July was a crazy month. We traveled out of state and up mountains; saw the ocean and stood upon a 5000-foot peak; cycled the ríos of Los Angeles; watched friends wed by the sea. For me it was also a month of meetings, whipping ideas around in the long hours of Portland’s summer sunshine, when things get done far more quickly than in the gloom of our rainy season. And at the end of the month, four whole days off the grid, away from cell phones, Internet, and the world news.
The farmers market is overflowing with summer produce: cascades of green, yellow, and purple beans beside piles of bright and shiny summer squash, tufts of basil beckoning with their aromatic greeting, the dizzying scent of peaches warming in the sun. And yet amidst all the chaos, I have found myself unable to truly take pleasure in the bounty of Oregon’s summer. Dinners in July were, I am ashamed to say, all too often an interruption, a chore that needed to be finished before I could move on to the next item on my to-do list.
August and September will be—must be—different. The late summer harvest in Oregon is awe-inspiring—and since A and I do our best to eat seasonally and locally, we have a lot to do before the autumn rains come. Freezing, dehydrating, fermenting, canning. Pounds upon pounds of produce need to be processed in our kitchen in the next two months so that our winter fare consists of more than root vegetables and winter squash.
Today, then, is both a resurrection and a kick-off. After too much time away, I needed to reacquaint myself with my kitchen; needed to spend some time alone with my pots; needed to make something impractical and luxurious that would sustain us in the depths of the cold season, maybe not nutritionally but certainly emotionally. And I needed to get used to the idea of spending Sunday mornings sweating over a cutting board or stove top, as we stock up for the lean days ahead.
This jam is the quintessence of those things. I try not to make jam very often because I enjoy the process far more than I enjoy sugary spreads on my toast, and if I let myself go I end up with more jam and jelly than I can even give away. But the blueberries in Oregon have been fat, sweet, and plentiful this year, so what better way to get in the mindset of putting food by than to start with something both practical and frivolous at the same time?
I’ve fallen in love with the combination of rosewater and fruit. When you open the bottle the scent is heady and almost overpowering, but just a touch adds a floral note that subtly deepens tart fruits like apricots and berries. Blueberry jam just might be my favorite; I find its deep bluish-purple color more refined than the gaudy gem-like reds and pinks of other berries. At the height of the season blueberries still tend to be a mixture of sweet and tart, but even with this balance I add lemon juice to help cut the sweetness.
I taught myself how to make jam six years ago, and the process has become meditative, almost second nature. I don’t often create new recipes when I’m preserving; since you have to do it in quantity, it’s quite dangerous to not be certain you’ll like the outcome. But today I felt confident. I knew how the jam would taste before it had even come to a boil. And I knew that there are few things quite as satisfying and invigorating as a line of jeweled Mason jars just out of the canner, testament to a good day’s work and a good omen for the future.
You can find rosewater at many good grocery stores nowadays; or at Middle Eastern groceries.
I added a whole lemon, juiced, to the jam while it cooked to add a little natural pectin. You can omit this step; the jam will still gel once the sugar reaches temperature.
Blueberry Rose Jam
3 lbs. blueberries (about 3 pints)
1 T rosewater
1 T lemon juice
1 lemon, tied in cheesecloth (optional)
4 C sugar
Wash and sort the berries and place in a large saucepan with the rosewater and lemon juice. Place a small saucer in the freezer. Place the berries over medium-low heat and mash with a potato masher. Once mostly crushed, add the wrapped lemon and increase the heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil and add the sugar. Stir to melt and bring to a boil as quickly as possible. Boil hard, stirring frequently, and then stirring constantly as the mixture cooks down.
When the liquid looks syrupy, remove from the heat and take the saucer from the freezer. Spoon a little liquid onto the cold saucer and wait about 20 seconds. When the jam has reached the gelling point, it will form a slight skin on the surface and when you draw a line in the liquid with your finger, the jam will not seep back to fill in the line you’ve made. If the jam has not gelled, return to a boil and conduct the freezer test again every 5 minutes, removing the pot from the heat while you do.
Once the jam has gelled, ladle into clean, hot jars and either store in the refrigerator or process in a boiling-water bath canner (5 minutes for half-pints, 10 minutes for pints). For more detailed instructions on canning jams and jellies, see the USDA’s Guide to Home Canning.
Yields about 7 half-pints.