Monday, September 24, 2012

Blueberry jam

Here's a confession: I don't really like blueberry jam. I don't really like blueberry pie, either, or blueberry syrup, or blueberry ice cream. I think a fresh blueberry is perfection, and why would I mess with that?

Blueberry jammy mixture, mid cooking.
(Yes, those are dilly beans in the background...)
But, others seem to disagree. I mentioned in my post about Dark chocolate blackberry fudge that some of my first memories of my Grammy were of cooking.  Most of the rest were of picking wild blueberries in the fallow field above her farmhouse. More than any other food, blueberries represent family to me. My mom's side of the family loves blueberry jam and blueberry pie. The focus of this post is half out of familial nostalgia, and half out of practicality - as perfect as a just-picked blueberry is, the shelf life is not quite so ideal, and jam is a sensible way to use up fresh-picked blueberries that simply will not get eaten up in time.

My Grammy has since moved out of her farmhouse, so the berries I used for this recipe are a cultivated, high-bush variety, rather than a wild low-bush. However, they were still delicious, picked in the sunshine with my Mom on a beautiful Vermont afternoon.

Classic Blueberry Jam
9 cups fresh blueberries
6 cups sugar
6 tbsp lemon juice

Jammy blueberries, almost done
"Pick over" fresh picked blueberries, removing any stems and over- or underripe fruit. Rinse berries in a colander and transfer to a large, nonreactive pot. Mash briefly with a potato masher to releasejuices, but don't over-mash, if you prefer jam to have small, discrete pieces of berry intact after cooking. Add sugar and lemon juice and stir, then leave to macerate for ten minutes. Cook on medium-low heat until the mixture reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit, and/or passes the "Freezer test" (explained below).

While jam mixture is cooking, wash half-pint jars in hot, soapy water. Then, sterilize by submerging in a kettle of boiling water for at least ten minutes, along with jar lids and rings. Keep jars hot until filling. When jam has reached the gelling point, fill the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Place jar lid on top and then screw on ring to what I call "Goldilocks Tight" - tight enough that it feels secure, but not so tight that it takes any significant effort to turn. Do not over-tighten.

When all jars are filled, place in a water bath (off-set from the bottom of the kettle by a canning rack or similar), and turn the burner below on to high heat. When the water has begun to boil, start the timer, and allow the jars to boil for five minutes. When the five minute are up, remove the jars and let them sit, undisturbed, on the counter.

The delicious finished product, waiting to seal
If a jar seals correctly, you will hear a cheerful pop and the center of the lid will snap down, sealing the contents. If this does not happen, fear not - the contents are still safe to eat, you just need to designate that jar for immediate use and storage in the fridge. After twelve hours, the rings from jars that have successfully sealed can be removed (though, obviously, the flat lids should remain in place). If at any point after a successful seal, the jar lid pops off of its own accord, or there are visible or olfactory signs of spoilage, discard the jar and its contents immediately - do not taste first.

*The Freezer Test: place a spoonful of boiling jam on a plate and place it in the freezer for five minutes. If it gels to a satisfactory texture, the jam is done. 

The Cost Breakdown
1 13-oz jar(1.125 cups) of Bonne Maman Wild Blueberry Jam (the closest comparison I can think of to homemade jam - let's be clear, this isn't Smuckers we're duplicating): $4.99
Price per cup: $4.44

3 pounds fresh blueberries from a Pick-Your-Own Farm: $6.00
6 cups sugar: $5.49 per 10-pound bag, or approximately 0.55 per pound, so $1.65
6 tbsp lemon juice: 2 lemons at $0.59 each, so $1.18
Total for 5 pints of jam: $8.83
Price per cup: $0.88

Is it worth it? Yes. For me, at least. Financially, it works out to about one-fifth of the price you'd pay in a grocery store. Taste- and quality-wise, I don't love blueberry jam to begin with, but this recipe gets great reviews. And, finally, from a nostalgic, familial perspective, homemade blueberry jam will always be a win.

Pure beauty