No, this was not a marathon performance of “Blueberry Hill” but a 12-hour farm-to-kitchen event.
I rise early on a Sunday morning before the heat becomes intense. It is the day of my annual, ritualistic hunt for Long Island blueberries. This year, I’ve got a new twist in mind. I tune the car radio to “Sunday Baroque” and drive East to the North Fork of Long Island. I park at Patty’s Berries & Bunches in Mattituck and purchase four containers to fill. Conditions should be perfect as Patty’s online “Berry Chart” depicts a little bumblebee buzzing towards “bountiful picking.”
The blueberry patch is almost deserted, save for a young family with two children who have embraced the adventure completely. Young Evan hollers, “Dad, I found a BIG one,” or “I picked a WINNER!” His father must sternly caution Evan not to run, for fear of spilling his prized berries on the ground.
Beyond Evan’s enthusiastic shouts, there is nothing but the sound of a warm breeze, a passing automobile and the buzz of a few bees. I get to work, and in due time, I’ve filled four containers.
The gentle rhythm of picking is so pleasing, that I go back and purchase two more containers to fill. One can never have too many blueberries for baking. The blueberries are plump and sweet. Some are an inky blue-black hue.
Two hours later, I’m back in my car and heading for home. Returning to the kitchen, the jam session begins. I think my fascination with blueberries likely began with family camping trips to Acadia National Park in Maine. We would pick wild blueberries on the mountain trails and sprinkle them on our cereal in the morning. Cooking up a batch of jam is one way to preserve that summertime flavor, and I’m determined to keep my new home preserving skills in good working order.
The recipe for blueberry jam is easier than blueberry pie, and takes about 10 minutes to prepare. Several options for recipes can be accessed here. The ingredients are simply blueberries, lemon juice, liquid pectin and sugar – lots of it!
The first action is to clean and crush the blueberries to start to release the juices. It is a little painful to squash blueberries that just hours before, one selected and plucked so carefully, but that rich purple juice is immediately evident. Then comes the addition of the sugar – seven cups! As my friend Lydia points out as I keep her abreast of the project online, that’s just about a cup of sugar per jar of jam! Well, no one said jam was diet food.
With the addition of lemon juice, the mixture is heated until it begins to boil. It looks like an exotic vat of bubbling violet soup cooked up by Oompa-Loompas. Here, liquid pectin is added to thicken the jam and make it set.
There is a learning curve. The recipe suggests that after boiling for a minute, you take the mixture off the heat and skim the foam off the top. Here I find that I’m actually skimming off a lot of tasty blueberry skins in the process that would add chunkiness to the jam. I’ll have to work on my skimming technique.
Most of the time invested in home preserving goes to preparing the jars and the cleanup. Filling the hot jars with hot jam is quickly done, and the covered jars go into a boiling water bath. A gentle steam swirls through the kitchen, I’ve got iTunes playing and I’m jamming!
After ten minutes, the jars are removed to cool. Within minutes, I hear a sharp popping, as the vacuum seal takes effect on each jar.
The remaining blueberries are frozen, because I can’t let the summer pass without baking my favorite lemon blueberry Bundt cake.
When the jars are completely cool, all that’s needed is a finishing touch – a specially designed label commemorating a dreamy summer day gathering and preserving the best of blueberries grown on Long Island’s North Fork.
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