Gifts from the Monks
By Dianna Stampfler
On a busy summer day, visitors fill the tiny Jampot shop in Eagle Harbor waiting patiently to purchase wild berry jams, hearty fruitcakes, savory baked goods and confections handmade by the monks of the Holy Transfiguration Skete, Society of Saint John.
It’s a family tradition for many, dating back to the early 1980s when Father Basil and Father Nicholas journeyed to the Keweenaw Peninsula to establish a monastery within the remote countryside of the northwestern Upper Peninsula.
“Jampot is a vital component in the life of this monastery,” says Hieromonk Basil, who was named Hegumen of the Skete following the 2017 passing of Father Nicholas. “[It] began as the improbable enterprise of picking wild berries and making jam. And jam is still the mainstay of our business.”
About 75 percent of the monastery’s revenue comes from Jampot sales, which continues well after the tourism season ends thanks to online sales.
Late fall is usually tied up with fruitcake, preserve and confection production for the holiday mail orders. Utilizing the nearly 2,000 pounds of foraged berries – primarily wild thimbleberries sourced from about 300 local pickers – the monks remain busy crafting their goods and shipping them off around the globe.
“I was a junior at Michigan Tech when I heard about these two monks moving up to the U.P. to pick berries and make jam,” says Dr. Thomas McGovern, who was born a Yooper and now lives in Fort Wayne. “My wife, seven kids and I met the monks back in 2008 and have been purchasing from them since then. I get my staff some of their cakes and coffee, which they love.”
The large 3.5-pound Jamaican Black Cake, made with a variety of dried fruit which is moistened (aka soaked) in rum and wine for months, sells for $50. Six different small cakes – with flavors like lemon and ginger – make up the “Fruitcake Sampler” for $85. Gift packs feature a variety of jams ranging (with more than 20 flavors including three sugar free options), as well as candies, roasted coffee beans, trail mix and locally-sourced honey or maple syrup.
For online ordering, visit PoorrockAbbey.com and for more about the monastery and the monks, visit societystjohn.com. The unofficial deadline for arrival by Christmas is December 15, however the sooner an order can be placed, the better.