Every summer, I eagerly await the first ripe berries of the season to appear. Frozen berries are fine for the rest of the year, but when they are juicy and fresh, straight from the bush, they are simply heavenly. We always eat some of the berries fresh, and then use the rest for pies and jam.
This summer, my first berry picking venture was for blueberries at a local farm. Unfortunately for me, I had chosen a day for blueberry picking where the temperature soared to unseasonably warm temps. I was feeling determined that day, so despite the scalding sun, I traipsed into the field armed with my berry bucket, and picked as many as I could before succumbing to the heat. Happily, they were worth it – these blueberries were just as delicious as I had hoped, and cost a mere $2 a pound to boot!
After we ate a ton of fresh berries from my haul, I used the rest to make my yearly batch of Blueberry Lemon Jam. It’s a jam that is sweet, and a little lemony, and is perfect on toast, or as a topping for a cheesecake. I even once made a couple hundred tiny jars of this jam as wedding favors, and they were a bit hit! I make it with a generous helping of lemon zest, because that’s where the real lemon flavor comes from.
Since blueberries are low in naturally-occurring pectin, my recipe uses store-bought pectin to help the jam to set. Can you make blueberry jam without added pectin? Absolutely! The way to achieve this, however, is to cook down the jam for a long time to evaporate some of the water from the berries. I like my blueberry jam to have a fresh, bright flavor, so I use the pectin to avoid a long cooking time, which dulls some of the brightness. I do have recipes for other jams that don’t use added pectin, but for this particular jam, I find that less cooking time makes for a nicer flavor.
I also use a moderate amount of sugar in this jam. There isn’t as much sugar in this recipe as you find in many traditional jam recipes, but since I am planning to can this batch, the sugar acts to preserve the quality over the long-term (up to a year or so). Jams that are too low in sugar will be quicker to lose their color and flavor in storage, and are also more prone to developing mold. For this reason, when I want a low-sugar jam, I will usually freeze it, or make a small batch that goes straight into the refrigerator.
Of course, you can freeze this blueberry lemon jam, too – just freeze it in small jars, or look for small containers made especially for freezer jam that you can pick up nearly anywhere that canning supplies are sold.
If you are new to canning, and would like to learn the process, rest assured that canning jam in a boiling water bath is safe and easy. Here are two references that will give you step-by-step instructions:
- http://nchfp.uga.edu/ – The National Center for Home Food Preservation at The University of Georgia offers a free online course that gives you the basics of at-home food preservation. I have taken this course and I highly recommend it!
- PickYourOwn.org – This website not only gives great instructions for canning and making jam, it also gives information about local farms and orchards where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables in your area.