Jamin’ in the Sun

Bringing back the art of canning.

May 9, 2015

GleaningsGreenIssue 12: May/June 2015

From an Alaskan homestead to a western family farm, Barbara Carr has brought her passion for living off the land’s natural bounty—and her fresh fruit jam—to the desert Southwest.

“We chased the sun across the world,” she said. “We decided we liked Arizona best. I love knowing I can go outside and the sun will be shining.” Carr bought a parcel of land west of Tucson and settled there with her son. Used to living off whatever plants she could grow, she wondered what to do in Arizona.

“We thought, let’s grow cactus!” she said. And just like a homestead expanding each year with new add-ons, a field of prickly pears turned into a greenhouse full of cucumbers, beets, and corn, and then two greenhouses, and finally a flourishing desert farm.

For 10 years now, Carr has harvested, prepared, and sold her homemade wares from her We B Jamin Farm, including mesquite jellies, rubs, and sauces, and prickly pear jellies, syrups, sauces, juices, and nectar for medicinal uses.

“I try to make sure if people are going to buy jam, they’re going to buy my jam.” —Barbara Carr

Her specialty is jam. “I find the best product I can make is jams,” she said. “My father-in-law in Alaska grows rhubarb and ships it to me, and we have a great source of organic berries. I try to make sure if people are going to buy jam, they’re going to buy my jam.” With one jar labeled Tequila Sunrise, made from prickly pear jelly and Arizona oranges, it’s no wonder that people do.

“We do all our own harvesting in the fall, with the help of neighbors,” she said. “We feel it’s important that we pick the proper fruits to make the products.” If it’s not the best ingredient, it’s not used, she said.

“Canning is a dying art,” said Carr, a woman raised storing vegetables and fruits for long-term in the family root cellar. “Jellies, jams, tomatoes, corn. You name it, my mother put it in a jar,” she said. “Most people now don’t know how to make a jar of jam.”

For Carr, “it was my second nature, especially when I thought about starting a business.” Prickly pear, she added, is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc, and it may help regulate blood sugar, appetite, and alleviate joint inflammation. And, she said, all of her products are gluten-free.

Including one of her more offbeat creations: carrot cake. In a jar. Fruits, carrots, and spices, Carr said, and “you’d think you’re having a slice of carrot cake.”

Carr’s products can be found at most Tucson farmers’ markets, including the St. Philip’s Plaza Farmers’ Market on Sundays and the Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Oro Valley Steam Pump Ranch on Saturdays. “Every week I make what’s needed, and it tastes like your grandmother just made it. It’s the best jam you’ll ever eat,” Carr said.

Shelley Littin is a science journalist and anthropologist. She spends her free time running unreasonable distances in beautiful places.

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