As we are now officially in the dog days of summer, it’s a good time to stay inside and bottle up some of the more pleasant summer memories of summer by making some more jam.
And there are few better memories than (seasonal) blueberries. While, admittedly, they are not my favorite berry eaten out-of-hand, once blueberries have been cooked, they are a lovely thing.
Wild blueberries are grown as far as ideal conditions will let them; even as far north as human habitation (think northern Canada). Botanists and culinary historians believe that the indigenous peoples of America used wild blueberries for a number of foodstuffs: eating out of hand; drying them in the sun for preservation and use in pemmican (a form of dried meat), cakes, and puddings. The dried berries were also ground for use in soups.
The blueberry that most of us know today were first commercially cultivated in the early 20th century. They’re a variety called “highbush”, meaning that they are grown on bushes and small trees as opposed to in boggy soil of the lowbush blueberries. Highbush berries are also larger than the lowbush varieties. Most commercial cultivation of highbush blueberries comes from British Columbia, Maryland, Western Oregon, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington. Lowbush blueberries are a native fruit crop to Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Maine.
Blueberries are in the same genus as cranberries. The Genus Vaccinium. Blueberries are also related to lingonberries and huckleberries. All of these fruits are grown in acidic soil and can have a wide variation in acidity both in pH and in taste. One thing they all have in common is they are all very high in natural pectin.
(Some information from wikipedia.org and The Oxford Companion to Food, Davidson, 1999).
As I stated above, the indigenous peoples of America have used blueberries for millennia before settlers were introduced to them. Now, thanks to importation and cultivation, blueberries are grown and eaten all over the world. They are especially prized in France for use in pastries.
And, of course, for jam. Yummy, yummy jam.
Now, on to the recipe.
A few notes:
1. You can use frozen blueberries in a pinch for this recipe. I like to use blueberries in season – which, in Texas, would mean May – September – but, I have used frozen in the past and they work fine.
2. Always buy extra blueberries. This will make up for any that are bad, not ripe, or what you eat.
3. If you would like to make this a totally sugar-free recipe, sugar-free honey is available at some grocery and health-food stores. You can also use maple syrup if you’d rather go that route. I don’t use artificial sweeteners, Stevia, or Splenda in my jams, so don’t ask about substitutions. Or, you could just omit the sweet component altogether. However, this will affect the set-up of the finished jam.
4. Don’t forget the lemon juice. It adds the acidity needed to activate the pectin in the blueberries.
5. Don’t use too dark a honey (i.e. cotton or buckwheat). The flavor will overpower the blueberries. You want them to compliment, not compete.
6. The set of this jam will also depend on how long you cook it. The longer you cook, the more solid the set. However, it won’t set up as stiffly as a jam made with commercial pectin.
7. For the complete hows and whys of canning, please see my post from August 10, 2012, “Classic Strawberry Jam” (http://www.tartqueenskitchen.com/?p=756).
6 pt. blueberries (12 c./approx. 4 1/2 – 5 lbs)
8 ea. 10-oz bags frozen blueberries, thawed, juices saved (5 lbs.)
1 c. honey (I like to use wildflower or clover honey)
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1. Wash and pick through the blueberries. Discard or compost any that are spoiled or underripe. If you are using frozen berries, place them into a large colander set over a large bowl and allow to thaw. Be sure to save any juices that accumulate in the bowl.
2. Combine the berries, honey, and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan. (If using frozen thawed berries, add the juice as well.) Stir to combine. If you want to crush the berries with a potato masher to release some of the juices from the berries, go ahead. It’s not necessary, however. The berries will break down as they cook.
3. Cover the saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir frequently.
4. Once the mixture has come to a boil, uncover the saucepan, reduce the heat to medium-low and boil the mixture for about 1 hour or until the jam looks thick and glossy. Again, stir frequently.
5. Once the jam is ready, ladle it into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Be sure to wipe off the rim of the jar, otherwise the jars may not seal properly. Place the lids on top and finger-tighten the rims. Process the jars for 10 minutes in boiling water. (Begin timing after the water comes to a boil.)
6. Take the jars out of the water and set them on racks to cool. Once the jars have sealed (you’ll hear a “ping” noise, the lid will be concave, and, if you pick up the jar by its lid, it won’t come off), tighten the rims. Let the jars sit until they are cool.