Anna forages wild and urban fruits in the area around Santa Cruz, California to make small-batch, low- and no-sugar jams.  As a way to share her family history in this practical and traditional craft, Anna offers classes in jam-making, pickling and tips on foraging.

Anna can be reached at: info at ladysmithjams.com

Anna and son, Abel, picking wild blue elderberries

 Article in The Santa Cruz Sentinel August 18, 2010


The New Can-do Spirit: Santa Cruz Jam Maker Savors the Fruits of Her Foraging

By Tara Leonard santacruzsentinel.com
Posted:   08/18/2010

Name almost any street in Santa Cruz and Anna Cameron can tell you what fruit grows there: dainty blue elderberries lining an abandoned lot; blushing passion fruit sprawling over a neighborhood fence; plums dangling over a city sidewalk, so ripe they fall into your hand at the slightest touch, their sweet and sticky juice dripping down your outstretched arm.

Cameron forages these wild and urban fruits to make small-batch, low-sugar jams under her Ladysmith Jams label. Through this traditional craft, she’s also searching for an authentic way of living, eating and connecting with her family history. It’s a quest she shares at local jam-making workshops, where she offers her delicious, distinctive recipes for jams, jellies and preserves.

During a recent class at DIG Gardens in Santa Cruz, Cameron led more than a dozen participants in making Live Oak Liliko’i Lime Jam. Liliko’i is the Hawaiian word for passion fruit. Mashing the pulpy fruit through a colander, Cameron acknowledged jam-making’s sudden resurgence.

In fact, home jamming, canning, pickling and curing are all the rage. A collection of recent books extol the health and economic benefits of these traditional kitchen crafts while classes and workshops proliferate. Some attribute this newfound enthusiasm to the poor economy, with cost-conscious consumers looking for ways to stretch their food dollars. Others point to the influence of the Slow Food movement, which encourages the use of local, seasonal, organic produce. Still others see it as the latest challenge for enthusiastic foodies, driven by popular cooking shows and kitchen personalities. But for Cameron, there’s nothing new or trendy about it.

“My mom grew up on a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin near the small town of Ladysmith,” said the 39-year-old Live Oak resident. “They were a self-sustaining farm and with a family of eight to feed, they canned everything. We’re talking hard core. There were winters with like 15 feet of snow, so when they stocked up for the winter, they really meant it!’

“It’s part of my family lineage,” she added. “Like a locksmith or a wordsmith, who works at a specific craft, I’m a jamsmith, a ladysmith. It acknowledges the work of women through the centuries and all of the time we spent gathering and preparing food for our families.”

According to the International Jelly and Preserve Association, the making of jams and jellies began centuries ago in Middle Eastern countries, where cane sugar grew naturally. Returning crusaders introduced the process to Europe, where by the late Middle Ages jellies and preserves were popular. The word “jelly” likely derives from the French word “gelee,” which means to congeal. By the late 17th century, books on jam-making were published in the United States, where New England settlers preserved fruits with honey, molasses or maple sugar.

A major innovation took place in 1810 when French confectioner Nicolas Appert discovered you could prevent spoilage by filling jars to the brim with food, thus forcing the air out, and placing them in boiling water. After World War II, food scientists developed the process of aseptic canning — heating the food and jar separately. This high-temperature “flash cooking” preserved both taste and nutritional value.

By the 1950s, Pam Corbin writes in the newly released “The River Cottage Preserves Handbook” Ten Speed Press, $22, 216 pages, several factors combined to lessen the need for home canning. Household refrigerators became the norm, allowing fresh foods to last longer. Also, improvements in food storage and transportation made a variety of imported foods available throughout the year. If you wanted to enjoy tomatoes or strawberries in January, you no longer needed to stock up during the summer; you simply went to the supermarket.

Rejecting that paradigm, Cameron began foraging local fruits a decade ago. While walking her two young sons through their then Westside neighborhood, she noticed the abundance of fruit that went to waste. She started knocking on doors, saying, “I was admiring your limes,” or “Wow, you have such a beautiful quince tree.” Owners almost always gave her permission to pick what she wanted. In return, she would promise a pie or preserves. Over time, people started calling her, “Do you need plums? Would you like some apples?”

“I’ve got such an eye now,” Cameron laughed, “I can spot elderberries going 60 on the highway! I’ll see early Gravensteins and have to pull over and climb on top of the car to pick while everyone’s like, Oh my God, you’re so embarrassing!’ But you have to do it while they last.”

“Gardening is a known quantity,” Cameron added. “You know what you planted. But foraging is more wild and something about that really calls to me. We live in a culture of instant gratification when it comes to food. But when you forage you know the urgency of when a certain fruit is ripe. You live the grief when it’s gone, but you’re soothed by the knowledge that the next thing is coming.”

For Cameron, the challenge became how to keep the fruits she loved in season to enjoy throughout the year. She tried different jam recipes and was shocked at the amount of sugar commonly used. Thus began an experiment in kitchen creativity and organic chemistry. That’s because the secret to jam is finding the right balance between the acid in the fruit, the sugar, and pectin, a substance that causes the mixture to gel. Historically, cooks relied on naturally occurring pectin in berries, apples and other fruits. More recently, commercial pectins became the norm. But these tend to require a high concentration of sugar and some contain additives and preservatives. Eventually Cameron had success with a method of water-bath canning using Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which is activated by calcium instead of sugar. Suddenly sugar was only necessary for taste, so it could be drastically reduced or replaced with alternatives such as honey, agave or maple syrup.

