Blueberry Lemon Jam

20130617-080549.jpgBlueberries are awesome little powerhouses of nutrition. High in antioxidants, fiber and vitamins, they are sweet little health heroes. For me, as much as I like blueberries, I tend to like them better when paired with another flavor. Unlike our local blackberries, blueberries are just a bit too sweet for me. When partnered up with a more tart flavor, their sweetness is a bit more in balance. I love the combination of blueberry and lemon (and our blueberry-rhubarb combinations this spring were terrific also). So this weekend, I made a new jam experiment with just blueberry and lemon. The result? I think the blueberries taste far better in this jam than in plain blueberry itself! The lemon and lemon zest really brings out the brightness of the berries. This is a keeper!

One of the wonderful things about making jam with blueberries is that a lot of the work is done for you. Unlike strawberries, which require hulling and chopping, blueberries just need a quick wash and a check for any remaining little stems and you’re ready. Also, blueberries have a lot of natural pectin, so you don’t have to use any pectin at all, unless you’re in a hurry.

This recipe uses two kinds of lemon juice–bottled lemon juice (this is to provide enough acid in the jam that the jam will remain shelf stable) and fresh lemon juice and zest (for fresh lemon flavor). This is one place you want to buy an organic lemon. Actually, any time you are zesting citrus, you want to use an organic or pesticide-free fruit because you are using the part of the fruit that is most exposed to pesticides and toxins.

Blueberry Lemon Jam (makes 5-6 half pints)

  • 8 cups fresh blueberries (preferably pesticide free)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice**
  • Juice and zest from one organic lemon
  1. Fill a canning pot with water, insert the rack and add 6 half pint canning jars. Heat over high to boiling, then turn off heat and let sit until you are ready.
  2. Wash the blueberries in cool water and pick off any remaining stem pieces.
  3. Put the washed, wet blueberries into a non-reactive stock pot and heat over medium. Mash berries with a potato masher several times while cooking.
  4. When blueberries and juice come to a low boil, add the sugar, lemon juices and zest. Stir well to dissolve the sugar.
  5. Turn heat down a bit and keep blueberries at a low boil, stirring frequently, for about 45 minutes or until the berry mixture gels.
  6. Remove hot jars from the canning pot (carefully!) and set them on a clean tea towel. Put the jar lids into a bowl and pour some of the hot water over them to cover.
  7. Carefully ladle jam into the hot jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Add lids and bands, just tighten bands to finger tightness.
  8. Return the filled jars to the canning pot, cover pot, and heat over high to boiling. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover, and let sit for 5 minutes.
  9. Remove jars from the hot water bath and let sit undisturbed for 24 hours. Check seals and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

**You can use fresh lemon juice, but because bottled juice is more consistent in its acid content, the bottled stuff may be more reliable.

Simple Strawberry Jam

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I am not a fruit jelly person.

Fruit jellies are those lovely, clear, sparkling creations prized for their lack of seeds or fruit pulp. They take time, patience and (to me) they are a bit fussy. Give me a hearty, rustic jam with chunks of tender fruit to spread all over my morning toast any day. Homemade jam reminds me of sticky, jam kisses from your children. And lazy, summer mornings. And one of my favorite children’s books, Jamberry by Bruce Degan.

By next week, we will have blueberries…

One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry
Hatberry, shoeberry, in my canoeberry

But right now, we have strawberries…

Three berry
Four berry
Hayberry
Strawberry
Finger and pawberry
My berry, your berry

So this weekend, I made strawberry jam, thick with pieces of strawberry and absolutely, berry delicious. This recipe is a slight derivation from a recipe in Sherry Brooks Vinton’s book Put ‘Em Up. Just slight though. I use a stick blender to really mash up the berries and I also add 1 tablespoon of organic, unsalted butter to the cooking berries. I seem to have a problem with strawberries producing a lot of foam and the butter is a Ball recipe suggestion for reducing foam (it works!).

And if I haven’t said it enough, the Put ‘Em Up canning/food preservation book is really the best one I have. It is the only one that is thoroughly sticky, splattered, dog-eared and well-loved. For the record, I get nothing for saying that, just the satisfaction of sharing with you something I appreciate.

Got strawberries? Go make this jam!

