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updated: 6/18/2013 6:27 AM

Cook of the week: Retired teacher pursues fruitful passion

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  • Video: Trudy Van Slooten

  • Give her a bushel of fruit, some sugar and Sure-Jell, and Trudy Van Slooten will cook up a batch of jam.

       Give her a bushel of fruit, some sugar and Sure-Jell, and Trudy Van Slooten will cook up a batch of jam.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Trudy Van Slooten chronicled her years working in Chicago's schools in an e-book "Honky in the Ghetto."

       Trudy Van Slooten chronicled her years working in Chicago's schools in an e-book "Honky in the Ghetto."
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

By Sally Eyre
Daily Herald Correspondent

It took longer than usual, but the birds are back, the sun is shining and our calendars are filling up with those summer activities we all love: picnics, outdoor concerts and farmers markets.

For Trudy Van Slooten of Hinsdale the opening of the farmers market is particularly welcome and it means one thing: time to make the jam.

Trudy has been making jam for 25 years and while many of us assume this is an elaborate undertaking involving sterilizing Mason jars and dealing with volatile pressure cookers, Trudy assures us that nothing could be further from the truth.

"Most people think it's so hard but it's not!" she says.

Trudy's secret is a simple product that her mother told her about years ago -- Sure-Jell.

"It's been around since year 1," she laughs. "It makes the process very quick and it always works. My jam is just fruit, sugar and Sure-Jell. Each batch makes five jars of healthy, natural and low-fat jam." Trudy leads us through the process of making her jam in today's online video.

Something Trudy particularly enjoys is that different fruits reach their peak throughout the summer, always providing the ripest berries and stone fruits to work with.

"The nice thing is that you follow the same principle for each fruit."

Trudy likes to collect old, fancy jars at garage sales to use for the jam. She sterilizes them in her dishwasher and pours the jam into the clean, dry jars. In order to prevent the jam from molding, she puts a -inch layer of melted paraffin wax on top of the jam for an air tight seal.

Trudy loves to serve the jam on bread with butter of course, but she also uses it as an appetizer -- dabbed on a piece of nice cheese or salmon -- and as a dessert a la thumbprint cookies.

Trudy learned how to make do from her mother.

"Mom was not the world's biggest cook; she had six children and managed dad's business, so she had to do whatever was quick."

As the married mother of three and a full-time teacher, Trudy found herself in the same situation. Trudy worked for more than 30 years in Chicago schools. She enjoyed sharing homemade jam with her class of third-graders, many of whom didn't know that jam could come from someplace other than the corner store. Trudy has chronicled her experiences in a memoir called "Honky in the Ghetto" (available at

"I didn't have time for the Martha Stewart thing. If I needed a cake for a faculty meeting, I had to make it while I was cooking dinner."

Through the years Trudy has developed a few tried-and-true (and fast) favorites that she shares with us today. Her banana bread with blueberries is a 5-minute recipe that leads to delicious results (she once served it to cyclist Lance Armstrong).

Trudy has retired from teaching, but she hasn't slowed down. Several grandchildren and volunteering keep her busy and of course those farmer's markets still call her name.


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