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Quick blueberry jam recipe, plus tips on preserving, putting up fruit

Addie Broyles

This weekend, I’ve been working my way through those blueberries we picked in Missouri.

The blueberry oatmeal muffins were a hit, and yesterday, I knocked out this rustic blueberry tart — this recipe from called for pre-heating the baking sheet, a crucial for getting a crisp crust with so much liquid in the filling — and Sherri Brooks Vinton’s quick blueberry jam, the recipe for which appears in her newest guidebook to canning, “The Put ‘em Up! Preserving Answer Book” (Storey Publishing, $16.95) and at the bottom of this post.

I’m a bad modern pioneer because I don’t really love to can, so I’m going to experiment with freezing at least one of the four half pints I made instead of waterbath canning them. (The other three will go on toast, PBJs, yogurt and ice cream and as gifts to neighbors.)

But if you are a canner or thinking about becoming one, Vinton’s new book would certainly come in handy. Her “Put ‘em Up!” books have become indispensable resources in this recent canning resurgence, but this book answers frequently asked questions that Vinton receives, as well as questions canners might not think to ask in the first place. Here are three of them, excepted from the book, as well as a basic recipe for quick blueberry jam.

A note: I didn’t use the brand name of pectin that she called for or the calcium water, and so I had to add a little more pectin than was called for in the half batch I made, but even if your jam is more like a syrup, you’ll be happy you made it the next time you eat ice cream or pancakes.

Q: Don’t I need bushels of produce for preserving?

A: I have to say that when I get all set up to preserve, I like to really get in there and put up a lot — a preserving marathon is a good day for me. But not everyone views an extended session in the kitchen as joyfully as I do, and you needn’t clear your day to get a good amount done. Some recipes, such as quick jams and jellies (see Quick Blueberry Jam, below), come together so rapidly you can be in and out of the kitchen in just a little more time than it takes to bring your canner to a boil. Ketchups and chutneys require a little prep time up front but then can simmer away while you cook dinner.

There are a few endeavors, however, that one would consider to be more of a project. Canning a case of whole tomatoes, for example, can take about 3 hours from start to finish when you add up the coring, peeling, and lengthy processing time. For these extended projects, I take the “in for a penny, in for a pound” approach and line up multiple batches in succession. That way, while one batch is processing, the other is being prepped. Using this approach and having a few friends over to keep me company — and maybe help out, too — makes the canning session much more productive (and a hoot!).

Q: I saw some fruit called “seconds” for sale. Is this good produce for preserving?

A: Food meant for preserving should be wholesome and as fresh as possible. Seconds can be defined very differently and indicate a range of imperfection. So it’s important to categorize the produce more specifically to judge whether it would be safe for preserving.

If the seconds are just less pretty versions of good fruit — they are a bit misshapen or smaller than usual, or have some discoloration or superficial imperfections — they are fine to preserve with any method.

However, any produce that has had its skin or peel compromised — by insect damage, small areas of rot, or a small amount of bruising or puncture, for example — is not recommended for canning. Such damage could have introduced more bacteria into the food than the process can handle. A spot of mold, for instance, is like the tip of an iceberg — the black area you see is just the top of tendrils of contamination that reach deep into the fruit. Freezing is the better method for preserving these kinds of seconds that have limited areas of damage. Just trim the offending parts of the product away.

Food that is very withered or rotting should be composted, not preserved, as no amount of curing, fermenting, or freezing will ever improve it.

Q: I have a collection of preserving recipes passed down from my family. Can I use those?

A: I would never pull anyone away from family traditions. There is a lot of nuance in preserving food that can’t always be captured in a book, and a lot of solid, tested knowledge that has been passed down for generations. If you and your family have been using a certain recipe or technique that has proven reliable and delicious for you, that’s great.

However, many techniques, such as open-kettle canning, have been put aside to make way for more reliable methods with safer, more predictable results. I suggest you give these modern methods some thought and see if you don’t agree that they allow for a greater rate of success.

If you have a recipe that is dear to you and you want to make sure it is safe, you might consider approaching your local ag extension office (cooperative agricultural extension service) to have them review it. They might give the thumbs-up or offer a simple tweak or bit of advice that can give you more consistent results. Samples can also be sent off to food labs for testing.

If you are just starting out, I suggest you avail yourself of the many modern preserving books that have hit the shelves in the past few years. We are always learning new ideas for making time spent preserving food more efficient and results more predictable.

Quick Blueberry Jam

The fruit in this jam requires virtually no prep, and the added pectin means that it sets up in a flash. This is a terrific gift idea. You can make up cases of it in no time, and you’ll have all of your holiday shopping done … in summer!

4 cups sugar

2 tsp. Pomona’s Universal Pectin

8 cups blueberries, stemmed

1/4 cup bottled lemon juice

2 tsp. calcium water (included in the Pomona box)

Combine the sugar and pectin in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine the berries with a splash of water in a medium nonreactive saucepan and slowly bring to a boil over low heat. Add the lemon juice and calcium water. Pour in the sugar-pectin mixture and stir to dissolve.

Return to a boil, and then immediately remove from the heat and let the jam rest for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release air bubbles. Skim off any foam.

Preserve by refrigeration by ladling jam into bowls or jars. Let cool, cover, and refrigerate. Jam keeps covered for up to 3 weeks in the fridge. To can it, use the boiling-water method. Pour into clean, hot 4-ounce or half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Use a bubble tool, or other nonmetallic implement, to release any trapped air. Wipe the rims, cover the jars, and screw the bands on just fingertip-tight. Process for 10 minutes. Cool for 24 hours. Check the seals and store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Makes about 4 cups.

— From “The Put ‘em Up! Preserving Answer Book” (Storey Publishing, $16.95).