More than 100 years ago, the Green Briar Jam Kitchen began as a tea room. After her mother died, Ida Putnam returned from New York to her family’s home on Discovery Hill Road in Sandwich, portions of which date as far back as 1780. Ida opened the tea room in a renovated woodshed off of the house, relying on word of mouth and a wooden sign at the end of the road to entice travelers on Old Kings Highway (now Route 6A).
The tea room lasted a few summer seasons, but one element quickly outshone the rest of the establishment’s offerings: Ida’s fresh jams and jellies. Once Putnam focused on preserves, her business grew quickly. While she had previously chosen native berries and beach plums picked from her immediate woodland and beach surroundings for the jams and jellies, she soon began purchasing additional fruits and vegetables from a network of family, friends, and neighbors. The smells of warm pears, plums, grapes, crabapples, quince, and tomatoes wafted through the air around the kitchen and changed with the seasons.
My grandmother, Mae Foster, began working at the jam kitchen in the 1940s. She spent happy days cooking jams, relishes, and preserves alongside good friends like Martha Blake and Mizue Murphy. Mae continues to share stories about those times with her great-great grandchildren today.
When I was six years old, I used to spend entire days working with my grandmother in the Green Briar kitchen. I used to help stir the humongous pots full of blueberries, with a ladle longer than my arms. I also ate a good number of those blueberries! When the jars were filled and carefully wiped of sticky drips, I would climb a step-stool and stare into early “sun-cookers”—the kitchen began utilizing wide, glass-covered shelves for solar cooking in 1920—to see if I could watch fruit transform before my eyes. It didn’t, but I always seemed to try again the next day.
The grounds outside are just as I remember. In 1980, the Thornton W. Burgess Society assumed management of the Green Briar Jam Kitchen and the surrounding woodlands where Burgess found inspiration for his popular animal adventure stories featuring Peter Rabbit and friends. The nature center’s focus is a great complement to the jam kitchen as a “living museum.”
On a visit to Green Briar in August, this special place looks very much the same, with many of the same contented workers turning out delicious jams and jellies. The day I stopped in, Mizue Murphy was stirring those same pots on the same row of stove tops and she and her colleagues diced up peaches by hand at the window stools. The kitchen crew use the same recipes, cooked in traditional ways, obeying the cadence of the seasons to determine what to preserve next. “It’s such a pleasant place,” says Mizue, who has spent more than 30 years on the job. “People can visit any time of day, and they can’t help but relax while they’re here.” Doreen Brackett of East Sandwich, who has been with Green Briar for three years, says that the strenuous work is satisfying. “It’s actually quite hard work doing everything by hand,” Brackett says, “but when you look at the beautiful view and feel the serenity of stepping back in time, you just can’t beat it.”
Today, a beautiful new outbuilding houses the Thornton Burgess Museum’s Animal Room where kids can come explore and interact with nature. There are weekly activities for children and families, classes like “Froggy Frolic,” “Off the Trail with Map & Compass,” wild nature crafts, and, of course, a variety of jam workshops in the kitchen. I recall many museum explorations from my own childhood. We spent many happy hours searching for famous Burgess characters like Grandfather Frog and Jerry Muskrat.
Green Briar also hosts seasonal festivals for the public. On October 2, the annual Cape Cod Cranberry Day will be held. The festival brings together local volunteers, who help cook chowder and chili as well as warm cranberry crisps for all to try using Green Briar recipes. In the Jam Kitchen there are many seasonal cooking demonstrations, offering a great inside look at the traditions that have made this little place so special for generations.
The Thornton Burgess Society’s Green Briar Jam Kitchen has deep roots in Cape Cod’s history. Interested in some Jam Kitchen fun facts?
• The society has at least 10 antique cherry pitters
in its collection.
• It takes 30 days for melon rind pickles to ripen.
• Each year, the museum’s kitchen staff fills more
than 27,000 jars.
• Strawberry jam is the number-one seller.
• Favorite Jam Kitchen job: Sampling the products!
• Least favorite Jam Kitchen job: De-stemming
• A horseshoe hung by the Jam Kitchen’s founder,
Ida Putnam, still dangles over the Jam Kitchen door.
• Sugar for the jams and jellies is stored in
a 300-pound barrel.
Cranberry Apple Jam
(Yields four to six eight-ounce jars)
6 cups whole cranberries (fresh or frozen)
3 cups apples
4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice
Pick through cranberries to remove stems and debris. Wash cranberries. Peel and chop apples into small chunks. Add sugar and lemon juice. Cook over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to a rolling boil. Cook until thickened and pour into sterilized jars.
For more information, visit the website of the Thornton W. Burgess Society at www.thorntonburgess.org.