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The Community Jam

Vendors at the Lancaster Farmer’s Market bond during a bad storm—over bumbleberry jam.

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Our new home,” I said to my husband as we stood on the farmhouse porch, taking in the view of meadows and woods and the stream that winds through the valley like an aquamarine thread. Jim’s tech industry job had been outsourced, and we had made the best of a tough break, seizing the chance to realize our dream. Now we’d work the land, and plant flowers, herbs and every berry I could get my hands on. Our new life had begun: We were market farmers.

Soon we were piling our farm stand with produce, honey and preserves. The Lancaster Farmer’s Market old-timers welcomed us. There was Shirley, famous for her goat-milk peanut-butter fudge. Bill and Linda, with lettuces and hand-stitched aprons. Dan, an Amish gent in a dark suit and broad-brimmed hat, his horse-drawn buggy laden with sorghum molasses and fresh cakes. I liked the other farmers, but I longed for a stronger sense of community. We all were busy tending to our own stands.

One June day a dark cloud spread across the sky like a big broody hen. “Think a storm’s coming?” I asked Jim as we loaded up the truck for market.

“You never know,” he said, heaving a flat of raspberries into the truck bed. I’d have preferred to watch the storm from the safety of our house, but if we didn’t go to town just on account of a moody sky in this part of Ohio, there wouldn’t be many market days. Besides, we’d measured the berries into pint boxes, labeled the honey and put up dozens of mason jars of bumbleberry jam, my specialty. We had to go.

“Storm’s comin’!” Mary, the coffee lady, hollered as we set up the green-and-white striped awning over our table. Bill frowned as he glanced toward the west. Dan raised a hand high into the air, feeling for moisture, and shook his head.

The market filled with shoppers, and we got too busy selling to worry about the weather. I passed out samples of jam. A crowd gathered around our table. “What did you call this?” a woman asked, scooping a spoonful onto a cracker.

“Bumbleberry jam!” I said. Her daughter giggled. Bumbleberry! I loved the sound of it too. “It’s got raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and rhubarb for tanginess.”

“It’s delicious!” a man said. “Why bumbleberry?” I told him I’d stumbled across a recipe in a dusty old cookbook. Didn’t know much else about it.

Crack! Thunder broke. A bolt of lightning slashed across the gray sky. Rain fell in heavy sheets and shoppers took cover under our flimsy awning. The winds picked up. Next thing I knew, one of Amish Dan’s angel food cakes rushed by in a pool of water, bobbing like a top.

Soon as the storm subsided, I surveyed the scene. Everyone was drenched but safe. There were Dave and Sue, the market managers, helping Jim load our truck, and Shirley, handing out dry blankets. Market day was over. All us farmers gathered to swap stories. Shirley’s eyes widened. “You see Dan’s cake swirl by?” Everyone laughed; we’d all seen it.

“Let’s go warm up,” I suggested. A hot meal would be just the thing. We crowded into a diner booth—a boisterous bunch, discussing our love for the land, our commitment to this way of life, a celebration of God’s abundance. Yes, the storm had brought us closer together.

Soon talk turned to bumbleberry jam. Jim had a theory about the name: Must’ve come from the way bumblebees go to many different flower types while honeybees visit only one flower type at a time.

Sounded like bumblebees have the right idea. After all, each ingredient contributes its own special something to bumbleberry jam: the hint of tartness from the raspberries, the rich sweetness from the blackberries, the zip from the rhubarb. Kind of the way each farmer—each of my new friends—brings something unique and wonderful to the Lancaster Farmer’s Market.

Make your own Bumbleberry Jam.

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