Hot damn! It’s the middle of July and I can’t seem to figure out where all the time went.
With this year’s wacky weather, most crops in New England are a solid week to two weeks ahead of their normal harvest schedule. Despite this (kind of) unexpected shift in availability and my ever-changing agenda, I have managed to mostly stick with my “can plan” thus far, and if anything, have actually put up more jars than originally planned. But it is NOW that we enter the preservation push! As I sit here, drinking a mug of dark roast and writing up this post, I am wondering what fabulous new fruits will be available at the farmers market today. I’m guessing peaches, maybe plums and apricots! I’ll likely only buy enough for fresh eating this week, but who knows- if the flavor is divine, there is no sense waiting to chance it the following week.
My current life schedule, which includes sharing a car, makes it kind of difficult to do as much pick-your-own as I would like. But typically it is far more cost effective to utilize pick-your-own crops for preservation purposes because the rates go down as your poundage goes up. Another plus to PYO berries? If you are a diligent picker, you will have few to no rotten or underripe* berries to pick out as you prep. Perhaps these details are not a big deal to you, but I love knowing that the food I am putting up is in good condition (read: not banged up and bruised) and as fresh as possible when it enters the canner, freezer, or fermentation crock. While some items can benefit from a little brown-bag lag time between purchase and preservation, such as underripe peaches, most are best put up ASAP. Picking your own crops, whether from your home or community garden or at a PYO farm, is as fresh as it gets!
I lucked out this week when I decided to drive out to Tougas Family Farm for blueberries. I spent countless hours in this area of town, my hometown, as a teenager because my best friends lived right down the street. But preservation was way off my radar during those years, and if my memory serves me correctly, I only did PYO apples twice there. Ever. So going off of a tip from a fellow modern day homesteader, I hopped on the Pike and headed west for the morning. When I got there at opening, I was surrounded with the quiet of the land and healthy bushes covered with gigantic but flavorful bluebs. Two hours later, I had two trays totaling 22 pounds of gorgeous, ripe fruit and more than my fill of sunscreen-soaked children throwing tantrums like dominos amidst the worsening heat and humidity.
And just what did I do with all that fruit? I froze about half of what I picked, baked up a nice blueberry crisp, kept plenty for fresh snacking, and cooked the rest down into the classic-style, no pectin added blueberry jam featured below. I’m extremely tempted to do one more round of PYO bluebs to dehydrate, but we’ll see what the season and my schedule allow.
*In this case, I mean green, NOT the purplely-blue berries; a few of those guys actually help the jam set up.
Makes 6 half-pints
- 3 lbs blueberries, washed and drained
- 1 lb sugar
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- zest of one lemon, finely grated (optional)
Place your prepped berries into a large, non-reactive pot and gently crush the berries with a masher or wooden spoon; be sure not to overwork the berries if you still want nice, juicy blueberry pieces in your jam. Add the remaining ingredients, stir to combine, and allow the mixture to macerate for 10-15 minutes. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil; cook rapidly to or almost to the gelling point, depending on your preference for a firm or soft set; this can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes depending on your particular berries and geographic location. As the jam sets up, be sure to stir the mixture frequently to prevent the jam from sticking to the bottom of the pot and scorching. Once the desired set is achieved, quickly ladle hot jam into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 5 minutes or longer if you live at a higher altitude.