The result is a delicious array of low-sugar treats in flavors such as Seabright Santa Rosa Plum Jam, Cactus-Lime-Honey Jam, Crab Apple Jelly, and Apricot-Cumin Marmalade. Jam is made from crushed fruit, preserves contain whole pieces of fruit, and jelly is based on fruit juice. Marmalade usually contains a combination of fruit and rind. Cameron is also excited about working with herbs to create savory preserves such as Basil-Blackberry and Chili-Passion fruit. She hopes to have small-batch seasonal flavors available at DIG in the near future, where she is currently teaching a series of jam-making classes.

“Anna was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable,” said recent class participant Helen Mayer of Aptos. “I’ve always questioned how jam could be healthy when half the product is sugar! So it’s been my quest to make a low-sugar version. Anna made it seem very doable. She has a great energy about her topic and made it fun.”

Camille Nava of Santa Cruz called the class an inspiration. “It’s a very special lens that she’s sharing with us. Just yesterday I was driving and noticed these beautiful little crab apples and thought, Oh, I should call Anna!”

Today, Cameron cherishes several small jelly jars bearing labels in her grandmother’s perfect cursive handwriting.

“It’s something to see that little piece of heritage,” she said. “But foraging goes back to an even deeper genetic history. Even before we were hunters, we were gatherers. Picking fruit calms me, it makes me feel human in this world of business and to-do lists and screen time. Go pick blueberries down an alley and you’ll feel better!”

Foraging 101

Foraging is all about slowing down and noticing — the seasons, the environment, the plants and their setting. Learn to identify fruit trees/bushes in your neighborhood. Research your foraged fruit. Many edible fruit have poisonous stems, leaves or pits and need to be handled appropriately. Always wash your foraged fruit thoroughly. It’s always good form to ask permission. ‘Assess the situation a few times,’ Cameron advised. ‘Do you ever see anyone outside? Is the fruit piling up unused? Use your best judgment.”


Careful sanitation is critical to avoid what author Pam Corbin in ‘The River Cottage Preserves Handbook’ calls ‘the four spoilers’ of home preserving: mold, yeast, bacteria and enzymes. For best results, read a jam-making book and follow the steps carefully. Anna Cameron recommends sterilizing your canning jars by washing them, then covering with water. Add a splash of vinegar, bring to a boil and boil 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the fruit as specified in your recipe. Use a funnel to pour hot jam into the jars, leaving a -inch of room at the top. Dislodge air bubbles with a plastic spatula or wooden spoon. Add more jam if necessary. Wipe rims of jars to allow for a correct seal. Attach lids. For the water-bath method, lower filled jars back into warm water, covered by at least an inch. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes.

Elder-Blackberry Lemon Verbena Jam

2 cups elderberry juice

2 cups Himalaya (‘common’) blackberries

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 teaspoons calcium water (comes with Pomona’s Universal Pectin)

2 teaspoons Pomona’s pectin

1/2 to 1 1/2 cups sugar or honey or agave, to taste

1-2 stems fresh lemon verbena (optional)

1. Elderberries pair well with grapes, blackberries and apples in a variety of recipes. To harvest local native wild blue (not red) elderberries, cut berry clusters and freeze overnight until brittle. Use fork or fingers to comb berries off stems. Wash berries and let soak in water for stray stems and bugs to float to surface. Remove all stems, leaves, and green (unripe) berries (containing hydrocyanic acid and sambucine, which can cause nausea).

2. Add washed berries to cooking pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer 20 minutes, mashing berries.

3. Strain through cheesecloth to extract juice. You will need to collect about 4 cups of fresh berries to get 2 cups of juice.

4. Follow Pomona pectin directions for blackberry jam, adding lemon verbena to steep while jam simmers.

5. Remove herb stems before pouring hot jam into clean, sterilized jars.

6. Finish with water-bath method, boiling filled jars for 10 minutes.

7. Cool jars in undisturbed location, checking seals on lids in 24 hours.

8. Store in cool dry place up to one year. Lasts 2-3 weeks in refrigerator once opened.

— Anna Cameron of Ladysmith Jams

At a glance

Local Supplies and Resources

Chef Works: Home canning books and supplies at 1527 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Call 426-1351.

DIG Gardens: Jam-making classes, books and supplies including Pomona pectin and European Weck canning jars, 420 Water St., Santa Cruz. Call 466-DIGG

Happy Girl Kitchens: A variety of food-preservation workshops. Visit www.happygirlkitchen.com or call 750-9579.

Mountain Feed and Farm Supply: Classes, books and supplies, including a wide range of canning jars, 9550 Highway 9, Ben Lomond. Call 336-8876.

Santa Cruz Reskilling Expo: Workshops in urban foraging, krauting and pickling, fruit tree care, and other sustainable living skills. Visit www.reskillingexpo.org.


‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,’ Barbara Kingsolver

‘The Beginner’s Guide to Preserving at Home,’ Janet Chadwick

‘The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest,’ Carol Costenbader

‘Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It,’ Karen Solomon

‘Put ‘Em Up,’ Sherri Brooks Vinton

‘The River Cottage Preserves Handbook,’ Pam Corbin

Ladysmith Jams class: Learn the basics of low-sugar, water-bath canning at this upcoming workshop, Yes We Can! Jam-Making Basics WHEN: 6-8 p.m. Aug. 26; 2-4 p.m. Sept. 12 WHERE: DIG Gardens, 420 Water St., Santa Cruz To Register: www.diggardensnursery.com DETAILS: www.ladysmithjams.com


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