As I mentioned the other day on the Freezing Blueberries post, there are a LOT of blueberries this year. Heaven only knows why, because we had a dry winter, a late frost, and a very dry couple months at the the start of the summer. But that is part of the fun of growing your own food – you never know how things will turn out, because there are so many factors that come into play. In the case of blueberries, we don’t even have to do any of the work, because the bushes are on Larry’s family’s farm. All we have to do is go and pick them!
So when Larry brought home an extra large bucketful a couple weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to make some kind of jam from them. I didn’t used to make a lot of jams and jellies, because to me they used SO much sugar that it just wasn’t a healthy way to use fruit. But then I realized a few years ago that if you don’t use pectin when making jam, you don’t have to use as much sugar either. Pectin requires a certain amount of sugar in order for the chemical process of thickening to take place – and it is usually quite a bit more than what I really wanted to be feeding my family. Commercial jams and jellies typically use pectin, because then they can use more sugar, and sugar is a cheaper ingredient than fruit. The yield with pectin is also higher, because you don’t need to cook off the extra moisture to get the proper texture. But the longer cooking time gives this a deeper flavor, as the sugar takes on carmelly undertones when you cook it longer. Lots of people use pectin, and that is fine, but I find I prefer the lower sugar level and intensity of flavor you get without it.
Now, this is a canned preserve, so you have to take proper precautions to make sure it stays safe. Make sure if you are using jars from previous years, that you buy new lids [not the rings - those are fine to use again], and that everything that comes into contact with the preserve is scrupulously clean. Preserves, jams and jellies can be canned using the water bath method. I don’t have a water bath canner, but I do have a huge stainless steel pot [similar to this one] that I use for all kinds of things, and it serves very well as a water bath canner. I went though 3 or 4 of the porcelain over steel canners over the years [because they rust out eventually] before I got smart and started using the perfectly good pan I already had. A pressure canner is a different thing entirely, and one I hope to get to later on in the season.
It has been awhile since I did a lot of canning, so I have lost track of some of my equipment. I ran across this very nice set of canning tools while shopping with my daughter recently so I grabbed it. Nice tools, and useful for other kitchen tasks as well. You can buy each thing separately, or maybe find used ones at yard sales or thrift shops. I would be cautious about some older tools though, like the wide funnels which were often made from aluminum or other dicey metals that could leach stuff into your food. I have a stainless steel one somewhere but I couldn’t put my hand on it this day, so I used the plastic one.
Here is how I made this batch:
10 cups of fresh blueberries
6 cups of granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of lemon zest
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Because this is a canned preserve, it is important to make sure your jars and lids are sterilized. So, to begin, fill a large stockpot half full of water [you are going to want the water to be over the tops of your jars by a couple inches, so make sure you have enough water in there for that] and set over a medium burner. Carefully put in the jars and lids. Once this comes up to a boil, cover and turn off heat. You are going to turn it back on high for about the last 10 minutes of the preserve cooking time, to sterilize the jars and have the water hot enough to can the final product.
Wash blueberries and pick over, removing any debris and spoiled berries. Place about half of the berries in a different pot – about 5 to 8 quart size will do. Crush well with a potato masher. Stir in the other half of the berries. Add the sugar, salt and lemon zest. Stir well and place over a burner set to low. Stir every minute or two.
Place a small plate in the freezer – this will be to test the doneness of the preserves. You want to bring the berries and sugar up to a gentle simmer. They will need to be stirred frequently, and more so as time goes by. Cook about 20 minutes, and test a small amount on the cold plate you put in the freezer. After sitting on the plate for a minute or so, the preserves should look pretty thick, and should not run very freely if you tip the plate. If the mixture is still too thin, keep cooking, and check again every 5 minutes or so, returning the plate to the freezer after each check. How long it takes is going to depend largely on the moisture content of the berries you are using. This batch took about 30 minutes total. Stir in lemon juice and cook another 5 minutes or so.
When the preserves are thickened enough, carefully remove the jars from the boiling water in the large pot, and set upright on a towel on your work surface. Carefully ladle the preserves into the jars – the big funnel in the canning tools set helps keep the edges of the jars clean. Jams don’t need very much headspace above the surface of the jam itself – about ¼ inch is enough room. Any more than that leaves too much chance for bacteria to grow, so fill them right up to that level. Wipe the edges of the jars with a damp cloth, and put on the lids and rings. [the magnet thing in the set of canning tools is very handy for fishing those lids out of the boiling water – or use tongs] Don’t screw the rings down super tight – just until they resist a bit is fine. If you have less than enough for the final jar, just put that one in the fridge to eat up first. I got about 9 and half jelly jars, which each hold ½ pint.
You can place a folded kitchen towel in the bottom of the pan, or use a rack from an old canner. This protects the bottom of the jars because they will jitter around on the bottom otherwise. Just lay the towel on top of the water in the pan, and push it down to the bottom with a long handled spoon – be careful not to splash the hot water on yourself. Carefully place the jars back in the large pot of water – there are jar tongs in the set of tools, or use regular tongs to gently set the jars upright on the bottom. Once the water is back up to a full boil, set the timer for 10 minutes. When the time is up, carefully remove the jars to a wooden cutting board, or a dry towel on the counter – don’t use same towel as before since it might be damp and cooler and could break the hot jars. You will probably start to hear the centers of the lids popping down pretty quickly. Cool completely and check to make sure all of the centers of the lids have popped down. Refrigerate any jars with a dome still on the lid, and eat up first. When the jars are fully cool, you can remove the rings if you like. Store in a fairly cool spot, and when opening the jars, inspect the contents, discarding any jars with mold or questionable appearance. Preserves will keep very well for up a year, or even longer, though the quality may suffer somewhat after a year. Like this is going to last a year in the first place!
Ellyn and Jason and the kids were here just a few days after I made this batch, and justlikethat 3 jars were gone, so I don’t think you have to worry about how long it will keep.