Blueberry Conserve/Preserve

It isn’t every day and anyone ends up with more blueberries than she ever imagined would be sitting in her kitchen.  But that is where I found myself this year after having the excellent luck of a friend offering for me to pick at his family’s blueberry patch because nobody else would be using them.  I froze many for the winter.  I dried many more for the winter.  I then decided that maybe I would make some preserves and I tried a little experiment.  This takes a lot of blueberries and does not yield a lot of preserves.  However, the upside is that it uses only enough sugar to balance the tartness of your blueberries.  This is more of a technique than a recipe, and you can substitue any type of berries, or blend of berries.

The Technique

Put enough blueberries in a stainless steel (non-reactive) pot to fill about half way. Add about an inch or two of water and the juice of one lemon.  This will help prevent scorching as you begin to cook the berries.  Over medium heat, bring the berries up to a low boil.  Reduce the heat to low simmer, stirring frequently, until they have decreased in volume by about a third.  The fruit will be mushy and the mixture will look runny.  Add more blueberries until you have a little more than the original volume in the pot.  Cook these down until the volume decreases by one third.  Repeat the process until you have use all of your berries.

At this point, you need to watch the berries carefully and stir the pot a lot to prevent scorching.  Continue cooking the berries until mass becomes thick and spreadable.  If you are using honey to sweeten this, remove the preserves from the heat and add the honey to taste.  If you are using sugar or other sweetener, add it to taste, and continue stirring until all of the sweetener is dissolved.

Put the hot preserve into freezer-safe jars*, and cap it.  When it has cooled, put the preserve in the freezer, or store in the refrigerator, where it generally keeps well for 3-4 weeks.  Once it is defrosted, the jam keeps well in the refrigerator for 3 weeks.

Freezing Jars

Glass jars may crack in the freezer, so take some precautions:

  1. Use freezer-safe jars! These have straight sides (“jelly jars,” regular mouth half pints, wide mouth half pints, wide mouth pints).
  2. Leave more “head space” at the top of the jar.  When liquids freeze, they expand — the reason ice floats in your drink is because between the temperatures of 34 F and 32 F, water actually expands as its structure changes from liquid to solid.  Therefore, whatever you are freezing will take up more space in the jar than it did as a liquid.  If you do not give the liquid room to expand, it will break the jar as it freeezes.
  3. Be sure that the jar is completely cooled before moving it to the freezer.  I do this by allowing the contents to come to room temperature and then putting it in the refrigerator overnight before moving it to the freezer.

*Not all canning jars are freezer safe, so read the label of the case to be sure.

Living La Vita Locale 6/4: Strawberry Jam

Strawberries?  Again?  Well, that’s the seasonal life — eating foods when they come into season, and trying to preserve some of it to eat when it is not.  I have already written about freezing strawberries, but I have never posted about making strawberry jam, a staple item in  our pantry.  We use it for flavoring yogurt, flavoring ice cream and sometimes just spreading it on toasted really easy homemade bread.

I always had very bad luck making jam.  It wasn’t until my friend Andrea took me under her wing that I got the most important part of making jam: follow the directions exactly!  Here they are:

Before you start with the berries, prepare the canning jars according to manufacturer’s specifications.  There is no use going to the trouble of making jam if you mess up on the jars.  They must be sterile.  I boil the jars in the canner and leave them simmering until I am ready to can the jam.

Strawberry Jam

  • 3-4 quarts of strawberries, with the green caps and any stems removed, lightly crushed to make 6 Cups
  • 8 Cups of sugar
  • 3 1/2 T powdered pectin (or one box)

Measure 6 cups of crushed berries into a big stainless (or other non-reactive metal) kettle.  Add the pectin and stir it in.  Turn on a high heat and bring the fruit to a full rolling boil.  Not a simmer (my early jam mistake — I never let it come up to a full boil).  Once it is boiling, add the sugar and stir it in and bring the mixture back up to a full rolling boil and boil for one full minute (actually time it — don’t guesstimate) and remove from the heat. Let rest for 3 minutes.

Take the jars out of the canner and put them on a towel.

Skim the jam to remove any foam and then gently stir the jam to evenly disperse the fruit.

Fill the jars leaving a 1/2 inch of head space and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (that’s for Sea Level NJ.  If you live someplace that has an altitude over 1,000 feet, consult an expert!).

