Saturday, March 15, 2014

Blueberries!!! From picking to preserving

(NOTE: This one has been in the drafts for more than 4 weeks now, but there's not a word I have changed cause it all holds so good and true. I am loving the jam and a friend to whom I had given a bottle gave me a telephone call just to let me know that the jam was really good and that her son too had praised it)

Here is a glance of the stuff I've been using the preserve for
Blueberry Cheesecake
 Blueberry Cheesecake
Blueberry CreamCheese Muffins
 Blueberry and Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Blueberry Preserve


A glance through the newspaper while catching up on office gossip caught the words "Pick your own blueberries". Twas an ad by the 400 acre blueberry orchard. Some googling revealed that blueberry season ends mid Jan. I discarded the thought of going blueberry picking thinking I was late and began looking for orchards offering  PYO Strawberries. But blueberries sounded more posh so I made the husband make a quick call to confirm if we could go for the blueberry picking and they said they were open all days from 8am. So it was decided that we'd go blueberry picking and if time permitted, go for a trek at the famous Blue Springs. Another post on that coming up real soon. The day before we went, a colleague mentioned the Hamilton gardens as a must visit. So we had a plan.

Our flatmate joined us but we never really knew who he was picking the berries for. I had instructed the husband to strictly pick the ripe ones and the ones that came with just a slight feather nudge. We both managed to pick 2kgs together. Our flatmate had picked 2.3 kgs single handedly. Imagine my fear when we had to pay for that 2.3 kgs as well. I was hoping and praying that they were all good. Skeptically I opened up the bag which had the berries which he had picked to clean and sort. Kudos to him, they were good enough but now we were stuck with 4.4kgs of blueberries. So, I decided to make a preserve. I had eaten Kitchens of India Strawberry and Mint preserve back in India so I decided to make Blueberry and mint preserve with most of them. Some I used in pancakes, some I froze, some I distributed amongst friends and some are still in the fridge waiting to be used in muffins and the odd baking. 

Now, this is the first time I was gonna make a jam/preserve and that too in a huge quantity. My friend had mentioned to me about how canning had to be done and what mason jars were but I had never done something like that before. So I had to google, not only for the canning but to confirm if the combination of blueberries and mint would go well. This blog confirmed it and had easy to follow instructions for the canning. So all set. The previous evenings, I cleaned and picked the stems from the berries. I also chanced upon Revati's Strawberry jam recipe and decided to use the balsamic vinegar instead of lemon juice. The next morning, I washed them berries and mashed them. Leaving them to macerate in sugar, we headed out to buy jars for canning.

Briscoes had these real cute vintage mason jars which I picked up. I did see a canning kit for 50$ but decided that it was not something that I should pick up when I was trying something for the first time. After all who knew it would yield 5 jars of delicious yummy jam. Anyways, once back home, I turned on the heat to medium and let the jam and sugar cook. The whole process of making the jam and canning them and sterilizing, etcetera took about 5 hours. We got five 500ml bottles of jam from the 3.5kgs of berries. I added minimal amount of sugar as blueberries are already quite sweet. I gave myself a pat on the back this morning after having the jam on my toast. (Psst.. I had it again with some fresh cream as an after dinner easy dessert just now too)
Blueberry Mint Preserve

Detailed below is the recipe I used as well as how I went about the canning. I am not sure if I've nailed it so I will be putting my jars into the fridge to be on the safe side. 


Preparation time : 1.5 hrs picking by 3, 1 hr cleaning and sorting, 1 hr for macerating
Cooking time : about 1 hour plus extra for canning

Ingredients (makes 2.5litres of jam):

  1. Blueberries - 12 cups as tightly packed as you can or approximately 2.6kg
  2. Sugar - 2.5 cups
  3. Balsamic Vinegar - 2tbsp
  4. Mint leaves - about 15 leaves
Apparatus required :
  1. 5 canning jars of 500 ml capacity each
  2. 1 pakkad - something with which you can have a good grip of the tops of the jars
  3. 5 litre cooker or bigger vessel
  4. Kitchen towels
  5. 2 frozen spoons - keep stainless steel spoons in freezer while you get your jam cooking
How I made the blueberry mint preserve :
Sterilizing the bottles :

  1. In the cooker heat water till the brim such that it will immerse completely the bottles that you will be using for preserving.
  2. Place only the bottles without the lids in the water and boil for 10 minutes. 
  3. For the lids, do not boil as if you are using the seals, the heat will melt the rubber coating. Just place in  warm water and let it simmer.
Onto the jam :
    PreservingBlueberry Preserve
  1. Wash mint leaves and keep aside to dry
  2. Wash and pick blueberries, sorting them so as to remove rotting ones. Overripe or underripe is perfectly fine for the jam. Remove any stems. Infact, I kept the just ripe ones for making muffins or froze them for use later in the year.
  3. In a huge pan, throw in the blueberries and mash them. I used my hands and the potato masher. Hands have a better effect.
  4. Add the sugar and let it macerate for about an hour.
  5. Turn on heat on medium and let it slowly come to a boil. 
  6. When it comes to a boil, keep stirring frequently to prevent any sticking/burning. Continue doing this for about 20 minutes.
  7. You could also do this on high flame if you are going to be constantly on watch and stirring.
  8. To test for doneness, use frozen spoons as suggested here. Take a spoon at a time from the freezer. Dip in jam and place back in the freezer until neither cold nor hot. Since I was cooking on medium to low flame, it was not that hot. In less than a minute, it was at room temperature and was set. I did give it a boil for a few extra minutes just to be doubly sure. I love the consistency of my jam. It is not to runny and not too thick. It is easily spreadable and mixes well in cream for desserts. 
  9. Throw in the balsamic vinegar and mint leaves.Turn off heat and let these sit for about 5 minutes.
  10. Now put the hot jam into the bottles leaving 1 inch from the top.
Sealing the bottles
  1. Place the seals and screw up the lid until finger tight and place into the hot water in the cooker or any vessel which ensures that it is completely immersed. Boil for 10 minutes. Take out and leave in a corner untouched for at least 12 hours. I did hear from my colleague who made 18 bottles of plum jam that the best way is to allow them to cool as slowly as possible and they kept theirs under a blanket. By the time I had known this, my jam had already cooled down. So you could try that. His grandmother made jam that way and they had jam even after she had sadly passed on.
  2. Inspect all bottles after 12 hours. If the lid of any of them can be pushed further, it means the seal has failed. These need to be kept in the fridge and used first. The others are good to be used for up to a year.