Oh Yeah, We’re Jamming

And I hope Connie likes jam, too.

Sterilizing the jars and lids in a GIANT pot.

Sterilizing the jars and lids in a GIANT pot.

That’s right…one of the tasks I set myself this handmade Christmas was boiling the shit out of the plethora of blackberries and figs I’ve had stashed up in the freezer. There were a couple of other jams I planned to try, but the figs and blackberries were the major ingredients. I had picked SO MANY BLACKBERRIES this summer, and the figs have been languishing in the dark reaches of the freezer since last year, and I figured this would be a prime time to use them up.

I’ve made my own apple butter before, and tried my hand at canning some tomatoes from the garden and farm this summer as well, but jam and preserves were new territory for me. Well, not completely…I vaguely remember helping Mom with a truly epic haul of sour cherries, back when Uncle Jim still had his farm up in Maryland, but I was fairly young at the time and hadn’t fully embraced the wonders of making things for myself yet.

I consulted my good friend Google and pulled up a couple of recipes that seemed like viable choices for my foray into jamming. Next, I pulled out an assortment of pots, pans and skillets that I would need for the evening. I needed at least two large pots, to boil the fruit jams down in, as well as two skillets to cook some of the ingredients needed. Finally, I pulled out the gigantic stockpot that the Native Student Association gave me a few years ago, as a thank you for years of work with the powwow. It was the perfect size for sterilizing and processing all of the jelly jars that we were going to be using.

The first jam on the list was one I had stumbled across about two years ago. It’s made in a slow cooker, which appealed to me because it freed up the stove to work on the other jams, while it cooked down.

Maple Bacon Coffee Jam

  • 1 1/2 lbs. sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1″ pieces
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1/2 c. cider vinegar
  • 1/2 c. packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 c. brewed coffee
  1. Cook bacon over medium-high heat until bacon is lightly browned – about 20 minutes. Drain bacon on towels. Reserve 1 T. of bacon grease for next step.
  2. Add onions and garlic to pan, cook until onions are translucent – about 6 minutes.
  3. Add vinegar, brown sugar, maple syrup and coffee and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up browned bits – about 2 minutes. Add bacon and stir to combine.
  4. Transfer mix to a 6 quart slow cooker and cook on high, uncovered, until liquid is syrupy – 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Transfer to food processor; pulse until coarsely chopped.

Deviations from the recipe: None. This is the only recipe of the three that I followed all the way through, without any changes. I would, however, make a few changes in the future. I would try using maple bacon next time, instead of the regular bacon I used. Also, I’m a little unsure how I feel about the cider vinegar. It leaves sort of an odd taste, and I’m not completely sold on it yet. However, I don’t know if I would substitute something else, or just scale back on the amount used. I think I’d also use the whole 2 lbs of bacon that I have to buy for this recipe, and cut the pieces a little smaller to start. There’s not a strong coffee taste…perhaps I’d opt for espresso, for a stronger flavor. The one change I did have, in terms of the process, was that I used a blender instead of a food processor at the end, for the simple reason that I do not have a food processor.

I recommend the recipe so far, with a few caveats: One, be aware that you’ll wind up smelling like bacon and cider vinegar at the end, due to the jam being cooked uncovered. Two, I recommend using a garlic press or something similar, unless you also want to smell like garlic afterwards. Three, make sure you drain your bacon well. I might even recommend letting it dry out a bit before it cooks down in the slow cooker. Four, see if you can borrow a food processor for the final step. I don’t actually recommend the blender route, as you wind up with finer pieces, rather than the chunkier texture that you should.

Next, I pulled out a couple of containers of blueberries Mom had brought back from Uncle Pat’s house in Ohio. I would have used those earlier this year, for pie-making, if it weren’t for a sad truth about this particular fruit…I have an allergy to blueberries. They make me itchy. I’m tempted to try eating them again, now, to see if I might have outgrown this strange allergy, but I haven’t had the opportunity to, yet (I’m waiting for a period of free time where I won’t mind being stuck inside, drugged up on Benedryl, in the event that I am still allergic to them). Anyway, we had a couple of containers up in the freezer and needed the space for other things, so I pulled them down and found a recipe. I figured other people could enjoy some blueberry jam, even if I couldn’t:

Blueberry Jam 

  • 5 c. blueberries
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  1. Combine blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a saucepan. Mash berries until they’ve released their juices.
  2. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened – 18-25 minutes.
  3. Transfer to jars and process in a hot water bath. Let cool to seal.

