DELPHOS — When Cindy Schwinnen’s husband passed away five years ago, the Delphos resident needed something to pull her out of the rut she was in.
Thanks to her sister, Patti Bonifas, and possibly some signs from above, the duo decided that using their cooking skills would be the perfect outlet. A half-decade later, local residents can find O’Sister Jams and Jellies at just about every farmers’ market and craft show in the region.
“It’s given me a purpose,” Schwinnen said. “After my husband passed away, I was so lost. I didn’t even know how bad I was. But this has brought me out of my shell.”
According to Bonifas, it all began when she was making homemade jam at her residence in Delphos. As she stirred the concoction, Bonifas was trying to figure out a way to pull her sister out of the fog she found herself in following her husband’s death.
“When the jam popped up and burnt my arm, it hit me — literally,” Bonifas said. “I’m a big sign person, so I think that was her husband’s way of saying, ‘wake up woman.’ When I get signs like that, I learn from them. Especially hot ones.”
Perhaps another sign from above appeared soon after the sisters decided to move forward with the business. As Bonifas was looking for a design to put on the labels that would appear on each jar of their jams and jellies, she came across a sunflower patch that Schwinnen’s husband planted before he died.
“There were a bunch of sunflowers out there, but there was one sunflower that stood higher than the rest,” Bonifas said. “I took a picture of it, and that’s the one we used. I think it was his approval of us doing this.”
Since then, O’Sister has grown into a thriving small business that reaches as far south as Dayton, north to Toledo, west to Indiana, and everywhere in between. Schwinnen and Bonifas sell 34 types of jams and jellies, which are all made with fresh ingredients grown by friends, local farmers and themselves.
“There’s nothing artificial in what we make,” Schwinnen said. “We use dark rum that has caramel color in it for our pineapple rum, but that’s the only ingredient that we use that has color. Everything else comes from the fruit or peppers or whatever we put in it.”
The 34 types of jams and jellies they make range from classic flavors such as blackberry, cherry and strawberry to more unique offerings that include jalapeno pepper, dandelion and shiraz. Each item is homemade in small batches, and comes in 8 or 4 ounce jars.
“The one thing we have a problem with is we never know when to stop making flavors,” Schwinnen said with a laugh. “But I guess that’s a good problem to have.”
With so many flavors to choose from, the sisters said their jams and jellies can be used in a variety of dishes. They said their jellies pair well with different types of cheeses and pastries, as well as other items such as meatballs, ground beef and stir fry. In fact, the tag line of their company is “not just for toast.”
“We’ve got to be creative because we realize not everybody’s tastes are the same,” Schwinnen said. “We feel like we have something for everyone.”
As the business has progressed, Schwinnen now has the opportunity to look back on a time when she could barely function. She credits her sister with her recovery, and she feels like she is making her late husband proud.
“I’d be lost without Patti,” Schwinnen said. “She’s been a God send.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @Bush_Lima.