The beginning of the end

Summer is not my favorite season.

It’s barely tolerable, in my honest opinion. This shouldn’t surprise anyone really… I like living in Maine because, most of the time, it’s not hot.

But part of what makes summer okay is the crazy amounts of berries that grow around our area. So far this year we’ve harvested strawberries from a farm in Monticello, raspberries from an abandoned property here in our town,  and blueberries from DownEast. Now, the last of the berries are finally coming in.

Blackberries.

My husband picked these this morning

Sweet, tart, tangy, juicy blackberries. There’s an old place in town that burnt a few years back, and out behind the old chicken condominium is a fairly large patch of blackberries. There is also another good size patch behind my husband’s office.  Nothing tastes better then free food. But more on that in another post.

So, you’d think that we’d let them all come in before we start picking, but no sir. Because we have a jam recipe that only needs one cup of blackberries.

Our triple berry jam.

It’s pretty simple. It’s half blueberry, quarter strawberry and quarter blackberry. And its delicious.


So get your jamming and canning equipment out and follow along.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups crushed blueberries
  • 1 cup crushed strawberries
  • 1 cup crushed blackberries
  • 1 packet of Certo opened and standing upright in a cup
  • 6 cups of sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

This is one of those times I bring out my handy immersion blender. I like to really break down the berries so the taste is consistent.

Once you have your berries blended, throw them, your lemon juice and sugar into your jamming pot. On a high heat, while stirring constantly, get it boiling. Add in your single pack of Certo. Get it back to boiling and set a timer for 1 minute. Keep stirring until the timer goes off.

Process the jam into your jars. Get them into your awaiting canner, and let them go for 10 minutes.

A tasty way to get some extra omegas in your diet would be to add a 1/4 cup chia seeds in with the berries. It also makes for a slightly thicker jam because of the seeds gelling properties.

Well, there she is, in all its delicious glory. I use the same ratios of berries to make a pie. But that’s another time.

I already know what’s coming next. It’s going to be a long one because tomorrow is Machias’ annual Blueberry Festival!

Pretty exciting…. so until then, have a wicked good afternoon.

Oh, the possibilities. 

When you have an over abundance of a harvest, do you make the same thing in excess, because you know it works, it tastes good and you’ll probably use it all, and even if you don’t, you can give some away…. Or do you branch out… Try something new, odd.. Maybe even a little weird?

In my personal opinion- When in doubt, always choose new, odd and maybe even a little weird. It’s a regretless desicion when you have 25 lbs of blueberries to do something with, and you can only eat so much blueberry pie. 

It is with this mindset, that we approach these recipes. We have two different types of spiced blueberry jam we are making this year. The first is going to be a Blueberry Serrano Pepper Jam. This is a new and exciting recipe for us- exciting because we are using peppers from our own garden.  

Our very own serrano peppers- and a chocolate sweet pepper

 
The second is a standard blueberry jam infused with a blend of warm holiday spices. This is one we discovered almost by accident last year, while trying to make blueberry chutney. The jam was a keeper, the chutney, not so much. It’s kinda like blueberry pie in a jar, sans crust.

For the Blueberry Serrano Pepper Jam you will need

  • 4 cups of crushed berries
  • 7 cups of sugar
  • 1/4 cup diced hot pepper – discard the seeds if you like a milder spice. We left ours in, and Mr. Gillis swears he barely tastes the heat. 
  • 1/4 cup diced sweet pepper
  • 1 full box of Certo(2 pouches)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

The essentials

    Also, grab all your canning supplies. 

    Now, in your jamming pot, mix together your berries, peppers, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Once at a boil, add in your Certo. Bring that back to another rolling boil. Put your kitchen timer on for 1 minute. 

     

    Looks just like regular blueberry jam, except with little green bombs of fire.

     
    Once that goes off, it’s time to boogey and get it into your jars. Process in your canner for 10 minutes. Enjoy on anything.

    Now, the second jam, the blueberry pie jam, is… Well, it’s sweet, a little tangy, aromatic and spiced with the holy trio- cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Time to gather your ingredients. 

    • 4 cups crushed blueberries
    • 6 cups white sugar
    • 1 cup brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
    • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
    • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon 
    • 1/2 tbsp ground nutmeg
    • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger root
    • 1 whole box Certo (2 pouches)

    In your jamming pot, add everything but the Certo. While stirring constantly, let it get to that all important rolling boil. Add in the Certo, get it back to boil. Set your timer for one minute, keep stirring the entire time. 

