It’s the sweetest thing seeing the fruits of your labor being awarded. Jenny Dornink of Preston, Minn., entered nine jars of homemade and colorful jellies for competition at the 2017 Minnesota State Fair and to her delight, she received six ribbons.
Dornink began learning the basics of canning while she was in high school as her grandmother, Lois Ray, had her bed and breakfast, Sunnyside Cottage of Forestville, and when her grandmother got pulled away for any reason Dornink would take over stirring the pots or whatever needed to be done until her grandmother returned.
“My mom canned a lot when I was growing up,” including green beans, pears, peaches and more, “so I was familiar with canning,” she states, but did more of the prep work such as cutting the green beans.
“Little by little I learned more and more,” says Dornink. “I started doing it on my own probably ten years ago,” she says.
After entering her jellies in the Fillmore County Fair for nine or ten years and receiving accolades such as Grand Champion Overall in the canning category, Dornink got involved in the Minnesota State Fair in 2016 for more than one reason.
Firstly, “just to improve,” she says, explaining that at the county fair “you get a little feedback but not a lot and so I just wanted to learn to do it better,” if there is a way to improve them, says Dornink.
It is also fun to “see how you stack up with the rest of the state of Minnesota,” notes Dornink.
Dornink was encouraged to enter her flavorful jellies in the Minnesota State Fair by her friend Teresa Craig. Craig had entered her own items in other categories in the state fair in the past and had done very well, states Dornink. Craig felt Dornink’s jellies were ribbon worthy and pushed her to enter them in the state fair competition.
Unlike the freezer jams and jellies Dornink had helped her grandmother make while growing up, the rules for entering in the State Fair called for something different.
“To be entered in the Minnesota State Fair the jelly has to be processed in a water bath manner so it is sealed properly,” says Dornink. So she learned how to do the water bath process for canning her jellies in order to enter them.
When asked why she enjoys making jelly, Dornink laughs and says, “I enjoy eating it,” for one thing and adds, “it’s something I enjoy doing,” as well.
“I spend a lot of the summer collecting all the berries” and apples and “juicing them out,” states Dornink.
She says it is very fulfilling to create her own jellies and also to give them away as gifts for special occasions or just to say thanks to a friend.
“And it always turns out so pretty,” says Dornink, as looking through the clear colorful jelly is like looking through beautiful stained glass.
Some of the kinds of jellies that Dornink makes include black raspberry, plum, wild grape and strawberry.
Dornink’s strawberry jelly and plum jelly each earned a blue ribbon, while her elderberry and red raspberry combination received second place ribbons and her blackberry and crabapple jellies each received third place finishes.
When asked if she will enter her jellies at the Minnesota State Fair next year Dornink stated, “I hope to,” as she has enjoyed the experience.
Dornink does other canning including green beans, applesauce and tomatoes and based on how well her jellies did at the state fair, she may want to consider entering those as well.
Curious if she has any “secrets” to making jelly as well as she does, Dornink says, “I think a lot of it is the fruit – it’s all natural,” as she explains, “everything is picked out in nature,” so it is as fresh as possible.
Dornink offers another tip as she says, “If I’m doing it for judging I’ll strain it extra,” so it gets more clear, “because clarity is one thing they look at when they judge,” she explains.
“If I’m just eating it, it doesn’t matter, it tastes the same,” Dornink says with a laugh.