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Strawberry Jam (makes 6-7 half pints)

  • 8 cups of organic strawberries, rinsed and hulled (tops taken off)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted, organic butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin
  • 2 teaspoons calcium water (included in the Pomona’s packet)
  1. Cut the cleaned and hulled berries into quarters (or into halves if the are small). Put cut berries into a non-reactive stock pot.
  2. Mash the berries with a potato masher, then blend together with a stick blender for about 1 minute.
  3. Mix the sugar and pectin together in a bowl.
  4. Fill your canning pot with water and add the rack and your jars. Heat over high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Put lids in a bowl and set aside.
  5. While you wait for the canning pot to heat, bring the berries and the butter to a boil over medium high heat, and stir to make sure they don’t burn.
  6. Stir in the calcium water and lemon juice. Then, add the sugar and pectin mixture, stirring to prevent lumps.
  7. Return the berry mixture to a boil, heating through. The mixture should be thick and coat the back of a spoon. Remove pot from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Skim off any foam.
  8. Turn the heat off of the canning pot. Remove hot jars from the canning pot CAREFULLY and empty the hot water inside the jars back into the canning pot. Put some of the hot water in the bowl with the jar lids. You want to cover them in the very hot water.
  9. Fill the hot jars with the hot berries, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. We use our trusty blue canning funnel. Use a spatula or the gadget that comes with your canning kit to remove any excess air in the jars.
  10. Wipe jar rims with a clean paper towel, take the lids from the hot water and top each jar with a lid. Screw on bands just to finger tightness (don’t over tighten).
  11. Add the jars back to the canning pot, add the cover, and bring water to a boil for 10 minutes.
  12. Cut off the heat, remove the pot lid and let jars sit for 5 minutes.
  13. Remove jars from the canning pot and do not tilt them! I use a clean tea towel to dab excess water off the jars, but keep them straight.
  14. Let the jars sit I disturbed for 24 hours. Check seals and store all sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Note: If you have any extra jam that doesn’t quite fill a jar, you can ladle it into a jar or cup and refrigerate it for up to 3 weeks!

This is the basic technique that applies to all berry jam making. The proportion of acid and pectin may change, but if you can do this, you will be able to can almost anything! Ready? Give it a go!

Raspberry, jazzberry, razzamatazzberry,
Berry land, merryland, jamming in berryland

Tips for Preserving and Canning Berries

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Strawberries are so delicious and plentiful here in North Carolina right now that it seems hard to believe in a few short weeks they will be gone. Once you have fresh, local berries, it is hard to buy imported berries at the grocery store. They do not have the soft texture and robust flavor that locally picked berries have, and their carbon footprint is often pretty horrible. And Ka-ching! They can be very expensive. So my mission is not only to eat local, but to put up what we can so in November, we will have local fruit and vegetables without any fuss!

With a little planning and a little work, you can store away fresh fruit and vegetables at the peak of season so you aren’t tempted by those inferior berries (or tomatoes or corn or peas) later in the year. Here are three easy ways to save your strawberries! These techniques work for other berries as well.

Dehydrate them–You can do this in the oven if you don’t have a dehydrator. This is not difficult, but does take time and patience.

Freeze them–Wash, dry and hull strawberries. Cut them in half and put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet(s). Pop the baking sheet(s) in the freezer for about 90 minutes. Then, load the frozen strawberry halves into freezer bags and store in the freezer. You can also just pop the berries in freezer bags and skip the baking sheet technique, but in my experience, you end up with a frozen blob of berries that are all stuck together. When you freeze the berries individually, you can just use what you need instead of defrosting the whole bag.

Can them–Making jam is very, very easy and you don’t need a lot of equipment. You can make freezer jam (there are many recipes online), but beware! Freezer jam uses a LOT of sugar. I find it is too sweet for me to eat and, to me, the sugar actually dulls the flavor of the berries. But that’s me–you do what you want.

I know canning can seem intimidating. My own first attempts to make strawberry jam were not as successful as later batches, but we had fun learning. Most mistakes can still be useful–jam that doesn’t gel (or “set”) can be called “ice cream/pancake topping” or used to fill a layer cake or used in muffin mix to make fruit muffins. So, no big loss, just a new marketing strategy 🙂

Here are some tips I’ve learned if you are interested in making fruit jam or canning vegetables:

  1. Invest in a modest amount of equipment. Having the right equipment will make your job easier and quicker. You do NOT need an $100.00 “water bath canner” or a $265 hammered copper jam pan from a high end kitchen store (seriously, Williams Sonoma?). You DO need a large pot, a canning rack to fit in the pot, a jar lifter to safely remove your jars from hot water and canning jars with lids and rings. Can you use your kitchen tongs to move your jars instead of a jar lifter? Yes and no. Take it from me, that accidentally dropping a jar back into a pot of hot water is not pleasant. Buy the jar lifter. Canning kits are available that include everything except the jars at places like Wal-Mart for under $30, and will provide you with years of use. If you really want the fancy copper jam pan, then by all means, get it, but that is for you, not the jam 🙂
  2. Use only tested, FDA-approved recipes. This part is not funny. Successful canning means having the right balance of produce and acid, that is heated to the proper temperature to keep bacteria from growing. You cannot make up your own canning recipes without risking the health of anyone eating what you produce. Using tested recipes (and following those recipes) ensures that all your hard work will result in something that is not only delicious and healthy, but is safe to eat. My absolute favorite food preservation book is Put ‘Em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton. She has a new book out this spring that is just for fruit and I need to get a copy. The original is wonderful! Chock full of creative, tested recipes for fruits and vegetables, the book includes tips for drying and freezing foods as well as canning. One of the things I love is that her jam recipes are low sugar, which I prefer. Some jam recipes will outright shock you with the amount of sugar they require.
  3. Buy fruit at the peak of season. If your strawberries don’t taste good to you out of the bucket, they won’t taste good to you in a jam either.
  4. Buy organic or pesticide-free fruit when possible. I know, I know, it’s expensive. But, when you’re concentrating fruit down into a jam (or dehydrating it), you are also concentrating any pesticides or toxins on your fruit as well. And that is not a good thing, especially if you are pregnant or if you have little folks eating your jam. If you can’t find organic or pesticide-free fruit, make sure you are washing it well to remove as much surface toxins as you can.
  5. Have fun! I’ve found that yes, canning requires some work and some hot days in the kitchen. But, it is also a lot of fun and pretty cool, too. In the past year, we haven’t purchased any grocery store jam, salsa, barbecue sauce, pickles or tomato sauce–we just shop from our own pantry!

Tomorrow–Strawberry Jam!

Preserving Strawberries

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I love strawberries. Love, love, love them. Strawberries and asparagus are my two harbingers of spring. When you see them at the farmer’s markets, winter is over fo’ sho’. Like many of the most precious things in life, strawberries are fragile and temporary. Fresh strawberries are so far superior to their hard, dry grocery cousins that I will usually forego buying strawberries at the grocery and instead, wait until I can eat them to my heart’s content, fresh from the fields. But if you are eating (mostly) local as we are, how do you continue the strawberry love all year? There are lots of ways to preserve your berries so you have some wonderful flavor all winter long. Canning preserves, of course, is a great option, but don’t forget freezing and drying as well!

Your freezer is probably your most overlooked ally in reducing food waste and stalling the effects of time on your precious berries. Last year, we purchased a second freezer and we used it all summer to pack away berries, peaches, tomatoes, figs, corn, beans, okra–pretty much anything that was plentiful and at the peak of the season. Our freezer is running low now, but we’ve had a winter’s worth of wonderful meals and we’re getting ready to stock it up once again! With strawberries, you can make freezer jam or just freeze the whole berries for use later.

One of our favorite restaurants, Lucky 32, has a great Farm-to-Fork blog about preserving strawberries HERE. Check it out! I’m definitely trying the vinegar idea this year–not only does it sound delicious, it uses up those bruised berries that sometimes get put in the compost (well, not in our house–they usually end up in my mouth).

Here are some other ideas and resources:

Put ‘Em Up and Put ‘Em Up Fruit by Sherri Brooks Vinton

Put ‘Em Up was my canning and preserving bible last summer. My copy is so dog-eared, stained and sticky that it’s a surprise I can still turn the pages. One aspect I really like is that her jam recipes use Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which is a bit more expensive, but allows you to decrease the amount of sugar you use without compromising the texture of the jam. I just ordered her new fruit book and can’t wait to try the recipes. Strawberries are so fresh and sweet, why mess them up with more sugar than needed? I love this book so much more than the Ball canning books because the recipes are creative and absolutely spot on with measurements. Also, she includes other preserving methods, such as drying and freezing, so if you don’t can, you can still find lots of useful ideas.

Consider buying a dehydrator. This is my summer project. Have you ever had dried strawberries??? Holy moly! They are amazing and last a good long while. Wonderful on cereal, in granola or just as a snack–nature’s candy, indeed! You can dry strawberries in your oven as well–just takes a little more attention on your part, but completely do-able!

Make fruit leather. Once you make homemade fruit leather, you will never touch that pre-packaged stuff from the grocery again. And you kids probably won’t want to either. We made homemade strawberry fruit leather last spring (read about it HERE)and we all agreed it was so strawberry-delicious that we needed to make more. Immediately. Except then, we ate all our strawberries. Oh, well, we will try again this year!

I’ll be sharing more of our berry recipes as we head into high season! I just need to remember to sock some away for November and December, when we are feeling deprived of fresh berries!

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