    Once the timer goes off, get the jam into your jars, get the jars into your canner and process for 10 minutes. 

    We didn’t get any pictures of this batch because we had a very fussy 11 week old that didn’t care that we had already gotten started. It happens. 

    Well we are just about done with our blueberry harvest. It’s all frozen at least. I’m trying to talk Mr. Gillis into a blueberry sauce or maybe a blueberry moxie jam. But, for now, our green beans are coming in. Which leads  me to the topic of my next post- Spicy Dilly Beans! 

    Until that time- have a wicked good evening.

    It’s all about that jam

    We could be considered odd for this, but we only can food at night. It’s hot, sweaty, steamy work and doing it in the heat of a Maine August day is silly to us. So we wait til about 9 pm, a while after the sun has gone down, and the heat of the day has dissipated. Only then do we turn the water on.

    For today, I am going to talk about freezing blueberries and making regular blueberry jam, which we did last night. And will be doing again tonight. Tomorrow we will be taking a beak from regular blueberry stuff, but more on that in a little bit.

    So, on the subject of freezing berries, I am a bit of an expert. I am not even bragging. Mr. Gillis and I have got this down to a science. We are serious about keeping our harvests until the next harvest. Our deep freezer is full of this years strawberries and raspberries already. So time to throw some blueberries  in there as well.

    For freezing berries for ease of use later, you need a few things other than clean berries.

    • Cookie sheets
    • Freezer paper
    • Bags
    • (Look Ma, I learned how to use bullets!)

    We use a food saver so we can get the bags airtight and sealed properly. We both believe this has been a hugely beneficial investment. We freeze and save so much food and this machine really cuts down on any freezer burn.

    So, get your cookie sheets in a row. Grab your freezer paper and cut out your pieces so that they are a little bit larger then the pans.

    Since the paper is larger then the sheet, it makes for easier handling later

    Now, grab your berries and spread them out. You can put a little bit more then a single layer, because blueberries freeze so well. They are super easy to break apart.

    Three cookie sheets full and ready to go into the freezer.

    Now find a place in your freezer, and throw them in. They’ll need to be in there  for about 2 to 3 hours in order to be frozen all the way thru.

    A look into the depths… I am pretty good at finding more room tho.

    This is when we get out our food saver. We make up a rather large bag and put all three trays into it.

    This bag will be about 10 inches long

    When the berries are completely frozen, take the edges of the freezer paper and pull them towards the middle forming a circle. Put one open end inside your bag, and carefully lift the other side of the bag. If everything is in its place, your berries will just roll on down and into the bag.

    It can be a little difficult to get the berries to stay in the paper.

    This bag will hold three trays of berries

    Then we turn the machine on, and let it do its work. You end up with a bag of frozen berries that you can easily scoop out in smaller portions.

    Our giant bag of frozen berries, air sucked out and sealed tight.

    Now, repeat. We usually end up with about 8 of these bags.

    So, with that done, we move onto making our standard blueberry jam. This is a pretty fool proof recipe, as we use the Official Certo instructions for this one. They are included in every box, and we even keep a copy on our fridge.

    For the jam, you’ll need:

    • A full box of Certo (it has two packs inside)
    • 7 cups of sugar
    • 2 TBSP fresh lemon juice – usually one medium lemon
    • 4 and 1/2 cups of crushed blueberries – you’ll need about 8 cups of whole berries to get this.

    For tools you’ll need :

    • A large pot
    • A small pot
    • A water bath canner (we use our pressure canner, just without the gauge and weight)
    • A funnel
    • Jars, bands and lids
    • Paper towels
    • A ladle
    • A rubber spatula
    • A metal spoon
    • A jar grabber
    • A medium bowl
    • Immersion blender

    To start, you need to fill your canner with enough water to cover your jars. Get that onto your stove top and going so that the water will be boiling when you need it.

    Next, take your small pot, fill it with some water and get that on the stovetop as well. This water needs to be nice and hot for the lids to go in. It helps to relax the rubber in the seal which will help the tops pop once they come out of the canner.

    The water isnt boiling, more of a hard simmer.

