Posts Tagged blueberries

Pickled blueberries: sweet but strange

blueberries2July/August is blueberry season in this part of the world, and this blog is full of reminders about the sheer speed of making blueberry jam, which has to be the easiest jam on the planet to get to set. You simmer the berries briefly with a little water, add sugar and lemon juice (or lime juice), boil the mix for a few short minutes and watch to be sure that the jam doesn’t set so firm that you can cut it with a knife.

So this year, as well as making two 5-jar batches of blueberry jam (one batch with lemon juice and one with limes), I tried my hand at a jar (and a bit) of pickled blueberries, halving the recipe from Food in Jars because I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. It was far easier than pie. Boil up a syrup of vinegar, sugar, water and ginger, add blueberries and boil some more, bottle, seal and waterbath. Nothing difficult about this one.

All I can say is half the recipe is enough. The Food in Jars picture shows pinkish blueberries suspended in a dark syrup, but I ended up with a rather liquid jam, as the berries popped into the sweet-sour syrup. I tasted my bit-of-a-jar with a nice sheep cheese, and yes, it looks quite pretty.

Blueberries1But I can’t taste the ginger at all, and the vinegar/sugar mix has drowned out the subtle flavour of the blueberries, a fruit that may not have enough oomph to handle pickling like this. I’m glad I tried it, but it’s not something I plan to make again.

blueberries3.jpgThe silver lining? There’s pickling syrup left over for when I get some nice ripe blue plums or golden peaches (fruits that do handle the pickling treatment well). Or I can mix that syrup with sparkling water for a refreshing summer drink called a shrub.

Silly me. I thought shrubs were the plants I had in the back yard, not the acidic syrup I put in a summer drink. Or even a blueberry bush/shrub.

 

 

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Blueberry cake

Sometimes there is such a thing as serendipity. A few years back, when I first played around with blueberry jam, I had such a glut of the berries that I used some of them for a rather awesome blueberry cake. It was moist, it wasn’t sweet, it oozed blueberries and it tasted really tasted good.

But then I lost the recipe, and I couldn’t for the life of me remember who gave it to me, so I couldn’t ask for a repeat.

So imagine my surprise when I noticed that I’d saved that recipe in a blog post that I never got around to posting. Baking time.

cakeBlueberry yogurt cake

1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond essence
2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups fresh blueberries

Grease and flour a 9x13x2 baking pan (or do as I did and use a 10-inch circular pan).

Cream butter & sugar. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and almond essence and beat well. Sift dry ingredients together; add gradually to the egg mixture, alternating w/sour cream (or yogurt), ending with flour mixture. Fold in 1 c. of the blueberries. Pour 1/2 the batter into the pan and spread it out carefully. Scatter the remaining blueberries on top, and then spoon on the remaining batter, trying not to disturb your berry layer too much. Bake at 350F for 45-50 min (mine took just over an hour, but then the pan was smaller). Cool in pan 10 min, then turn onto a rack to finish cooling.

The friend who gave me the recipe suggests leaving the cake in the pan until it’s completely cool, but I managed to get mine out of the pan without major mishap.And then I struggled to wait for it to cool before cutting myself a sample.

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Blue magic

One minute I had blueberries. Next minute, or so it seemed, I had jam. Perhaps the easiest jam on the planet.berries

It started with a visit to the pick-your-own farm on the way back from a bike trip this weekend, and we scooped up $10 worth of blueberries in very short order — a surprisingly large quantity.

I did look up a couple of recipes, because blueberry jam is not one of those that I make every year. But I ignored both of them in favour of a modified 6:4:2 ratio — six cups fruit, four (scant) cups sugar and the juice of two lemons. One of the recipes suggested simmering the berries in a half cup of water for 10-20 minutes, so I simmered for five minutes, and I added a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar at the end, because I thought the blueberries could use a little extra tang.

And it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of set. First I had a blue liquid, with a few floating berries, and I thought I’d be pouring blueberry syrup on my ice cream all year. Then it boiled up, to double the starting volume, and then quite suddenly the volume went down, the liquid thickened up, and I started scraping seriously jelled jam off the sides of the preserving pan. How easy can things get?

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Blueberry balsamic jam
(makes 5 250mm jars)

6 cups blueberries
1/2 cup water
4 (scant) cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Wash the berries, and put them in a heavy preserving pan with a half cup of water, and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the berries start to break down a little. Add the lemon juice, and then the sugar, a little at a time, and then bring to a rolling boil. Boil hard until it sets, which took less than 5 minutes. Add balsamic, and boil for another minute or so, just for good luck.

Bottle in sterilized jars. You should then waterbath for 10 minutes (according to USDA guidelines), but I skipped that stage. The lemon juice and the balsamic should make this jam plenty acidic enough to store, and it’s only a few jars. There’s room in the fridge for that.

Eat on toast, on bagels, on muffins, on yogurt, or spoon it out of the jar. It’s good.

 

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Crazy colors

When you mix colors, blue paint plus yellow paint turns to green.

So why do blue-purple blueberries and yellow-orange peaches produce a jam that’s almost black, with a hint of purple, while blueberries and orange-red apricots mix to a similar color, although with a slightly redder tinge?

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 And why do they look so similar, yet taste so very different?

The two jams took advantage of early peaches and late apricots in the market today, although both fruits would have been easier to manage if they had been a little riper. But the jams would have been even sweeter then, so maybe not such a good idea.

