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Jun 7 / suzanne

Jammin’ Judy: Meet This Good Neighbor Cook

Judy Hudgins and her daughter, Savvy, in Elizabethan costume

To me, jams are like crème brulee: a pure pleasure that I would never think of making myself because it seems too darned hard. But I am now totally inspired, thanks to Judy Hudgins of Raleigh, North Carolina.

“When I give away jams, people act like I just performed brain surgery,” says Judy, who is 53 and works as a reservations agent for American Airlines. “People don’t realize how easy it really is.”

Judy not only gives away jams, jellies and preserves as gifts for birthdays and holidays but also includes these instructions: “If you return the jar, it will be refilled again next year.”

She says most people do return the jars — sometimes with extra containers that Judy gladly fills. Her jams are so coveted that one of her coworkers hides Judy’s peach preserves at the back of her fridge so her husband can’t find it. “Being a man, he would not look beyond the first layer on the shelf, of course.”

Judy’s 20-year-old daughter, Savvy, left home last weekend to start her “adult life” in Arizona, and her request was to take some of Mom’s strawberry and peach preserves with her. “I have a feeling I will be mailing jars across county, just like my mom did for me,” Judy says.

Here is one of Judy’s beloved family recipes, for Pear Honey. And here is the lovely backstory on Judy’s jams.

Q: Who taught you to make jams?

A: I learned to cook from my mother’s mother, who passed two weeks ago at 96. She was the cook for my grandfather’s railroad crew — 20 to 30 men — and I would spend time during the summer with her.

My family has always canned and ‘put up’ things. My grandfather had two peach trees, one apple, one plum, a small grape arbor, blackberry and raspberry bushes and strawberries on his 1 acre in town in Jackson, Tennessee. To tell you how long ago I helped with making jams and jellies, I remember my grandmother putting paraffin wax on the top of the jams to seal them.

Q: Why are jams and jellies your favorite foods to give away?

A: For one thing, are a connection to my family and my past. I feel like I am carrying on a tradition. I can remember the smells of canning with my grandmothers and mother growing up and how hot the kitchen would get and the ‘tink’ as the jars sealed.

Also, so many people today do not can food of any kind. It’s all off the shelf. That is one reason I am really thrilled about the eating-local movement.

Q: How often do you make jams?

I make them as the fruits come into season. Here in the Raleigh area we are surrounded by a lot of local, small farms and a great supply of farmers markets. One batch would be more than enough for a year-long supply, but I enjoy making them, so I usually make at least two batches of each kind of fruit. My basics are strawberries and peach. Sometimes, I make blueberry, apricot, pear and fig jams. This way I have a supply I can grab one off the shelf at the last minute.

Q: What makes your jams and jellies so special?

A: There are some good commercial jams and jellies out there. But mine do seem to have a more intense flavor, and I use fruits in season. Also, the fact I take the time and effort to make it by hand rather than plucking it off a shelf seems to add a certain something.

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