    Now is time for some dishes. Get your jars, rims and lids. Wash them all with soap and hot water. Rinse them all really well. Fill one bay of your sink with really hot water. Put your jars and bands in the water so they stay hot while you’re making the jam. Your lids are going to go in the small pot of hot water.

    Hot jars, patiently awaiting their jam

    So now the real fun begins. Grab your bowl and immersion blender. Throw your berries into the bowl. Use the immersion blender to crush the berries and get this juices flowing.

    An immersion blender is pretty essential for these types of things.

     

    These berries are now blended and ready to become jam

    In your large pot, combine 2 TBSP Lemon juice, 4 and 1/2 cups crushed blueberries and 7 cups of sugar. Mix well and turn your stove onto medium/high heat. This mixture needs to be stirred pretty much constantly so it won’t burn. This is where the rubber spatula comes in handy.

    Our perfect for blueberry jam measuring cup

     

    This is actually 3 lemons worth of juice.

    This is the blueberries and lemon juice

     

    I swear , there are berries underneath all that sugar

    Everything all mixed together. Use the spatula to scrape the sides as you stir.

    Open up your packs of Certo so that it will be ready for you when you need it. We put ours in a coffee cup off to the side so it’s close but not in the way.

    Our Certo.. and the zucchini bread in the background was a good snack between batches.

    Next, grab your paper towels, ladle, funnel and metal spoon. You’ll need at least three paper towels, one wet and two dry.

    This is how we setup our canning area. I use another wet paper towel under my jar to give a non slip surface. It also makes cleanup easier.

    Now, back to the pot full of sugar and berries. Stir this on a medium/high heat until it gets to a bubbling boil. Once it gets to a hard boil, add in the two packs of Certo. This is will calm down the boil for a minute or two. Keep stirring constantly. Once it gets back to a hard boil, put 1 minute on your timer and stir until it beeps.

    I swear, this is at a rolling boil.

    Take your jam off the heat and get ready to really work. It is pretty important to get the jam into the jars before it cools to much. Grab your ladle and start filling your jar. Once it is about a half inch from the top, stop. Do not fill your jar to the brim! It will not seal.

    The captions on the following pictures explain the process pretty thoroughly.

    Here it is! Our first full jar of blueberry jam for the season.

     

    Use your wet paper towel to clean the rim of the jar.

    Use one of your dry paper towels to dry the rim and the lid before putting it on

     

    Cover the jar with the lid, and secure the lid with a band.

    This is a Ball tool that helps to secure the band to the right tightness to help ensure your jar seals.

     

    The click of the arm lets you know it is at the pefect tightness.

    For canning, this Ball tool is SO worth the $10 you’ll spend on it. We have 99% seal rate. It takes the guess work out of it completely. We even got ours on clearance at a Tractor Supply Company.
    Now, continue filling your jars, until you’ve scraped your pot clean. We usually end up with 10 or 11 jars. When all your jars are full, cleaned and covered, put them in your canner using your jar grabber. After you’ve got them all in, put the lid on your canner and start a timer for ten minutes. While the canner is doing its thing, this is a good time to lick the spoon.

    The real reason people make jam … to clean the pot with their tongues

    When the timer goes off, use your jar grabber to get the jars back out. Put them some place where the can be undisturbed for 24 hours.

    So that’s it. How we deal with an overabundance of berries.

    Whew, what a long post tho. It actually took me two days to write it. I think I will be sticking to one topic posts from now on.  Like my next two posts, which will be off shoots of this one. I have two special blueberry jam recipes, but they are not for the faint of heart. First we will be doing a sweet and spicy Blueberry Serrano Pepper jam and after that a Holiday Spiced Blueberry jam.

    So until that time, have a wicked good evening.

    Blueberry leaves are like glitter

    We are done winnowing the berries. It took about a hour per box, and my wonderful hubby had to set up our winnower on our back porch so he could work thru a rainstorm, but it’s done.

    Mr. Gillis taking care of blueberries in the rain.

    Mr. Gillis taking care of blueberries in the rain.

    The upside, we can move on to the next phase in cleaning them. The downside, I will be finding blueberry leaves everywhere for days. Possibly weeks.

    Yup- found this little sucker in my living room.

    Yup- found this little sucker in my living room.

    The glitter of the berry world. But it is a small, tiny annoyance to live with in order to take part in what is The Downeast’s second most valuable commodity.

