On a recent reconnaissance trip to the newly completed Gibraltar Segment of the Ice Age Trail near Lodi, the final climb to the trailhead was on Slack Road, a scenic lane winding through the Baraboo Hills. Along the way, we passed several insistent signs pointing to "Slack's Jams & Jellies," so we decided to check it out after the hike.
A steep driveway led to an old farmhouse, where we were greeted enthusiastically by a lovely white-haired woman. (Later she would ask, "Can you believe I'm in my 80s?" No, we couldn't.) "Have you been here before?" she asked. "Let me give you the tour." She introduced herself as Ethel Slack, daughter-in-law of the original farmsteaders, Violet and Earl Slack. The Slacks started small, selling jam made from local wild blackberries door-to-door in 1954, and now Ethel runs the much expanded business with her son, Mark, and daughter, Jacki. As she showed us around, we were dazzled by row upon glowing row of jams, jellies and marmalades, all neatly arranged along the walls. Visions of sugarplums, indeed.
"My son does all the artwork," Ethel said proudly. "He's the one who comes up with all the recipes, too." We were admiring the labels on the Wisconsin Wildlife Preserve series, which included such concoctions as Mosquito Marmalade (peach, orange and red raspberry, illustrated with a giant mosquito perched on a berry basket) and Goose & Crane (gooseberry and cranberry, with goofy cranes and geese marching past each other and the words "Contains no feathers or other fowl ingredients"). In fact, you'll find pretty much any mix of jams and jellies you can imagine, and every one is made on the premises, from all-natural ingredients.
In addition to the fruit-based products, you can buy salsas, cheese, popcorn and more. Not enough? There are two small rooms in back overflowing with "antiques": glasses emblazoned with cartoon characters, ceramic cookie jars, bangles, baubles - you get the idea.
Slack's is just a hop, skip and ferry ride from Merrimac, and a wonderful side excursion from Devil's Lake. But if you can't make it, don't fret: You can find their delicious products locally at the Willy St. Co-op (which has carried Slack's since 1974), Jenifer Street Market, Whole Foods and Woodman's, or order online (www.slacksjellyfarm.com).