You may remember blueberries are one of my favorite foods (how could you forget with the big picture of blueberries at the top of every page?!?!)
Last week Mommy and I went blueberry picking.
We had so much fun. At first Mommy wasn’t sure we’d take any blueberries home because I was eating them out of the bucket almost as fast as she could pick them. Then I realized I could pick them too, so I picked my own. Of course, I wasn’t as particular about picking only the ripest berries, so after a few green ones my tummy wasn’t very happy. I took a break from picking and eating. Eventually, Mommy decided we had enough and when we checked out, we had over 6 pounds of blueberries! That’s even more blueberries than I can eat at one time. So, we brought them home and while I took a much-needed nap, Mommy made jam.
Mommy really likes canning and preserving and whenever we have lots of something she does it – last year we canned pears and peaches and tomato sauce. It’s great to have yummy food all winter long. She says it’s really not that difficult and you don’t even really need any fancy equipment – just a pot big and tall enough to hold the jars and cover them with water. It’s just a hot process, so if you don’t have air conditioning you may want to save it for a slightly cooler day. Especially if it’s hot where you live like it is here in Baltimore right now – 100 degrees Farenheit, about 40 Celsius!
So, making blueberry jam… You need lots of blueberries, some lemon juice, sugar and pectin. Pectin is a naturally occurring substance in many fruits and it helps thicken jellies and jams. Apples have lots of pectin, especially if they are slightly underripe. Blueberries, however, don’t have much pectin, so when making blueberry jam you need to add your own. You can usually buy it in the grocery store and it will be called Certo, Sure-Jell, or Fruit Jell. It comes either as a powder or a gel. It also comes in a sugar needed or no sugar needed variety. This just means it needs sugar to work or not. You will probably add sugar (or some sweetener) to your jam, but people say the no sugar needed pectin works better (and you need less to get a good gel.) Using the no sugar needed pectin also means you can use a no sugar sweetener (like Splenda) or fruit juice or any combination of those with some sugar to sweeten your jam. It’s Mommy used Certo gel that required sugar this time because that’s all she could find at the grocery store and she didn’t want to make any more stops before getting me home for my nap!
For hardware, you need jars, lids and rings. The size of these really depends on what you’re making. For jams, you probably want pint or half-pint jars (unless you want a quart of jam in your fridge!) You can also get regular or wide mouth jars. This is also a personal preference and may depend what you’re making. If you’re doing whole, or large pieces of, fruit in juice or syrup you probably want the wide-mouth jars. For jams and sauces, the regular jar is probably fine. Usually you can find a small selection of jars in your local grocery store. You can also find them at box-style stores (my personal favorite is Target – they have everything!) and some smaller hardware stores. The box stores and hardware stores probably will have the other things you need for canning too (including pectin.) Other than jars, you also need a large pot that is big enough to hold multiple jars. It also needs to be tall enough for the jars to be completely submerged and covered by about two inches of water (with enough room for the pot to not boil over.) This is for water preserving. You can also do pressure preserving, but Mommy doesn’t do that, so I can’t help you there. Sorry.
If you buy a kit or read about preserving in cookbooks or online you will see there’s all sorts of other hardware that is needed: a jar lifter, a jar rack, a funnel, a lid lifter… Mommy makes do without any of these things. She uses tongs to lift the lids and the jars. Sometimes she uses a metal steamer fully open in the bottom of the pot for a rack, sometimes she doesn’t bother with anything. And for the funnel, she doesn’t have a special one for canning. If she needs a funnel she uses one she uses for other kitchen things. Of course, sometimes she can’t find any funnel (she doesn’t use funnels very often) so she uses whatever she thinks will work. You’ll see what she does with the jam and I think it makes even more sense than a funnel, though maybe a little more messy.
So, this is how it goes for blueberry jam.
1. Wash the blueberries (about 10 cups whole berries – this was a little more than half the berries we picked, the rest Mommy froze for future use – I’ll post the pie pictures in a few days!) really well. This doesn’t mean scrub them, but it does mean make sure there’s no grass floating around, no stems, no underripe berries and no mushy berries. Now Mommy wasn’t overly concerned about removing all the mushy berries because she knew she had just picked them a few hours before so they weren’t rotten (probably they just got squashed under the weight of 6 pounds of berries!) but just one rotten berry could introduce a mold or bacteria that could ruin your whole batch of jam, so if you’re not sure about a mushy berry, get rid of it.
2.) Place another large pot (the one you will use to do the preserving) filled about 2/3 – 3/4 of the way with water on to boil.
