Can I can? Makin’ blueberry lavender jam

by Grace Evans

My favorite kind of jam is blueberry jam. I went through a phase last summer where I went through jars of the stuff at an alarming rate. Blueberries are just the perfect amount of sweet and their dark berry flavor makes a rich and sharp tasting jam. Last week I wrote about my summer plans to learn to can, and what a delight it was for my first lesson to be about one of my favorite things!

I learned how to make this jam recipe from Laena McCarthy of Anarchy in a Jar. Laena teaches a class out of Ted and Amy’s Supper Club in Brooklyn. We made wild blueberry jam with lavender. You should make it too!

Pre-Jam Prep

If you’re like me, you might be asking, what exactly is pectin? Pectin is basically ground up citrus, which makes the jam gel. Laena uses Pomona’s Pectin, which unlike other commercially available pectin, doesn’t need a ton of sugar to gel. You can get it at the grocery store for about $3. Apparently you can also make your own pectin, but let’s take it one step at a time!

Before your jam making session you also have to pick up some jars. For beginners Laena advises using the jars with the two part lids because it is obvious when they have sealed. You can reuse the bands or rim part of these lids, but not the rubber part because that is the part that seals during the canning process. Make sure that you are buying jars that are for canning (it should say on the box) not just any jars.

You will have to sanitize these jars before we start. I know it’s pain but otherwise things could get germy. So just boil your jars in water for 10 minutes. Turn off the stove after 10 minutes and just leave them in there until it is cool enough for you to pull them out safely. Bring lids and bands to boil; turn down heat; let stand in hot water. 

Alright, we’re ready to get down to jammin’ business.

Laena’s Blueberry Lavender Jam 

The night before your jam session you need to make some lavender syrup: Combine two chopped bunches of lavender with 2 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar. Simmer for 20 minutes and let macerate overnight in the fridge. Strain and reserve liquid.

4 cups semi-mashed blueberries

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons calcium water

2 teaspoons pectin

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons lavender syrup

Measure fruit and lavender syrup into a stainless steel pot with lemon juice.

The lemon is just to give the jam flavor, not because of the acid. Citrus is a good addition to berry jams because it gives the flavor a depth. Also keep in mind that jam is like baking in that the measurements need to be accurate, you can’t just be throwing things in all willy-nilly. 

Add calcium water into the pot and stir well.

I had never even heard of this so called calcium water until now. It sounds like a less trendy version of Vitamin Water. But it’s not! It is a part of the package of pectin and you need to follow the directions for the pectin you’ve bought. But basically you’re just adding 2 teaspoons of calcium powder in a packet to a couple of cups of water.

Bring the fruit to a boil. Skim the foam off the top and discard. Measure sugar into a separate bowl and mix with pectin powder, and then add to the pot stirring vigorously for 2 minutes. Return to a boil and then remove the pot from heat. Skim off any more foam that has formed.

So this is the jam. It’s done! We just have to can it. I thought that the jam was suspiciously runny at this point in time, but the pectin works to make the gel once it cools, so no worries yet. The way you can check to see if there is enough pectin is to take a spoon with some jam in it and push it with your fingertip, if it doesn’t wrinkle you need to add some more pectin. So wrinkly jam = good.  The good thing about blueberries that they retain their texture unless you mash them a ton or cook the crap out of them.

Now you can fill your jars. Fill to about 1/4 inch from the top and wipe clean, so that no jam is touching the rim. Screw on a 2-piece lid.

Not to brag, but our class was commended for excellent and uniform filling. Laena says that the one piece of equipment she recommends is a funnel because it is inexpensive and incredibly helpful to keep this process neat. See how when you press down on the lids there is a popping sound? That is unsealed. 

This is the canning part. We’re going to use the hot water bath canning method to seal these jars. Boil the jars in the pot of water. They will shake against each other while they boil, which is a nice canning soundtrack for you while you wait for ten minutes. 

Note: jars must be completely submerged when boiling! If you keep boiling for longer you could end up cooking your jam. Which would probably still be delicious, but not jam.

Turn off the stove and wait until the water is not scalding hot before taking the jars out. You can use a fancy jar lifter or some plain old tongs. Let the jars cool and check the seals. The lid should be sucked down, none of that popping sound program before.

It might take a while (up to 12 hours!) to cool, so if the jars aren’t seal right away just wait. As it cools the air in the jar is sucked out. This is also when the pectin is activating so be patient.

Jam will last one to two months once opened and refrigerated, and unopened you can store in on the shelf for a year. Unofficially it will be good for longer than a year most likely. But you’ll have eaten it all by then, I assume!

And presto! Jam, in jars. It was easier than I thought it would be and pretty satisfying to take home my 4 oz. jar. I guess the tricky part to making jam is once you want to get creative, you need to know what you’re doing to be adding ingredients in with different pH’s. But we must always remember, one thing at a time! And the first attempt was delicious and successful. 

After the sweaty jam makin’ was finished, Laena set out a few of her Anarchy in a Jar jams. There was Rhubarb Hibiscus and Strawberry Balsamic, but the clear crowd favourite was the sweet and biting Hot Fireman’s Pear Jam with chipotle and cinnamon.

Laena reminded us that jam eating is in no way limited to bread, but can be mixed in with yogurt, spooned onto ice cream and spread on grilled cheese. Wait, grilled cheese you say? “Jam with cheese is a overlooked area of jam consumption,” Laena told us wisely. On her website you can take a look at this recipe for Hot Pepper Jelly and Grilled Cheese.

If you’re in the New York area, you can take Laena’s sociable class at Ted and Amy’s Supper Club in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. There are upcoming classes on July 7, July 20, August 2 and August 10.

Now go make some jam! 

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