Back in 1938 as the country was on the fringe of coming out of the Great Depression and right before terror would break out in the Second World War, little Anna Johnson watched with delight as her mother, Thersia, would make treats for the family of five girls from whatever fruit was available.
Hot, sweltering days were spent in the Kentucky-mountain kitchen as she cooked jellies and jams from scratch.
Anna, 8, watched and learned–and then enjoyed the fruits of her mother’s efforts–especially Thersia’s own concoction that she called Peanut Butter Jam.
“My mother made everything,” she called from her Bronson home. “She even made all of our clothes until we were in high school.
“All we had was the apple orchard behind us,” she said. “She lived by the motto ‘waste not, want not.’ It’s something we still do.”
When Anna and her late husband, Homer Hamilton, moved to Bronson 30 years ago, they put their heads together to find a way to supplement his retirement income.
The answer was simple: stick with what you know. And Anna knew jams and jellies.
Together she and Homer opened a cannery and began cooking the old-fashioned treats from her youth.
For the next 15 years, they cooked and marketed the confections at festivals and fairs.
Flower shops and groceries also featured the homemade delights and soon, the supplemental income business was almost a full-time endeavor.
“We had so much fun,” she said, recalling 10-hour days standing over the steaming stove stirring fruits and berries. “We made so many friends too.”
Eventually with age, and Homer’s declining health, the couple stopped mass producing the jams and jellies.
It has been only recently that son, Tim, has picked up the mantle to become the third generation to produce jams and jellies.
Tim, a licensed contractor, saw his business dissipate with the waning economy and like his father before him was looking for a way to supplement his income.
Voila! Hamilton House Jams was resurrected.
Tim turned his home office into a state-permitted cannery and with Anna acting as consultant, is learning all the tricks and secrets to jam making.
The signature jam is, of course, the Peanut Butter Jam.
“It has no fruit in it,” Anna said.
Instead, it’s just wholesome goodness and Tim says it’s one of the most versatile jams around.
“Peanut butter jam is a spread for toast, bread, pancakes and donuts,” he says on his website www.hamiltonhousejamsandjellies.com. “It is a dip for most any fruit, bread sticks, pretzels and is a topping for ice cream and cake.”
In addition to the Peanut Butter Jam, Hamilton House Jams also makes and sells apple, key lime, grape, pomegranate, guava, strawberry-banana, blueberry and raspberry jellies, as well as strawberry jam and apple butter.
The apple butter is made the old Appalachian way–in the oven with lots of stirring.
But the jelly business is not limited to the regular flavors.
Tim and Anna agree that jelly can be made from almost anything, and whatever is fresh, in-season and available, becomes one of their specialty jellies.
The Hamiltons were traveling to Georgia earlier this week to pick up mayhaws to start a new batch of jelly that follows last week’s batch of champagne jelly.
Tim is already planning which festivals to market the jellies and says he’s slated to have booths at festivals in MacIntosh and at the O’Connell Center. Anna said they hope to participate in the Cedar Key Seafood Festival in October, explaining they prefer only the fall and winter months because the summer “is just too hot.”
“We make a good team,” the mother-consultant said.
“As he makes them, he’s always asking “Am I doing this right?” She said. “And of course he is. He’s good at it.”
The website is also a way to order their products, but Tim cautions that the shipping is often more expensive than the jelly itself. The only way to save, he said, is to buy in bulk.
Still unsure if you want to invest in Peanut Butter Jam? Not to worry. They also have small sample jars which are just enough to whet your appetite and leave you wanting more.
Each month, a Jelly of the Month is featured and the Hamiltons boast that their products contain no preservatives or artificial flavors–except for a heaping cup of love.