 

Concord Grapes

grapes & scaleMy neighbor does not yet have time to use the grapes growing on the vines in her yard. She has little boys to chase and enjoy, and at nap time, she is still napping to recover from all the chasing and enjoyment. We aren’t sure how old the vines are. I know that they have been there for at least three owners of the house, and the owner before the present one was there for 17 years. What I do know is that they put out a lot of grapes!

In about a half an hour, I picked 14 lbs. of Concord grapes. Some of this will turn into jelly, the rest into grape juice concentrate. I like to use liquid pectin for jelly because I don’t have to worry about it clumping or clouding the final product.

 

Grape Jelly

  • 3 lbs. of grapes, washed and stemmed
  • ½ C water
  • 7 C sugar
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin
  1. Place grapes in a large pot with the water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes.
  2. Crush the grapes with a potato masher, or long handled meat tenderizer (I use the plunger from my grinder), and simmer another 5 – 10 minutes.
  3. Strain juice through a jelly bag (See Note below). Do not squeeze the bag!
  4. In a clean pot, measure 4 cups of the prepared juice.
  5. Stir in the sugar. Do not reduce the sugar if you are using standard pectin. If you want to reduce the sugar, use pectin made especially for low-sugar recipes!
  6. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil – a boil that cannot be stirred down.
  7. Quickly stir in the pectin, and return to a full rolling boil.
  8. Boil for exactly 1 minute.
  9. Turn off hear and let stand for 1 minute. Skim any foam from the top.
  10. Ladle into prepared jars and process.

Note: I used an old sheet and made jelly bags that fit inside my chinois. When I am done, I can throw the jelly bag in the washer and it gets completely clean – no pulp hanging on anywhere.

You can do a “second pressing” to make another batch of jelly: Return the pulp to the pot, and add ½ C of water. Bring up to a simmer and return it to the jelly bag. This time you can squeeze the bag to get all of the juice out of it. The result will taste great, but will be a little cloudy.

Grape Juice Concentrate

  • 10 lbs. Concord grapes, washed and stemmed
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 3 ½ C sugar
  1. Combine water and grapes in a large pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes.
  2. Pour contents into a juice bag (I use one of my homemade jelly bags), and squeeze it until you get all of the juice out of it.
  3. Return the juice to the pot and add the sugar. Bring this to a full boil and boil for 10 – 15 minutes.
  4. Ladle into prepared jars and process.

To serve, dilute 1:1. My daughter likes to make grape soda by diluting the concentrate with seltzer.

Jelly Didn’t Set? Don’t fret!

jarsOr jam didn’t set.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m not exactly a jamming expert.  That doesn’t stop me from making jelly and jam, though.  But what does one do when the jelly doesn’t set?  How much grape syrup can a person actually use?  Quite a bit less than the amount of grape jelly a mom with two children who eat PBJ’s at least four days a week uses.

So rather than having 4 pint jars of grape syrup that just sit on the shelf with my other canned goods and never get used, I re-cook the jelly.  Once again, props to my mother-in-law who, when I called her, distraught about the wasted fruit, sugar, and time, calmly replied, “Oh, well, you just have to re-cook that” [please read that with a Minnesotan dialect]. The best part?  It is easy and you end up with jam or jelly, not another jar of fruit syrup or ice-cream topping.

Here’s the method:

  1. Empty your jars of jelly into a large bowl.
  2. Clean your jars and re-prep them for processing (I leave mine in the simmering water in the canner and pull them out right after I take the jelly off the heat).
  3. Prep NEW lids (do not re-use the lids from the batch).
  4. For every cup of jelly or jam, measure one tablespoon of water and one teaspoon of pectin into a non-reactive pot large enough to hold your batch of jam (If you made 8 1/2 pint jars of jam, that would be 8 cups).
  5. Mix this over a medium heat until the pectin dissolves, then bring it up to a boil.
  6. Slowly add the unset jelly, stirring constantly, until the pectin mixture is fully incorporated into the jelly.
  7. Bring to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, and boil hard for 1 minute.
  8. Ladle into jars, and process according to the original recipe instructions.

Yes, it takes a little time, but the other morning I re-cooked two batches of jelly (one grape and one crab apple) in under an hour, and now I have 10 jars of jelly that will get used as opposed to 10 jars of syrup that probably wouldn’t.