a lot of vine crops on the property. Fruit that doesn’t come from my yard comes from other farms.”

With the exception of oranges and cranberries, Clark has a rule of using only fruit grown in New York.

She gets strawberries, for example, from an Amish farm about a half-hour to the west, near the border of Fulton and Montgomery counties. And she travels nearly to Buffalo – to the small town of Appleton, along Lake Ontario -- to fill her need for sour cherries.

Clark said it’s quality, not easy access, that is her first concern.

“My sour cherry jam is a top seller, and so is the sour cherry fruit spread,” Clark said. “I don’t mind traveling to get the best cherries.”

But the tomatoes for her tomato jam are grown just a few feet away from her kitchen.
“We have a heavy clay soil here, and you can taste the difference in the tomatoes,” she explained. “You have to know about your food. … Everyone’s gotten too far away from the farm.”


Keeping up with demand
Clark began selling at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays in 2000 and reports a steadily growing customer base as her reputation has spread through word of mouth.
“I’ve never advertised,” she said. “Some of my customers are summer tourists who order my jams by the case when they return home. Or they’ll come back next year and say, ‘I’ve just got to have more of your jams.’ It makes me feel good.”

Clark loves the feedback and the exchanges she has with loyal customers, and she suggested the interaction helps both producer and customer to think outside the jam jar.

“I have my die-hards who stick with traditional flavors like strawberry,” Clark said. “But I’ve knocked the socks off of some customers with my 10 different kinds of rhubarb jam. Most customers are willing to experiment. Sour cherry is my top seller, and most use it on toast, but I’ll say to them, ‘What about waffles, pancakes or French toast?’ ”

Despite her success, Clark is still honing her craft, an effort that has included taking jam-making classes at Cornell University’s New York State Food Venture Center in the Finger Lakes town of Geneva.

“You can always learn something new,” she said. “I also go to Beth’s Farm Kitchen in Stuyvesant Falls … once a year to learn a little something.”

Clark spends much of her week prepping for the farmers market. She showed off a room in her house where dozens of jars of red and blue jams line the shelves, waiting to be either packed off to the market or shipped out of state.

“I’ve got three cases going to Texas for Christmas presents, and people love giving a case of my jam as a wedding gift,” she said.

Anna Mae’s Homemade Jams are priced at for $5 to $7 per 8-ounce jar, depending on the variety. Cases of jam cost $60 for a single variety or $72 for the mix-and-match option. Clark gives one free jar to customers who buy a case.

“I’ve been making jams since I was a teenager, when my mom ran our 4-H Club,” Clark said.
Clark said she has no plans to slow down.

She began scooping ladles full of blueberry-peach jam into the rows of empty jars on the counter, never wavering in her attention.

“There goes a big piece of peach,” she said, peering into the jar of fragrant fruit. “Someone’s going to have a ball with that one.”

With the fruit still steaming, she carefully closed the lid on each jar.

“In the summer, I make jam just about every day, and in the slower season, it’s three to four days a week,” Clark said. “I used to take time off, but now I’ve got restaurants and places like Skidmore depending on me.”

Also depending on her is the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County, which has asked Clark to come up with a signature jam for the 175th anniversary of the Saratoga County Fair in 2016.

But a more immediate project was beckoning on the day she was making blueberry-peach jam: the loading of 12 cases into her van for the coming farmers market.

“I do all the lifting myself -- it keeps me in shape,” Clark said, smiling. “When I go grocery shopping, they always ask if I need help out to the car. I always tell them they should see me packing my van for the farmers market. A few bags of groceries is a breeze.”


Anna Mae’s Homemade Jams are sold year-round on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market. Shipping is available. For more information, e-mail jammaker@nycap.rr.com or call (518) 885-7356.