There’s a lot of nightlife here in Fairfax. Per capita, I’d guess that our little town has more bars and music venues than any other in the county. (Marin County doesn’t want for hometown musicians: The Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Journey, Jefferson Airplane, Carlos Santana, Sammy Hagar, Steve Miller, Bonnie Raitt — just for a start — have called this place home.) Sometimes Stewart and I say we should go out more often, then we laugh and flop down on the couch.
The other night, though, we tried. We decided to walk to the Fairfax Theater to see the new Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris. But what happened before we were halfway there? I got distracted by fruit.
Wednesday is farmer’s market day in Fairfax. This week, because of an intense heatwave in Northern California, the grower of the best blueberries at the market had a glut of fat, ripe blues for half price. (They’re gorgeous. They’re organic. They usually sell for $10 per pound. Gack!) I bought three pounds and walked away. Then I walked back and bought two more.
The berries were fragile and we coddled them all evening long. It’s a good thing movie theaters are air conditioned. I nested the bags around my feet and the woman sitting next to me leaned over and asked, “What do you have there? Smells so good!” Then, about ten minutes into the movie Stewart leaned over and whispered, “Stop thinking about those berries!” Busted. My mind had been furiously churning, planning what I would do with this unexpected, almost overripe haul. (He must have been able to hear the clanking.) I let it go and started watching the move, which turned out to be great.
Before bed, I sorted the berries and put 2 pounds of nice, firm ones in the freezer on cookie sheets. (The next morning, I transferred those to a freezer bag to await future jamming.) Then I put 2 1/4 pounds in a big bowl with 2 1/2 cups of sugar, covered the bowl, and set it to rest in the fridge overnight. It’s not so much that blueberries need to be macerated before making jam, but sugar is a preservative and will help ripe berries keep for a day if you can’t put them immediately into jars. (If you’re quick with numbers, you’ll notice that 3/4 of a pound of berries went missing in this equation. That’s because ripe blueberries make a much better movie snack than candy.)
The jam I made yesterday turned out to be my best blueberry jam yet. Besides the usual lemon juice, I added 3/4 cup of spruce tip jelly to the mix. I was hoping to give the jam a romantic name like “spruce scented blueberry jam,” but alas, there is no spruce scent, or taste for that matter. (To make a truly spruce-flavored blueberry jam — which I would love to do — I would take fresh spruce tips and infuse the jam with them, removing the tips before putting the jam into jars.) Even so, the jelly bumps up the blueberry flavor along with the jam’s pectin content, and it adds a lovely gloss to the finish. I used this same technique a couple of weeks ago, adding quince jelly to strawberry jam, with equally pleasing results. So, if you don’t have spruce-tip jelly, you can try another kind.
Jelly-Boosted Blueberry Jam
2 1/4 pounds blueberries
2 1/2 slightly rounded cups of sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup spruce tip jelly
1. Sterilize your jars and place a few metal teaspoons on a plate in the freezer to test your jam for doneness later.
2. Combine the blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in your jam pot. (I chose my stainless steel maslin pan over my broad copper jam pan because the batch is fairly small and I didn’t want to risk burning it in the bigger, shallower pan.) Turn the heat to medium and, stirring gently and constantly, heat the mixture until the sugar has dissolved and the berries are giving up their juice. (They’ll be very easy to burst at this point.)
3. Add the jelly and turn the heat to high, stirring constantly until the jelly has combined with the mixture. Then cook the jam on high until it reaches the gelling point. From the point of boiling, this will probably take 15-20 minutes. As the jam cooks, stir as needed to keep it from sticking. If it does start to stick, turn the heat down a bit.
To test your jam for doneness: Remove the mixture from the heat. Use one of your frozen spoons to scoop up a little bit of jam — not a whole spoonful. Return the spoon to the freezer and wait 3 minutes. Retrieve the spoon and hold it vertically. If the mixture does not run, it’s done. Alternately, give the mixture a little push with your finger. If you see creases or wrinkles, it’s done.
4. Pour the hot jam into your sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Process in a hot water bath, using the correct amount of time for fruit jam at your elevation. For me, that’s 5 minutes.
Makes 4-5 half pints.