FLORENCE, S.C. − Saturday’s Jam Fest at the City Center Farmer’s Market was ultimately a fall celebration of the harvest, but it was jellies and jams that were front and center to that celebration.
The event drew a crowd to what was normally a steady stream of customers out to get their farmers market staples.
“It’s our first annual celebration of all things jam. Our preserves are here, our jams and jellies are here that have been submitted by different vendors and the community to be judged,” said Merrett Dowell with the City of Florence Local Foods Initiative.
The jellies and jam entrants came from the general public and from the vendors at the market, with bragging rights on the line for the vendors.
Many entrants were collected on a table where the public, armed with clean spoons for every dip, could taste as many jellies and jams as they wanted.
It was, though, the discerning pallets of three judges, though, that mattered most.
Greg Johnson, athletic director at West Florence High School, Matt Dowdell, principal at West Florence High School and Eric Robinson, principal at Wilson High School, who had the honors.
Armed with bottled water and cornbread cubes — pallet cleansers — they worked their way through the contest entrants with zeal and enthusiasm.
A bacon/bourbon jelly drew a lot of interest — at least one judge’s two favorite tastes.
In addition to bragging rights among the vendors there were first, second and third place mason jar trophies to be scored.
Across from the judging, the Florence County Museum had set up an indigo dye demonstration in which participants could tie cotton bandanas and then dye them in a vat of indigo.
The indigo was grown in raised beds at the museum and the leaves reduced to the dye through natural methods, said Kimberly Washburn who was handling the demonstration by making sure children submerged their soon-to-be-dyed bandanas into a hot water tank before she dunked them into the indigo vat.
From there the rubber-banded bundles of cotton — still dripping indigo — went into a plastic bag
Brielle and Ariel Daniels sported bags that contained tie dyed bandanas and the yellow slips of paper with the care instructions on them — along with candied apples.
“One is hers,” said Ariel Daniels as she pointed to her twin sister. The apples, they both said, were their favorite part of the celebration.
On stage Melanie McMillan sang the classics with a jam session set for later in the event, Dowdell said.
At one of the vendor stalls Bubbles by Bridget had a bath-bomb painting station.
Dowdell said she was already working on ways to make the festival bigger and better for 2022.
But that didn’t mean this year’s festival wasn’t to be relished and enjoyed.
“It’s a celebration of the harvest. Pick berries at peak season, can them up and that’s what we’re seeing today,” Dowdell said.
Coolmom’s Bourbon Bacon Jam
1½ pounds of thick cut bacon cut into about 1 inch pieces
2 cups of sweet onions chopped (size depends on preference for more chunkier or finer jam)
4 garlic cloves minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons strong black coffee
½ cup of bourbon
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1½ cups brown sugar
1. Cook bacon until crispy. (For ease, cook in a Dutch oven that is good for making jam.) Transfer to paper towel to drain excess fat.
2. Drain bacon grease from pan, leaving approximately 2 tablespoons to cook onions in. Cook the onions until caramelized. When caramelized, add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes.
3. Add the chili powder and paprika and stir to combine.
4. Increase heat to high and add the bourbon and maple syrup. Bring to a boil and scrape the pan to loosen bacon bits. Boil for a few more minutes.
5. Add vinegar and brown sugar and continue to boil. Stir to keep from burning. Cook again for a few minutes.
6. Toss the cooked bacon into the mixture. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. The mixture should thicken to jam consistency.
7. Turn off stove. Once cooled, place in refrigerator. The excess fat will rise to top once cooled completely. Skim this off and discard. If consistency is not thick enough, put back on stove on low heat and simmer awhile longer. If the consistency is too thick, add water and simmer again. If consistency is how you like it, it is done!
8. Serve at room temperature but refrigerate between “uses” for up to a week. May also be frozen.
9. Favorite ways to serve: A blob on top of pimento cheese with crackers. As a topping for a hamburger. On a tomato sandwich. On a biscuit.
Digital Editor Matt Robertson is a veteran journalist who has fulfilled just about every role that a newspaper has and now serves as a key member of the Morning News’ newsroom by maintaining SCNow.com and covering the occasional story and photo assignment.