Two Longboat Key residents spread the love with homemade jams and preserves.
The harder the work, the sweeter the reward. That seems to apply well to Longboat Island Chapel’s Rev. Brock Patterson and Longboat Key resident Joe Bertucci’s favorite hobby, which is taking fruit and turning it into delicious jams and preserves.
Both men take pride in their creations, which take about three hours to create at a time. It involves lots of preparation in cutting the fruit, cooking it, jarring it and cleaning up the mess afterwards, but the reward is sweet — and not just because of the significant amount of sugar in each jar. They put in the work just to give it away, but they both seem to think that to give is better than to receive.
Patterson is the reverend at Longboat Island Chapel, an Arkansan who came to the Key with a useful pickup truck, a friendly dog named Pippa and dozens of jars of fig jam. The preserves were so popular that Patterson has now been saddled with anyone and everyone’s mango crop so he can work his magic on them.
“Church members started bringing me mangoes two weeks ago,” Patterson said. “I cooked my first batch and then my second batch, and then I took one jar from each and gave them to people to taste test, because I’d never made it. They were all couples and the couples didn’t agree on which one.”
He’s found a happy medium now and has made five cases so far, each containing 12 jars. He cooks the fruit with lemon juice, cinnamon and sugar and has started giving them out at church.
“The flavor profile, I think it’s pretty dang fantastic,” Patterson said.
When Patterson bought his home in Arkansas 20 years ago, there was a massive fig tree out front, far more than he or his family could eat or even give away. He started cooking them as a way to preserve them.
“I didn’t want to waste them,” Patterson said. “That just drove me crazy. I started giving them to churches I served. Then it became a tradition that the Sunday before Thanksgiving (was) Fig Sunday. I’d preach about the lesson of the fig tree in the Bible, then unveil that year’s crop of fig preserves.”
Over the years in Arkansas, he made more preserves out of what he had in his backyard — plums, blackberries and apples, as well as peaches. This is his first time doing mangoes, but they remind him of peaches, so that’s how he’s cooking them. When he gets the fruit in the jars and the stickiness off, he gives them to the ladies of the church to label. In Arkansas, he’d task youth groups with the craft, but there are no youth groups on Longboat Key. Each jar gets a little bit of scripture and a nice ribbon tied on top. Just about every one of his dozens of jars will happily get picked up by a church member at some point.
“God’s given me this opportunity to do this, and now here I am in a condo, no fruit trees, no blackberry vines and people are bringing me mangoes, so many mangoes,” Patterson said.
Some years, Bertucci makes about 250 jars of Joey’s Jam in peach and strawberry varieties, complete with homemade name and ingredient labels. It takes a few weeks and several batches of 30 jars each, but he winds up with a kitchen full of preserved fruit made according to recipes he’s perfected over the years.
“After I retired I needed something to do besides go to the Circle every night,” Bertucci said.
For the strawberries, it starts with a Dunkin’ straw that Bertucci uses to remove the core and stem. He freezes them, puts them through a chopper, cooks four cups of them with seven cups of sugar and a pack of the fruit pectin Certo to firm it up, and then starts the jarring process.
“I’m boiling lids, boiling jars, keeping everything sterilized,” Bertucci said. “With peaches, it’s a lot more work. You have to blanch them to get the skin off. I do three batches at a time and that takes me about three to four hours. I try to prepare ahead of time.”
Usually, he just makes strawberry and peach jam, but last year he made a batch of pear jam, too. Bertucci attends church at St. Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church, and when he heard Father Robert Dziedziak say that his favorite fruit was pears, he went to Detwiler’s in Sarasota to pick up a few varieties. He gave Dziedziak a few jars to take home to Poland and dispersed the rest among his usual jam route.
“I give them to people all over the Circle,” Bertucci said. “There are people down there at different stores, at Settimi’s (Gelato), Venezia (Italian Restaurant). I know I’ve given jam to musicians I run into, the people at Dunkin’ Donuts on Holmes Beach … It’s not hard to give it away. I went to the vet yesterday and brought seven jars and gave it to the front desk people and the doctors. I always have it with me … No one ever says no.”
Jams, jellies and preserves are all in Bertucci’s blood. Growing up, both his mom’s and dad’s side of the family had a different tradition. Every September, his mom, aunts and grandmother picked ripe grapes off the family’s vines and strained the mash through cheesecloth to get the fruit out. Everyone saved their mayonnaise and mustard jars to preserve the jelly they made. On his dad’s side of the family, soda bottles were saved to can tomatoes. Bertucci’s job as a youngster was sticking the basil leaves in the bottles to prepare them to take on the tomatoes that the men of the family cooked in a 55-gallon drum.
“Everybody did a different thing,” Bertucci said. “I picked it up that way.”
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