Eat Maine Foods!

Here comes Homemade

Even after all these years, people still get effusive about my jam. It's their kids most favorite or they bought special bread for it or they didn't want the jar to empty. Always it's about the fruit, the taste of it, the fact that they can actually taste the fruit, that my jam tastes like genuine fruit: strawberries, apricots, peaches, plums, blueberries, and lately quince. The gratitude is startling--and a bit embarrassing at this point.

I never set out to make jam that was revolutionary, just jam that I could eat. It's just farm fresh fruit with spice and a bare minimum of sugar because my body cannot tolerate the stuff. The first time or two, I followed the directions of the canning jar company and realized there was far more sugar, sometimes three times as much, as fruit boiling in my pot. No wonder it upset my stomach. So I reduced the ratio until it was reversed. And nothing fatal happened. The major difference between my homemade jam and even the most expensive store-bought jar was that mine when opened had a much shorter shelf life--and you could taste the fruit itself.

That's how I learned that government standards for commercial jam require the fruit to be essentially paralyzed --botoxed, if you will, by sugar--a killer substance right up there with bacteria. Jam made to be sold has to be prepared to live forever, like a zombie.

So here's real news: that is starting to change. At a slow, slow, quick quick pace, state after state has been enacting what's colloquially known as "cottage food laws" to allow people like me to sell our homemade jam--and pickles and breads--without special licensing and commercial standardizing at outlets like our local farmers' market. So look out! Here come taste revelations...and revolutions.

The laws are in part a response to the pressures of the depressed economy, for many among those who no longer had an outside job took to working in their kitchens producing food to sell. Kitchen entrepreneurship is running high. And so is the quality of the small batch food for sale.

The newest states in the act are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois and Texas. They joined Michigan, New Mexico and Maine, where the law is not so much about "non-hazardous food products" like bread and jam as it is about at long last freeing its small chicken farmers from the stringent and expensive processing rules meant for massive poultry factory farms. So the family with those chickens pecking around outside the barn can now kill and sell them to you openly without fear of being shut down.

The hero of this particular win-win story is Jeff McCabe, a Democratic state representative who had tuned into all the talk about locally produced foods and spoke up so that, as he put it, more Mainers can buy food from down the road instead of from a giant poultry processor thousands of miles away. It's not just that the money stays home but "farmers have a little more freedom to develop a relationship with their customers."

States where legislation is pending right now--and of course being attacked by Big Ag and big brands--are California, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada and South Carolina. Hopefully soon, if you want to know what real homemade jam can taste like, you won't have to whip it up yourself or wait for me.

P.S. These cottage food laws are mostly to enable the sale of jams, preserves, pickles, relishes and breads-- which are all considered "non-hazardous foods." They are not necessarily about raw milk or its cheeses. That's another fight.

And speaking of food fights, sadly, Mainer Jim Gerritsen and his organic farming troops were thrown out of Manhattan court in their attempt to stop Monsanto from suing them when its pesticide-embedded seeds drift on the wind onto their acreage. The judge claimed they had no standing and no merit.

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Tags: Cottage, food, legislation

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Comment by Sandy Garson on April 24, 2012 at 1:48am

Rebecca,

I suggest two ways: one is to contact Jeff McCabe in the legislature.

The other is simply to Google: "Cottage Food Laws" and you'll get an education.

Comment by Rebecca Wentworth on April 23, 2012 at 12:04pm

I didn't know about the Cottage Food Laws.  I would like to find a copy

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