    So, next is the deep clean. This will get rid of the green berries, random stems and other icky-ness. For this you’ll need a flat surface, a towel that’s a little on the rough side, a bowl to catch the clean berries and a box about 8 inches high. For a flat surface, we used our trusty window screen.

    It is a pretty simple set up. The box goes on one end, the bowl on the other. The flat surface goes on top. The angle that’s created helps move the good berries along to the bowl.

    Before the towel goes on

    Before the towel goes on

    Now, throw that towel on top, and roll up the edges as the picture below shows. The sides being rolled will guide your berries right where they need to go.

    The towel should be on the rougher side. All the better to catch the stems.

    The towel should be on the rougher side. All the better to catch the stems.

    Guess what time it is! We transferred our berries from the big box to much smaller bowl. Now just dump some berries on the towel and go to town. It’s best to do this in small batches, like winnowing.

    Mr. Gillis pouring berries onto the towel

    Mr. Gillis pouring berries onto the towel

    If you used a window screen like we did, tap the underside gently and the berries will start sorting themselves as they roll down. You’ll still have to pick the bad ones out, but they’re a lot easier to see, and your hands stay cleaner.

    The towel catches the majority of grossness.

    The towel catches the majority of grossness.

    It’s a process, for sure, but well worth it when you end up with this-

    After the second cleaning and washing.

    After the second cleaning and washing.

    Well, since that’s done, it is officially time to figure out what to do with your berries. Our berries will be frozen, jammed, sauced and possibly relished. But more on that next time.

    No, seriously. We’re making several batches of blueberry jam tonight. That, and how I freeze berries for long term storage, will be the topic of the next blog.

    So until that time, have a wicked good evening.

    Blueberry Fields Forever

    Recently, we went on our yearly excursion to the blueberry fields of Columbia- Downeast, Maine. These fields are owned by a friend of the family, and we have an arrangement- We rake blueberries to our hearts content and we give him canned goods and zucchini bread.

    So my darling hubby and I packed up the munchkin and got on the road. We made a quick pit stop to pick up my mom and nephew, and hit the fields around 10 am. My mom and I have raked a lot of blueberries in our lives, so we filled the boxes while Mr. Gillis hung out with the kids. My nephew is almost 5, but our daughter is only 10 weeks old, so he pushed her stroller, while he helped my nephew pick wildflowers to give to my mom.

    Wildflowers for Grammy

    They also did do some raking themselves.

    Hard at work.

    Afterwards, we rewarded ourselves with some ice cream. It was a pretty great way to spend the morning. But we had 4 boxes of blueberries that needed to be cleaned, so it was homeward bound for us.

    2015 blueberries

    2015 blueberries

    So to the nitty gritty of this post- how on earth do we get that many berries cleaned before they go bad? Well the short answer is, we don’t. We freeze a box after being winnowed, for future use as chicken snacks. Blueberries are one of their favorites.

    But that does leave us with 3 other boxes to clean out for jams and my personal stash of freezer berries. So, the setup requires a few things. We use a couple of sawhorses, 2 large totes, two boards, a large box fan, an old screen from a window, and a container to catch the clean berries.

    My husband set this up- he is always very handy.

    Our homemade winnower.

    Our homemade winnower.

    What he does is set up the sawhorses a few feet apart. Next he places one tote in between them. Then he uses the boards to brace the box fan. The screen goes on top of the sawhorses. The other tote is used to hold up the container that is ready and waiting for your now cleaner blueberries. I say cleaner, because this only gets rid of most of the leaves. You’ll still need our next setup to get out the underripe berries.

    Now, place your berries in small amounts on the screen while the fan is on its highest speed. Swish the berries around with your hands gently, or even shake or tap the screen lightly, and watch the leaves whirl on up and away. This works best when berries are newly picked and firm.

    Cleaning away.

    Cleaning away.

    When the berries are sufficiently leafless, lift your screen at an angle and carefully tap the berries into your container.

    Cleaner berries, ready to go to the next process

    Cleaner berries, ready to go to the next process

    Now, repeat until you’ve cleaned a good amount of berries. I usually keep going until an entire container is done, take a break and go back for some more cleaning.

    As you can see, the leaves are mostly gone.

    As you can see, the leaves are mostly gone.

    This is before and after the fan treatment. Yea for a successful winnowing!

    Next up for those berries is the deep clean. But it will have to wait til my next post.. I have a lot more winnowing to do.

    Until that time- have a wicked good evening.