© 2020 Donna Hébert, all rights reserved.
As a child, one of my favorite activities was treasure-hunting all alone in the woods. I loved August, when I could find those elusive blue pearls hiding under a leaf on the ground cover. I often ate as much as I picked, coming home blue-handed to my mother. She froze them and made pies but it wasn’t until I became an adult that I discovered blueberry JAM.
My first summer here was 2017 and my blueberry obsession had finally hit the mother-lode. Nova Scotia and northern Maine are the blueberry capitals of the world and rightly so. The soil is perfect – sandy, acidic, rocky. Professional growers even burn the fields every few years to keep the forest from encroaching. That first year, I bought fifteen pounds of local berries in five pound boxes. You can freeze the berries right in the box – as long as you DON’T wash them! Then you get a five pound block of blueberry ice!
After several years of upsizing recipes unsuccessfully, I’ve finally succumbed to the logic of small batches. My earlier attempts were quite tasty but were closer to blueberry drool. It was awesome on pancakes but I couldn’t call it jam.
It’s another August and today is blueberry jam day. We’re freezing one five pound box and making jam with the other. Last year I combined five pounds each of blueberries and cranberries for a tasty chutney and used another box to add to a batch of our homemade applesauce. There is nothing like the flavor of little blueberries bursting in your mouth in January. Summer in a jar!
We’ve reached the point where we don’t buy many jars, just lids. Mason jars have become our go-to water glasses and desktop pen holders. Occasionally I think “hey, we should buy some glasses,” and then I remember we have several cases in the garage. Right now, Bob is immersing a dozen half-pint jars in boiling water, so I have to go do my duty. I’m the stirrer and bringer back to the boil, so I’ll be gone for awhile. Before I go, my recipe and the order of assembly are cribbed from Kraft Canada but of course, I’ve played with it, adding a whole grated Granny Smith apple, the grated rind of a half lemon. Some honey, maple syrup, who knows? I’m not done yet!
In a large soup pot, assemble
- 7 cups whole blueberries – crush down to 4 cups approx. (If you don’t crush them, they’ll all float to the top of each jar.)
- Juice and zest of ½ large lemon
- 1 Granny Smith apple, grated (peel and all) (I think the lemon and apple bring out the full blueberry flavor.)
- 1 box Certo dry crystals – pectin (and here’s where I got lazy and let them all sit in a cold pot mixed up together for about fifteen minutes while I enjoyed a cup of tea – that really did the trick. It gelled from the start.)
Mix everything well, stirring all the time, and bring to a full bubbling/rolling boil.
- Add 5 cups sugar, mix well, add ¼ cup honey OR maple syrup (but not both!), stir that in. The mixture will begin to look glossy. That’s the sugar melting.
Bring back to a full boil (takes 4-5 mins on high), let boil for one minute. Remove from heat, stir a few times and let it rest for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Skim any foam if it appears. I filled 9 half pint jars with the first batch, made with honey, another 9 plus a half cup with the second, made with maple syrup. (photo on the porch, sunflowers from Miller Farms in Northeast Margaree). The blueberries are from Blue Pearl Farms in Strathlorne.
I close with a foraging memory from my young adulthood. My folks lived in Leominster, Massachusetts and we drove up to New Hampshire to buy cigarettes one Labor Day in the early 1970s . Driving back, I called out, “BLUEBERRY BOG” and my dad screeched to a halt. We all piled out of the car. Sure enough, bush after high bush of berries beckoned. Huge, beautiful, easy to find, the grape-like clusters just reached out for our hands to grab them, and we did. Turns out the only containers in the car were the cartons of bootleg NH ciggies, so we emptied them and filled those carton boxes with berries. We came back the next day with two five gallon Charles Chips cans, which we also filled. Good times!