This post is a long time in the making - in fact, it was before I started this blog that I started on making the jam. Ever since March I've been thinking about blueberries, and how much I want to pick them from a farm. Berry picking is something I haven't done since I was little, and in talking with some friends of mine about our shared love of all things blueberry the idea got trapped in my mind all the way to summer.
Unfortunately, along with summer came me getting very sick, and by the time I was feeling well enough and started calling around a lot of the berry farms told me they'd had a short season and were finished for the year. This led to picking raspberries instead (and getting eaten alive by the most insane mosquitos every - don't they know I was lathered three different kinds of bug spray?). This led to a lovely batch of raspberry jam, and as an added bonus to the raspberry picking I got to buy a big 3 lb jar of the farm's locally made honey - mmm!
Raspberries were nice, but I still wanted blueberries, and there was one farm left on my list that gave me hope. It was, in fact, the very farm I went picking at with my mom and brother when I was little. All I remember from back then was my brother always eating (and liking) the sour, under-ripened berries, and my mom and I joking that there were more good ones for us that way.
I had no nostalgic recollection of how the farm looked, but when I pulled up I was pleased to see rows upon rows of ~7-8' high blueberry bushes, and people walking with buckets down the sides of the rows.
I quickly got a bucket of my own, and went a decent distance back into the farm before choosing an un-inhabited row. The berries were ripe and plentiful, and the mosquitos were out in full force (even though I had specifically decided to go in the early morning) - but that didn't stop me from picking a whopping 11.5 lbs of berries! I filled two buckets before leaving with my stash, and spent the next 48 hours rinsing, drying, and freezing single layers of them to be saved in baggies for whenever I need them. Fresh blueberry pie in the middle of winter? Absolutely!
While batches of berries were air-drying on sheets of paper towels on the counter, I made two batches of blueberry jam - one with nothing but blueberries and the local honey, and another using sugar and pectin.
I somehow have a lot of bad connotations about pectin - every time I've made jam I either omit it entirely, or, depending on the fruit, add chunks or peels of McIntosh apples to cook out some of their natural pectin (this works well if you only need a little - chunks will cook down and be undetectable in the finished product, and the peel can be easily fished out before canning). I recognized, however, that this distaste for the machine-processed extraction of natural fruit pectin was, for the most part, unfounded, and I was willing to give it a try to see just what would come of it.
I knew it would result in a thicker, more jelly-like jam, but what I hadn't considered was this: my first batch of blueberry jam, with nothing but the honey, used 3lbs of blueberries and resulted in only six 8 oz jars full, while my second batch of jam, with the pectin, used just under 2lbs and yielded eight and a half 8 oz jars full. To get the thick jammy consistency without pectin, I spent a long time over the stove cooking out the excess liquid, but with using the pectin the jam took only 10-20 minutes, and because it held on to all it's juices had much more volume in the end. Now I hate pectin significantly less.
Sterilized jars, still hot out of the boiling water.
Here are the three jam recipes I used:
The blueberry jam with honey was just 3lbs fresh blueberries, 1 cup of water, and maybe 1/2-3/4 cup honey. I simmered it all together until the blueberries had pretty thoroughly broken down, then brought it to a rapid boil (stirring all the while) for about one minute, then reduced the heat and ladled into sterilized jars.
This has a really wonderful flavor. The honey isn't the first thing to hit your tongue like I thought it might be - it kind of lies low, pushing the flavor of the blueberries to the forefront. Because of the loss of liquid from reducing the jam down, the blueberries got very small and the slightest bit chewy. When I took it off the heat it still looked soupy, but it set up pretty well in the fridge, so in the future I'll cook it a little less.
Great additions to this might be cinnamon, cardamom, or other spices/herbs. I think cinnamon goes really well with blueberries, but you could add anything from lavender to mint, to something savory like rosemary or sprigs of thyme.
For the regular blueberry jam, I followed a recipe pretty exactly. That recipe was from CupOfSugarPinchOfSalt, and the only thing I altered is that they suggests topping off the jars with vodka before sealing - this is done sometimes to help ward against bacteria, but I consider it to be unnecessary if the jars are thoroughly sterilized and I plan to water-process the jars once sealed.
The recipe was 5 cups blueberries, 5 cups sugar (I used vanilla sugar - yum!), 2 TBSP lemon juice, and 2 pouches of liquid pectin (they come two to a box).
First, I blended up about half of the berries in a food processor, then added the whole berries and blended berries to a big pot on the stove, mixed in the sugar and lemon juice, and brought it up to a boil. I stirred pretty constantly, to keep the sugars from burning and also to keep the foaming/bubbling down. After 3 minutes of boiling, add in the pectin and boil one minute longer, still stirring. Turn off the heat, and if there's any thickened foam on top spoon it off before ladling into jars.
This was good, though a little too sweet for my tastes. In the future I would use maybe only 3 cups of sugar, and experiment with using only 1 pouch of pectin (to keep it more loose and spreadable). Still, crazy delicious - I keep mixing it into bowls of yogurt with granola!
For the raspberry jam I opted for less sugar, and no pectin - I used about 8 cups fresh raspberries, 2 cups of sugar, and 4 TBSP lemon juice.
I cooked this similarly to the first blueberry recipe, simmering and reducing, simmering and reducing, and then boiling just towards the end for a moment before calling it done.
This had a very light, fresh, just-picked-summer-raspberry taste, which is exactly what I wanted. Not too much sugar, and the lemon really brightened it. This would have benefited, however, from some pectin, because with all the reducing the seeds become much more prominent. I didn't have a problem with that, but had they been more spread out it'd be just that little bit better.
Notes: Jam recipes that call for pectin, unless you're using 'non-sugar activated' pectin, require the recipe to have sugar. You can replace up to half of that sugar with honey or other sweetener, but the sugar is necessary for the jam to do its thing.
Also, I'm not sure what the rules are here, but in some places it can't be called a 'jam' unless there's at least a 1/1 ratio of sweetener to fruit - if it's less than that it has to be called 'preserves' or 'marmalade' or 'sauce'. I usually opt for recipes that call for less sugar to fruit, and sometimes even lessen the amount further to keep the natural flavor of the fruit as the star of the show... I continue to call it jam, so sue me.
Just some of the jam I made, as much of it has gone off to friends and family members already (and off to the beautiful place all foods eventually go - my stomach.)
Now that I was well stocked with jam, there was only one thing missing: a really nice loaf of bread.
I've made a lot of breads before, no-kneads and 5 Minute A Day breads, but this called for real bread making. It called for sourdough.
I hate to leave you with a cliffhanger, but you'll just have to wait until Part 2 of this post to see the oh-so-thrilling adventures of making a sourdough starter from scratch. (Spoiler alert: that pic at the top of the page means the bread was a success!)