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Museum planning delicious fundraiser

by Lynn Atkins | January 12, 2022 at 5:29 a.m.
Photo submitted Pawpaws are a favorite ingredient when Jill Werner makes jam as a fundraiser for the Bella Vista Historical Museum.

NWA Historic Foods Tasting

Saturday, Feb. 10, from 1-5 p.m. at the Bella Vista Historical Musuem at 1885 Bella Vista Way (Highway 71 and Kingsland).

Tastings of native foods, some made into low sugar jams and jellies, will be featured. Fruits will include pawpaws, maypops, persimmons and wild blackberries. Attendees also will have the chance to taste historic recipes from old Bella Vista.

Event is free and open to everyone.

Jill Werner has many varied interests and -- once in a while -- they come together. When that happens and it can help a worthy cause that happens to be another interest, it makes everything worthwhile.

Werner has lived in Bella Vista since 2014, but she has been making jams and jellies much longer. She always had in interest in trying new and unusual fruits in her recipes and she always had an interest in history.

Not long after moving to the area, Werner joined a Quester International chapter. Questers is a club for people with an interest in history. There are several chapters in Northwest Arkansas. Members develop presentations for monthly meetings and sometimes other events, so Werner started looking for a topic for a presentation that would be her own. She realized that none of the Questers in the area had researched regional cuisine and she took the project on.

She developed a presentation about food in 2015 by scouring old cookbooks and asking long-time residents for their old family recipes. She even found recipes that had been served in well-loved area restaurants. She called her presentation, "A Taste of Old Bella Vista," and when she presented it to her fellow Questors she served them a smorgasbord of unique foods that just happened to include several flavors of jams and jellies.

The Questers led her to the Bella Vista Historical Museum and a friendship with Xyta Lucas, the co-president of the Bella Vista Historical Society. Werner repeated her Questor presentation for an annual meeting of the Historical Society in 2016 and signed on as museum docent.

The museum is a nonprofit that is kept open by volunteers and their fundraising. Werner quickly realized that her unique jams and jellies could help.

Over the years she had made, canned and given away hundreds of jars of jam.

"It reached a point that friends and families wouldn't open their doors to me," she said. But she knew there were people somewhere that would enjoy her unique creations. So she started giving away her jam for a $5 donation to the museum.

When covid restrictions closed the museum, Werner's jam donations helped keep the organization going. She's made 102 different flavors and over 1,000 jars. She's also offered a few jam making classes, bringing very small groups into her kitchen on occasion.

She always tries to use locally sourced ingredients for her creations and over the few years that she's lived in Bella Vista, she's found sources for unique regional ingredients including pawpaws, persimmons and maypops.

Maypops, she explained, are the fruit of the passion flower, a perennial vine with a spectacular flower.

She uses cane sugar in her recipes, but most are low sugar recipes.

"You can taste the fruit, not the sugar," she explained. She warns people that maypop jelly shouldn't be served with peanut butter and white bread. It has a lemony flavor that pairs well with cucumbers out on the front lawn.

She prefers to make jams which use the pulp of the fruit, as well as the juice, but maypops are so delicate they become just juice when processed and the juice becomes jelly rather than jam.

Recently, with covid reasserting itself, Werner considered a way to hold a museum fundraiser safely. Gathering people in a room to hear about historic Bella Vista recipes didn't seem safe, so Werner decided on an open house with samples of a variety of food.

She chose the most popular of her vintage recipes, including honeymoon cake that was once served in the Sunset Hotel. It's not really a cake, she explained, it's more of a two-layer bar cookie.

"People love it," she said. She also found some volunteers to help with the baking.

She plans to set up some stations for tasting and comparing vintage foods to mainstream foods, for example black walnuts and English walnuts; or wild blackberries and cultivated blackberries.

She wants to serve sassafras tea and possibly other vintage beverages.

It's a drop-in event which will also give people a chance to tour the museum. Jars of jams will be available for a donation.

  photo  Photo submitted Maypops, the fruit of the passion flower, make a light, lemony jelly.
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