The beginning of each growing season here in the mountain region of East TN means it’s time for us to prepare for canning again, something we take seriously here at The Old Mill. The craft of putting up jams, jellies, and preserves is well known in Appalachian kitchens, and ours is no different. Our jam maker Fred Stritch keeps that craft alive by creating small batches in copper kettles each day, at just about 40 jars at a time.
He’ll usually begin with strawberries, the first of the season to come in, and quickly move on to blueberries, blackberries, and more as the season progresses. Fred takes the time needed to skim off the foam that forms on the top as the sugar and berries come to a rolling boil. He knows the foam must come off or you’ll end up with a cloudy product that won’t be up to his quality standards for flavor and appeal. He times it to just the right moment, knowing the jam or jelly will set as it should. “The freshness, nutritional benefits, amazing colors, and deep flavor is what I like best about it all. It makes the time you put into it worth it.” says Fred.
The Old Mill Heritage Line of jams, jellies, and preserves sold at The Historic Old Mill and General Store, the Old Mil Farmhouse Kitchen, and online is made with fruits and berries from local growers. We’ve contracted with farms in nearby Madisonville, Maryville, and Greeneville, TN to grow fields full of strawberries, vines weighing heavy with muscadines, and row after row of blackberries and elderberries, just to name a few, just for us. Its’ our way of sharing a taste of our heritage here in the Great Smoky Mountains and showing customers the generations-long tradition.
You’ll find Fred in the Farmhouse Kitchen, where each day is different, depending on what he is making and for which line. During the height of our summer season, you’ll find him making plenty of our Triple Berry Jam, our best seller. At about four larger batches a day, or around 750 jars, it’s all he can do to keep up with the demand. Not only will he fill half-pint sized jars, he makes it by the gallon for The Old Mill Restaurant, where it’s served every morning, to every single table at breakfast. And, if there’s something new for the season, or an especially large crop of something, like strawberry, guests may get a sample of that on their table too.
The next time you visit, stop in at The Old Mill Farmhouse Kitchen and say hi to Fred. He’s always ready to answer any question, take suggestions for new flavor combinations, and you can rest assured that if something has just come out of the kettle, he’ll have a sample for you, and he’ll expects some honest feedback.