Monday, April 16, 2012

What’s not to love about making blueberry jam?

Berries, berries, more berries. Mmm! Fresh, local berries are coming soon, and my thoughts are turning to jam making. And Texas is, indeed, a land of berries. There are so many different berries here given the varied climatic and soil conditions of our state. The native and most popular berry in Texas continues to be the blackberry. But recently, the blueberry crop, brought to the state in the ‘60s from other parts of the Gulf south, is a close challenger to the traditional blackberry.

Blueberries are a very popular fruit in the United States because of their unique, fresh flavor and small edible seeds. They are great tasting eaten fresh or used for jam and pastries. Blueberries are also low in calories and sodium, and contain substantial quantities of vitamin C and dietary fiber. Their antioxidant levels help prevent urinary infections and lower cancer risk, in general.

The blueberry most grown in Texas is the “Rabbit Eye.” It is that large, indigo blue fish-eyed variety with a thin wax coating. And almost any year we can count on a bumper crop coming in from early May. There’s even a Texas Blueberry Festival every year in June in Nacogdoches, Texas. These big boy - Texas size - blueberries are not only good on pancakes but also make for a super yogurt or ice cream topping.

And, on a personal note, jam and cobbler making is a tradition in my family. My grandmother, my great aunts- farm born and raised - all made delicious jams. Mom and my aunts, while city dwellers, also made jam and cobblers - cherry, blackberry, plum, strawberry, raspberry.The list of berries is long and so full of memories. I remember the truly blessed feeling of seeing a dozen or more jars of jam on the kitchen table before they were stashed away on pantry shelves.
Love that blueberry jam.

Making jam is satisfying for the soul. The kitchen is filled with fruity smells for hours on end. I like to use high pectin fruits for making jam. High pectin fruits include crabapples, plums, currants, grapes, and blackberries. Lower pectin fruits include strawberries, peaches, blueberries, and raspberries. By mixing high and low pectin fruits, you can skip the need for commercial pectin and also enjoy a mixture of flavors.

Of course, homemade jam is not the firm and uniform stuff that's associated with industrial jellies, but by using fruit at its peak, you’re almost sure to good tasting jam. And it takes only about an hour to make with ingredients and equipment that you most likely already have on hand in the kitchen.

Interested in making some homemade preserves? Blueberry jam is great on toast, biscuits and pancakes. It also makes great smoothies when mixed with cow, soy or almond milk. (Note: As I write this post, I'm planning to make about 8 pint jars - four for home and four for giving away as gifts on my coming trip to see family members up north.)

Here is my recipe for Texas blueberry jam, but it would be mostly the same for any other berry or combination of berries. And, if fresh blueberries are out of season, you can also use frozen mixed berries with good results.

Texas Blueberry Jam (with a spicy edge)

10 cups rinsed, crushed blueberries
8 cups sugar (the regular kind, not the high-fructose variety)
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
One or two fresh mint leaves
Option: 2 cups of seedless grapes - added pectin for firmer jam

Before processing, fresh blueberries need to be refrigerated and kept dry. They shouldn't be washed until they are to be used and stay good for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Sterilize all equipment (pint or half-pint jars, lids, bands, ladle and funnel) by putting them in a large soup pot and covering them with boiling water shortly before you start jam making.

Pick over and rinse berries twice. Drain off any excess water around the berries. Place berries in a large non-reactive pan. Mash them with a potato masher. At that point, you can strain off a part of the berry juice if you want to have a thicker jam. The extra liquid can be combined with lemon juice to make a delicious pitcher of blueberry lemonade.

Let the berries boil hard along with other ingredients for five or more minutes, stirring from time to time. Skim off any foam that develops. To test for the setting point, place a teaspoon of the jam mixture on a chilled saucer and try it after a couple of minutes. It should be somewhat firm – not runny. 

Ladle the hot jam into the clean jars. Let cool and put on the lids. Label and date the jars. Make sure all of the lids are well sealed. If you’re not sure that the lids are correctly sealed, you should refrigerate and eat the jam in the next few weeks. Properly sealed jars will keep in a cool, dry place for several months.

Related posts
IT’S JAM-MAKING TIME – GRANDMA’S PRESCRIPTION FOR A HAPPY SWEET TOOTH ALL WINTER LONG
WHAT'S IN YOUR PANTRY?
COOKING-UP GOOD FOOD FROM DOWN-HOME RECIPES
CHOCOLATE FUDGE IS A GREAT MOTHER’S DAY GIFT
BREAD PUDDING, AN APPALACHIAN AND SOUTHERN DESSERT THAT YOU'RE SURE TO ENJOY
PICKLING, A TREASURED WAY TO PROCESS VEGGIE ABUNDANCE
HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SUGAR: CHEAP FOR INDUSTRIAL FOODS, BUT COSTLY FOR HEALTH AND THE ECOLOGY.

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