We started with a peach blueberry jam, from a community farmers’ market web site, which was a pretty basic recipe that told you to simmer up peaches and blueberries, add quite a lot of sugar and boil to a sweetish, fairly dense jam that looks like blueberry jam, and tastes like peach. (Huh?) Paring back the recipe somewhat, we used 1.5 kilos of peaches, which we peeled and chopped roughly, and 3 cups of blueberries, along with something like 4 cups of sugar and the juice of one lemon. (The prep work reminded me how much easier it is to peel peaches when they are ripe, which these were not, so it was a little messy.) But the jam, seven jars of it, is nice, if sweet.

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Next up was peach apricot jam, from Madelaine Bullwinkel’s Gourmet Preserves. It called for 2 pounds of  apricots and one of blueberries, with the juice of one lemon and an amazingly skimpy single cup of sugar. A taste test midway through the boil hinted at a jam that was not sweet enough, even for me, so I cooled it down and threw in another quarter of a cup of sugar before bringing it up to boil again. It set nicely and is pleasantly tart.

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And then there was the stuff that wouldn’t quite fit in the jars, blending the tartness of the apricot-blueberry mix with the sweeter peach version.

We ate it with plain Greek yogurt.

Nice.

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Blueberries with fennel

It’s a little alarming when you have an idea for a jam and Google offers no recipe suggestions at all. Does it mean nobody has ever thought of this one? Or does it mean that somebody did think of it, and it was so evil that they refuse to write about it?

But ever since my surprise success with a plum fennel jam I’ve wanted to use more of those pretty fennel flowers in jam. We had more blueberries after another stint at the pick-your-own farm, so I decided to try a small batch, just to see. Apart from anything else, it gave me a chance to see if my little cubes of home-made crabapple pectin would encourage things to set. It’s a sour pectin, so it might take some of the sweetness off the blueberry jam as well.

Blueberry fennel jam
4 cups blueberries
3 cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
3 tbsp of crabapple pectin (I think the jam would have set just fine without it)
a handful of fennel flowers, chopped almost to powder

Mix all the ingredients except the fennel together and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Boil like crazy until it sets. Add the fennel. Bottle in sterilized jars.

It made three jars, and a little bit of leftovers to give me an early taste.

I’m keeping this one in the fridge because I actually forgot to add the fennel, so threw it into my rapidly-cooling jam just before I bottled it. I don’t know if this will encourage something nasty to grow, but I didn’t have time to waterbath, and I don’t want to take the risk.

Early rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5)
It’s a nice set and a deep purple color, but I can barely taste the aniseed of the fennel.

And after the glories of jams from apricots, raspberries and strawberries earlier in the year, I think blueberries, like cherries, are best eaten fresh.

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Pretty, pretty pectin

Pectin, as I understand the science of jams and canning, is the magic ingredient that makes the difference between a hard set and no set at all in jams and jellies. But food control freak that I am, I’ve never been a fan of adding commercial pectin to jam because I like to know exactly what I’m using and I don’t like the gluey, overset texture that commercial pectin seems to give. I don’t mind a syrupy jam anyway– I spoon it into plain, Greek yogurt or pour it over ice cream — and I’d rather throw a grated apple or a handful of redcurrants into a jam from a pectin-poor fruit and encourage things to set this way.

But our latest blueberry picking venture took place at a farm with crabapple trees lining the driveway, and the thought of making my own pectin seemed a little too good to miss. It took about a minute to pick half a punnet of crabapples, and another 30 to simmer the roughly chopped fruit (peels, stems, seeds and all) down to a  glorious pink mush with a cup or so of water. Then I strained it through cheesecloth for an hour or so, squeezed the gunk out as hard as I could without tearing the cheesecloth, and measured the gooey liquid into ice cube trays so I could freeze it and use as needed.

I don’t know if the pectin works, but the little iced-pectin jello cubes are really rather pretty.

Blueberry-something jam is on the agenda for this week, perhaps with a cube or two of home-made pectin to try to encourage a set.

Watch this space for details.

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Breaking my blueberry duck

I really wasn’t planning a second jam session in two days today, but our bike ride ended near a pick-your-own blueberry field, and I’ve never seen quite so many blueberries in one place at one time.

So after a brief debate about overstuffed refrigerators and the fact that we really and truly didn’t need more fruit, we drove back after the ride, and suddenly there was a half-bucket of blueberries waiting to be turned into something. Jam?

Full disclosure first. I have never been that fond of blueberry jam because it seems sweet rather than fruity, and I always thought  it needed pectin to set. But Google found me plenty of recipes for blueberry jam that didn’t use bought pectin, including a couple that used honey rather than sugar. I never made blueberry jam before, and I never cooked jam with honey only either. What did I have to lose?

Blueberry jam (doubling the recipe from Against All Grain)
6 cups blueberries
1-1/2 cups honey
juice of 1-1/2 lemons; zest of one lemon

Mash the blueberries down a little with a potato masher, add the honey and lemon juice and zest and boil until it thickens and starts to set. Stir carefully — it seems to me that honey burns more easily than sugar does. Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath, perhaps.

The recipe said to boil for 15- 20 minutes plus, but my jam was ready in less than 15, giving me just time to fish the jars out of their boiling water and line them up for filling. I ended up with 3-1/2 jars of deep, deep purple jam, and I scraped the pan out very carefully indeed to sample the finished product.

It might just be good enough to make me change my mind about blueberry jam.

Of course everything I was wearing is now also spattered with purple.

Memo to self: when cooking with blueberries, wear something that’s as almost-black as the blueberry jam itself.

There’s still a third of a bucket left. Anyone got a good blueberry muffin recipe? Or anything else with blueberries?

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