Deviations from the recipe: I doubled this recipe – though I’ve a feeling I wound up using more than 10 cups of blueberries. I kept the sugar the same, but I think it could be lessened a bit more. I didn’t measure the lemon juice, but I know I used a lot more than 2 tablespoons. The salt amount remained the same (doubled). Despite setting the berries out on the table to thaw for at least two hours, they weren’t completely ready to squish and release their juices when I sat down to start this jam. I wound up processing them in the blender a bit, which sped it up a little bit. I ended up adding some pectin, though the recipe doesn’t call for it, to help speed the process on a bit. I think I would leave it out next time, and just boil it down a little more.

Blueberry jam, with tops waiting to pop after processing.

Blueberry jam, with tops waiting to pop after processing.

*Note: I did taste a very tiny amount of the jam as I made it – about the size of a drop, maybe five times. It’s important to do so, to make sure you don’t over or undersweeten it. I loved the flavor. I didn’t notice any problems last night, though I will admit to being a little itchy today. However, I think this is due to dry winter skin, and not the miniscule consumption of blueberries.

At long last, it was time for the stash of blackberries and figs:

Blackberry Fig Preserves

  • 2 2/3 cups blackberries
  • 9 figs
  • 1 1/4 c. water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, halved
  • 5 c. sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • T. butter (optional)
  1. Add berries, figs, water, cinnamon to saucepan. Bring to a simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, until fruit begins to soften.
  2. Pour sugar into the pan and add lemon juice. Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, then boil rapidly until setting point is reached (about 25 minutes). Skim with a skimming spoon or stir in butter, if needed.
  3. Ladle into sterilized jars. Process in a hot water bath and let cool to seal.
Prepping the sugar and lemon juice mix for the fig and blackberry jam.

Prepping the sugar and lemon juice mix for the fig and blackberry jam.

Deviations from the recipe: Plenty! For one, I kind of doubled the recipe…except that I didn’t measure the berries exactly, and I know that I had a lot more than 18 figs present than a doubled recipe would include. I used a cup less sugar, threw in another cinnamon stick, didn’t add butter, and used two lemons, as well as some of the last bit of lemon juice in the bottle from the fridge. I would say leave out even more of the sugar, except you need it to help the jam thicken. That might have been part of my problem, later on. I might add in some lemon zest next time, too. Just for some added texture.

Blackberries and figs, a-boiling away on the stove. It smelled heavenly.

Blackberries and figs, a-boiling away on the stove. It smelled heavenly.

I will note that raspberries and figs both produce a lot of seeds when you’re making jam, so if you don’t want particularly seedy jam I would recommend straining it before canning. I, of course, think that the seeds add to the lovely texture of preserves, so I left all the seeds in. I also didn’t mash or cut up the fruit as much as other people might. Again, I added some pectin in near the end. It was getting close to midnight and I was rather tired and still had the bacon jam to finish up and can, so I shaved off a little time by adding a thickening agent. When I make this again (and rest assured, I have every intention of making this one again), I hope to allow for enough time to cook it down properly, without having to resort to pectin. Not that pectin is a bad thing. I just didn’t want to add it when it hadn’t been called for in the original recipe.

IMG_20141223_013008_540

Final Results:

  • 7 jars of blueberry (six 8oz, 1 pint)
  • 11 jars of NCF blackberry fig (one 4 oz, six 8 oz, and four pints)
  • 7 jars of maple bacon coffee jam (six 4 oz, one 8oz)

Ultimately, I’d consider this a pretty successful jam session (hahaha! See what I did there?). My favorite part? Getting to use the antique jar lifter that belonged to my great grandmother, Grandma Williams. I don’t have many memories of her, and what little I have are fuzzy and disconnected, but it was nice to imagine her reaching through time as I lifted each jar out of the boiling water.

** Follow-up: I’ve since given the jam to Connie and Robert. We tried the blackberry and fig on some cornbread the other day (made with cornmeal ground at our farm, using our heirloom Virginia Gourdseed corn!), and it was sufficiently yummy. I stand by my original assessment that it would be delicious on waffles.

Robert also tried his maple bacon coffee jam, and was pleasantly surprised. Though it would probably be best suited to a lighter tasting bread than corn bread, he still declared it tasty. It has a bit of a vinegary scent to it, which means it smells very much like Snyder’s honey mustard pretzel pieces (the best of the Snyder’s pretzel flavors, I declare). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is interesting. I’ll have to report back on how other folks who get the jam feel about its flavor and scent.

I found it amusing that one of the things I got from Robert on Christmas morning was my very own canning accessories kit, complete with jar lifter, head space measure/bubble remover, funnel, and magnetic wand for retrieving the lids from the bottom of the sterilizing pot. That last would have been helpful on Monday, when I was digging around the bottom of the pot with a spatula and a pair of tongs. Now, I won’t have that problem! Looks like we’ll need to can some more in the near future!

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