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Jam for jam’s sake – Blueberry Jam

February 17, 2010

When I bake, it’s usually because I want brownies, or cookies, or bread, or whatever the final product may be. Sometimes I’ll bake to use up something leftover from other cooking projects (egg whites leftover from hollandaise, etc.). But most of the time, it’s because it’s something I want or SJ wants. It’s not to “put up” flour, eggs, butter, milk, or what have you.

I can probably count on one hand how many jars of jam I go through in a year. I like jam. I just don’t like jam. So I make it when I want it, and in very small batches, usually not meant for preserving in the strictest sense – there is no sterilization of jars, canning bath, or cupboard lined with homemade jams.

I used to do the whole “save the harvest” thing and ended up with over a dozen jars of blood orange marmalade one year after trying to save a bumper crop off the tree. Which is fine, if you like blood orange marmalade. A lot. And if you like giving away your jars of blood orange marmalade. A lot. At the end of a year, I inevitably had jars that would end up emptied into the trash, their contents a mockery of the word “preserved.”

Jamming is just another way to prepare something. It’s an ability that everyone should add to their skill arsenal in the kitchen. Small batch, as-you-want-it jam has the added advantage of being more fruit forward and fresh tasting than something you have to boil twice in order to properly seal it away from the world of microbes. And it’s immediately enjoyable. All you need is some fruit, some sugar, maybe a little pectin, and voila – jam.

jam making

Here in SoCal, we get blueberries at the markets year round. And I like blueberry jam, but I’m not so crazy for it that I want or need jars of it sitting around. So I made a nice small batch out of one carton of berries. Just enough for me to enjoy in the coming month or so on some toast as I head out the door. It’s a recipe that can be adapted with small changes for almost any kind of fruit – strawberries, oranges, peaches, raspberries, etc. As you make more jam, like with any cooking skill, you develop a better sense of what each fruit needs more or less of – more pectin for some berries, less for other fruits, more sugar in one to balance the acid, less in another to let the fruit really shine. You’ll get the hang of it.

Blueberry Jam
Makes about ¾ pint

1 carton whole blueberries (about 2-3 cups worth)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 Tbs pectin
1 tsp fresh lemon zest

Mix the pectin and sugar while dry and then toss everything into a pot on medium high heat. When the liquid starts to boil, reduce heat to low and maintain a steady simmer. The length of time for cooking a small batch varies according to a few factors, including how much water is in the fruit itself. For a batch this size, I let it cook on very low heat for about 30 minutes uncovered and then check on it every five or ten after that. Test it on a cold plate. When a puddle of syrup on the plate starts to thicken up after a few minutes, your jam is generally done, depending on if you like a soft jam or something that requires more spreading. Cook a little longer for something thicker. The jam will set up as it chills so don’t judge the jam by its warmed state in the pot.

jam makingThis is after about 25 minutes of low simmering – the berries jammed up really quickly.

When it’s done, put it in a clean jar or Tupperware in your fridge. No sealing required as it’s not jam meant for the cupboard. Though if you wanted to preserve one jar, you could. This recipe makes one full half pint and a half of a half pint – so save the full and fridge the half.

Not the greatest shot in the world, but the only one I took where you could see the real color of the jam. So pretty.  That’s Sunday’s Strawberry Jam next to it – almost gone 🙂

I’ll go into the details of actual preserving another time. There are a ton of places you can go to read up about safety precautions and proper technique, the USDA being the most reliable and scientifically tested. But for now, this is jam for jam’s sake.

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