On the first Monday of winter break, many Oregon State students were heading home to their families or driving to the slopes or warmer climates to celebrate their vacation. But nearly 20 Food and Fermentation Club members were back on campus, ready to learn and to help.
The students were gathered in the Pilot Plant in Wiegand Hall to whip up hundreds of jars of raspberry and dark sweet cherry jelly, which were bound for the OSU Food Pantry. The event was a bonding experience for club members, a chance to learn more about large scale jelly making, and a way to give back during a season that emphasizes charity and generosity.
The students have been looking for a way to apply their food science knowledge to a philanthropic project, and making jelly seemed like the perfect match.
“I’d volunteered at the OSU Food Pantry and found out they have a hard time getting jelly donations,” said Melissa Sales, a senior in food science and vice president of the Food and Fermentation club. Because jelly is relatively easy to make, is safe when correctly processed, and is shelf-stable for a long time, it seemed like a good product for club members to produce. Jelly seemed like a good product for club members to produce because it is relatively easy to make, safe when correctly processed, and is shelf-stable for a long time.
Because the Pilot Plant is licensed as an FDA approved food-processing facility, the students were able to make the jelly under the supervision of manager Jeff Clawson. He spent a long time going over the delicate – yet messy – art of jelly making, from getting the right temperature and consistency to boiling hot jelly safely into sterilized jars.
With the donation of berry concentrate from Kerr Concentrate in Salem, and jars from Campagna in Lebanon, the only cost to the students was sugar, and their time.
Emily Del Bel, a junior and president of the club, watched carefully as Clawson explained how different jelly manufacturers handle the jelly making process, and helped test the consistency of the jelly to see if it was ready to pour.
“It’s starting to boil over,” she squealed at one point, as the jelly began to splash over the side of the metal vat where it was cooking. “I don’t know what to do!” Clawson was quickly at her side to help.
Recently the club held a food drive and donated six full boxes of food to the OSU Food Pantry, but wanted an even more tangible way to help out. And even though it meant giving up a bit of their holiday break, the club members didn’t complain.
“I’m really amazed,” Del Bel said. “We have had an awesome turnout. And this is a learning opportunity as well.”
The Department of Food Science and Technology has been rapidly expanding in recent years, so there are even more students to participate in activities like jelly making.
“Our department has grown to a critical mass of students,” Clawson said. “Five years ago we had 30 students. This year we have 170 undergraduates.”
“We’ve done so many things this year,” Del Bel said. “It’s our passion. It’s not just a major. It’s what we live.”
~ Theresa Hogue