Hampstead woman's jams preserve family tradition


August 25, 1999|By Pat Brodowski | Pat Brodowski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHEN Jill Gebhart of Hampstead starts jamming in the kitchen, friends know it is not music she's making, but some 50 sweet spreads from hand-picked local fruit.

Friends who savored the jars of jelly Gebhart would stir up for gifts encouraged her to make more.

In the past year, the idea of producing lots of jam became a serious goal. She plans to greet the millennium having produced 15,000 jars of jam and jelly.

Gebhart, who takes her sons, ages 8, 5 and 2, berry picking, has decided her jelly will help put her sons through college.

She cooks the fruit as her husband watches the children, and sets up her jelly stand on weekends at local farmers' markets and outdoor festivals. Next month, a dozen specialty shops will begin offering "Jill's Jams and Jellies."

She cooks each batch of jam and jelly the way she was taught in 4-H, cooking fruit on the day it is picked, stirring until the jelled fruit hangs like a jewel from the wooden spoon, pouring each batch into eight jars.

"My mom was always home with us. We picked beans, made jelly. We all helped and learned how. She had learned from her mother. My mom was a farm gal, and taught our 4-H club for years," Gebhart said, describing a childhood with mother Julia Gouge, who is a county commissioner.

"My roots are pretty deep," Gebhart says. "I was born and raised in Hampstead, graduated from North Carroll High School and Carroll Community College."

Cooking in quantity, she still adheres to the 4-H standards of "the perfect jelly, in which you can see clearly through the jar with no bubbles," she said, and for preserves, "berries to the bottom of the jar."

Every jar she makes is like those gift jars she gave to friends.

With the support of her husband Tony, who sells propane fireplaces, Gebhart developed a plan to make and sell jam as a home-based business with the guidance of Mike Fish of the Small Business Administration, part of the county Office of Economic Development.

He and his staff helped her through the hurdle of expanding into a commercial kitchen and gaining enough local suppliers of fresh fruit.

She now uses the facilities of Hampstead restaurant Poppy Jake's after food service hours but before the lounge has closed for the night.

"In evenings when the kids are in bed, I slip down to the restaurant and cook. They are all such pleasant people, and there is always someone there, so I'm not alone," she said.

The fun happens when she experiments with combining fruits. This weekend, she put blackberries and apricots together.

"Who would dream they would go together, a mellow flavor with a tart one? And such a pretty color. I do some very basic recipes, but the ones I like best are the ones I make up," she said.

"I've also thrown away lots of experiments. And mistakes, I've made them all. But you can be sure every batch is fresh," she said.

This new flavor, among 50 varieties that range from raspberry to apple butter, will be offered this fall during Fall Harvest Days and the Maryland Wine Festival at the Carroll County Farm Museum; at the Honey Harvest Festival at Hashawha; Smallwood Days; and the weekend farmers' market at the Agriculture Center.

On Saturday, she'll be at the Taneytown Days festival.

Information: 410-239-7433.

Family swim night

A Family Fun Night at the Hampstead Pool is usually like a neighborhood block party, with plenty of splashing and water games among dozens of children and adults who have spent hours together in the pool.

The end of summer Family Fun Night promises wet and wild activities, and landlubber sports, too. Basketball, volleyball and lawn sports are included during the final fun night to take place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sept. 4, before the pool closes for the season on Labor Day.

Cost for members is $1. Since the snack bar will be closed, families are asked to bring a salad or dessert to share.

Contact a lifeguard to sign up.

Pool information: 410-374-4665.

Brush up with watercolor

A six-week course for adult beginners in watercolor is offered by Manchester artist Suzanne Mancha at the Hanover Area Arts Guild, 32 Carlisle St., Hanover, Pa., starting Sept. 15.

This award-winning watercolorist has taught adults at area community colleges for almost a decade.

She will introduce techniques of applying washes, negative painting, painting wet into wet and overall landscape techniques.

Materials and cost of the program are available by calling the guild. Other programs in drawing, painting and folk art are also being offered by guild members.

Information: 717-632-2521.

Pat Brodowski's North neighborhood column appears each Wednesday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

Pub Date: 8/25/99

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