Winnie Ashley, better known to her customers as “the jelly lady,” has been selling homemade jam and jelly since 1996. She sets up her tent at the farmers market at the Great Bend Public Library parking lot three days a week from May through September. From peach to apple, choke cherry or marmalade, she is ready with the small, jewel-toned jars full of captured seasonal flavors to be released whenever the urge strikes.
“When we started this, I still worked at the state hospital, so my husband would do the selling,” she said. Now, along with a variety of home-grown vegetables she grows to suit her own taste and a variety of charming hand-towels, she tends her own stand with a little help from her family.
While she does grow some of her own, including peaches and cherries, some of the in-season fruit she uses comes from the local Dillons grocery store. Some, like choke cherries and sandhill plums, are harvested locally too.
In the past, she said, she’s made the drive to Palisades, Colo., to purchase peaches, but wasn’t happy with the condition of some of them when she arrived back home. Over the years, she’s learned a few tricks. One she shared may come as a surprise.
When Winnie has more peaches than she can work with at one sitting, she puts the extras into plastic bags and stores them in the freezer, peel and all.
“When I’m ready to use them, I take them out and pop them in the microwave for a little while, then rinse them in the sink,” she said. “then, the peel slips righ off, and I can cut the peach into little bits.”
Surprisingly, she’s found the fruit doesn’t darken as fruit that is sliced and bagged ahead of freezing is prone to do. The results are a brighter, light colored peach jam that tastes like sunshine and sugar.
One of the most cited advantages to shopping at the farmers market is the chance to make connections with the people behind the food. Another is finding something new, perhaps not always available at the local supermarket. Great Bend’s jelly lady fills the bill on both counts.