A 71-year-old Coralville woman who learned jam-and-jelly-making from her mother won this year’s “best of show” award in the jam and jelly competition at the Iowa State Fair. Meryl Johnson dropped her entries off for judging, then left to be with a son who was having emergency eye surgery in Illinois, and didn’t know she’d won. A friend called her from the fairgrounds and said “Hey, you won overall.” Johnson says her initial reply was “overall, what?” Johnson won with her “pear/pineapple” jam recipe. Johnson says her mother used the recipe for years, and then Johnson says she “fooled around with it a little bit.” Johnson says it’s her family’s favorite jam. She uses fresh fruit, cuts the pineapple with a food processor and mashes the pears with a potato masher. Johnson also entered several jellies and a fruit conserve, describes jam and jelly making as a passion which began when she was a teenager, making jams and jellies alongside her mother. Johnson says she and her mother made crabapple jelly, grape jelly and pear/pineapple jam. Since then, Johnson’s made all sorts of jams and jellies, and has been submitting entries in the State Fair for the past 17 years. Johnson, who goes by the nickname Oney (awn’-nee), says there’s an easy to way to tell the difference between a jam and a jelly. Jam has bits of fruit. Jelly is colored, but clear and a bit thicker.
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