3.) Clean your jars. If you have a dishwasher with a “sanitize” cycle, you may want to just run them through that. If not, use warm, soapy water and be sure to rinse them thoroughly. You can then place them in the pot of boiling water for five minutes just before you are ready to fill them. This will sterilize them. Again, the idea is to not introduce any “micro-bugs” to your jam. The lids should also be placed in the pot of boiling water for about five minutes, but you can do this after you’ve made your jam while you’re filling the jars. The rings will not come into contact with the jam, so you don’t have to do anything with them, but you might want to give them a rinse just so they don’t smell like the grocery store or your basement or wherever they last were…
4.) Using a potato masher, smash the berries. Mommy wanted some chunks of berry in the jam, so she likes this method. You can also use a food processor or even a blender. The more smashed the berries are the smoother your jam will be. She smashed the berries in small batches so they didn’t escape everywhere (if one rolls away it could be years before you find it!) Put the smashed berries into a large pot.
5.) To the pot of smashed berries add 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/2 cup water, pectin and 1/2 cup sugar. As for how much pectin, there will be instructions on the package. Follow them! Mommy used the gel and she started using one packet, but added the second packet later because the jam didn’t gel as much as she wanted it to. Some of this is personal preference as well. Other than adding more pectin, you can add more sugar and cook the jam to death to get it to thicken, but this also removes many of the vitamins from the berries in the process. Bring this mixture to a full boil.
6.) Add the rest of the sugar/sweetener. In our case this was 6 1/2 cups of sugar. Yes, it seems like a lot, but it’s jam. Jam is sweet. And this recipe made about 8 pints of jam (we used half pint jars, so 16 jars) so that was less than half a cup of sugar per jar. Return the jam to a boil and let boil hard for one minute. (It can boil longer and not do any harm, just make sure it boils for at least a minute.)
7.) Mommy used these few minutes to prepare the jars. She put a dishcloth on the counter next to the stove and lined up the jars on that. She also dropped the lids into the boiling water at this point. The jars should be hot (either from just going through the dishwasher or because they just came out of a boiling water bath) Mommy uses tongs (that she dipped in boiling water to sanitize) to handle them. She also has silicon hot mitts to hold them.
8.) Once the jam has been boiling for at least a minute it is time to fill the jars. Here’s where you can use a ladle and funnel, but Mommy uses a large measuring cup. She dips it in the pot of jam (be careful not to get any jam on bare skin – it is really hot!) and pours the jam into the jars. Fill the jars to the place where the “screw top” begins. That leaves about 1/2 an inch of space at the top of the jar. This is called head room and means the contents of your jar will not boil over and explode while you’re preserving them – that would really be a mess! Once all your jars are filled, use a clean, damp cloth to wipe the rims of any jam. The rims must be clean to create good contact with the lids (again, you don’t want any space for those pesky “micro-bugs” to find their way in and ruin your jam.)
9.) Remove the lids from the boiling water (this is where you could use a lid lifter – it’s just a magnet on a long handle – Mommy just uses her tongs again.) Carefully place a lid on each jar. Then place the rings on top of the lids. Do Not Tighten Completely. The lids should only be “finger tip” tight. Just screw them on until you meet resistance. You just want them tight enough to hold the lids in place but don’t want them so tight any pressure that builds up during the preserving process can’t escape (or you’ll have that explosion I mentioned earlier – remember, big mess!)
10.) Carefully place the jars into the pot of boiling water. Mommy did six at a time. Remember there should be 1-2 inches of water over the jars. You might think water will get into your jam and ruin it because the tops aren’t on very tightly – it won’t. Trust me. This works. Return the water to a boil and “process” (that just means let them boil) for the recommended amount of time. Now this is going to vary depending on where you live. It’s an altitude thing. There will be a chart on your box of pectin. For us, the time was 10 minutes.
11.) Remove the jars from the boiling water and place in a cool, dry, draft-free spot. Leave them for at least 10 hours; overnight is best. You may hear them begin to “pop,” that’s okay and even a good thing. After they’ve set, test the jars for a good seal. There’s a little “button” in the center of each lid. It should be depressed and should not pop up if you press on it (this was the popping you heard – the button getting sucked down by the pressure.) If you have a jar that didn’t seal, you can try re-boiling. Alternately, you can put it in the fridge and use that jar first. It’s not bad, but it will go bad if it doesn’t seal or get refrigerated. You can also tighten down the rings now if you want although it really makes no difference – those lids are sealed and the ring is just decorative at this point.
12.) Label and give as gifts or store in your basement/pantry/cupboard for use all winter (or untill you eat it all!)
The next morning, Mommy made scones and we had fresh blueberry jam (Mommy kept some jam separate – she ran out of jars – that she just put in the refrigerator without processing. We’re using that up first) and scones for breakfast. They were so yummy. I couldn’t tell her enough how good I thought they were!
I hope you are inspired to go berry-picking, make your own jam, or both!