Photo by Gwen Davis
Bill Asher, pastor at First Baptist Church of Des Moines, displays some of the 3,000 jars of jelly he makes each year.

Des Moines minister’s hobby jells

By Gwen Davis

All you peanut butter sandwiches out there, fear not – there are 3,000 more jars of jelly in Des Moines these days, which means that more of you sandwiches will get that sinfully sweet condiment you deserve.
That’s thanks to Bill Asher, pastor of First Baptist Church of Des Moines who makes 3,000 jars of jelly a year.

Asher gives every jar away. Recipients include the Judson Park retirement community, the Fort Lewis Commissary and to his church. He also mails several jars to his brother.

Asher’s jellies and jams come in the full gamut of flavors: blackberry, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, mixed berry, blackberry/raspberry, pomegranate, cranberry, orange marmalade, zucchini marmalade, pineapple, grape and others.

He makes batches of jelly using Splenda for people with diabetes.
Asher said that when he wants to donate large numbers of jars to a certain person or cause, he usually receives an incredulous reaction at first.

“People would think I was pulling a joke on them,” Asher said regarding incidences when he would tell people of the amount of jelly he makes.

“But then they like it.”

The recipes Asher uses come mostly from cookbooks, but many times he is able to wing it.

Strawberry jam is the most popular flavor.

Residents of Judson Park enjoy first dibs on the jams and jellies, and are appreciative of Asher’s altruistic exertions.

“Bill is a great guy who doesn’t charge a dime,” said one Judson Park resident (who requested that his name not be printed in this article). “It is very unusual. He makes these things and buys all the jars and lids and keeps records of it.”

The resident said that Asher gives some of the jars of jam to the Judson Park store, which sometimes generates a little bit of money. But the jam donations by and large are solely charity-based.

“He doesn’t mess around,” the resident said. “Bill is a generous, fine guy.”

Asher has made jams and jellies his entire life. He grew up in south New Jersey where he would spend the entire summer on a farm, picking berries and making jams with his 13 brothers and sisters. The 16-person jam-producing family instilled within Asher a love of jam making that has yet to go away.

“I have been making jelly ever since childhood,” Asher said. “My mother did a lot of canning, as all of my other siblings. That’s how I learned to do it.”

Asher makes the jams and jellies year-round. From start to finish, it takes him two hours to make 50 jars. Asher’s wife helps put the lids on the jars.

Asher pays for all of the ingredients and supplies out of pocket, including the jars, sugar, Splenda, fruit, juice, gel agents and berries. He buys the jars from the Fort Lewis Commissary for about $6 per case. The sugar costs approximately $6.50 for a 10-pound bag.

But because Asher loves making the jam and gains satisfaction from his donation efforts, he said he hardly thinks about price.

Asher also makes bread, which he said is just as much of an achievement as the jam: “I am known for my bread just as much as the jelly,” he said.

Asher formerly served in the U.S. Navy. When he retired in 1994, he moved to Des Moines where he became minister of his church and began making jellies and jams for his current clientele.

“I was doing this long before I came to Des Moines,” Asher said. “I have been making jam throughout my life, even when I was in the Navy.”

Asher especially enjoys making jam for his church and for the family fun night every Friday, where he brings several jars for all of his congregants to enjoy.

“I like making these things,” Asher said. “It’s fun.”

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