When I saw beautiful, local (and affordable!) blueberries at the Farmers Market, I knew I’d have to make some blueberry jam. My first thoughts for accompaniment went toward red wine – a nice Grand River Valley Pinot Noir would have been great. But without a car for the weekend, I wasn’t able to run to a wine shop to buy some.
Instead, I looked closer – to the back yard – for some inspiration, and found that our lavender had sent up some fresh, soft shoots. Lavender is one of those flavors many people don’t equate with food. It’s not just for potpourri in your great-aunt’s sock drawer - you can cook with it the way you cook with other herbs, and it has a great affinity for berries. When cooking jam, you have to use a lot of lavender for its flavor to make an appearance alongside those tart berries and sweet sugar.
Most of the jams I’ve made lately have had a soft set. This is great for drizzling on top of yogurt with some hazelnuts or walnuts (my breakfast lately) or adding to a cheese plate. But I decided to aim for a firm set with this jam – to eat on a cream cheese and jam sandwich without it all spilling out the sides. I used the standard recipe that came with the SureJell pectin, but modified it in a couple of ways. The box will tell you to stick firmly to the measurements it lists, but jam is more of an art than a science. As long as you have enough sugar and acid to preserve your fruit, the other proportions are up to you.
Blueberry Lavender Jam: (makes seven cups)
3 pints of blueberries, washed and shaken dry
1/2 cup lavender young lavender branches, bruised and packed firm
2Two boxes of SureJell pectin (double the amount called for in the standard recipe)
Juice of 1 large or 1 1/2 small lemons
1 tsp. sea salt
4 cups of sugar
Crush the blueberries in a large pot with a potato masher. It’s easiest to mash one pint before you add the next. Add the lavender. I used large shoots that were easy to fish out later – but if you have smaller pieces, or even dried food-grade lavender, it might be easiest to tie them in a cheesecloth pouch. Meanwhile, sterilize your jars in a bath of boiling water. Stir the mixture continuously over high heat until it comes to a full boil, then cook for one more minute.
Add the pectin, lemon juice and salt, and incorporate it well. Add the sugar and stir until you no longer see crystals. Turn heat down to medium, and bring back to a full boil for one more minute. This extra time gives the lavender more time to infuse into the jam.
The jam should be starting to thicken at this point. Fill dry, sterilized jars with the jam using a canning funnel (invest in one if you don’t have one already – it saves so much from being wasted, and on cleanup and jam burns, too.) Put on sterilized lids and bands, tighten well, then process in boiling water that comes at least an inch over the top of the tallest jar for 10 minutes.
The end result is a beautiful, firm, blue-black jam that’s not too sweet. The addition of salt and extra acid from the lemon juice cut down the sticky-sweetness of most jams. This blueberry-lavender jam would be equally at home in sweet preparations and savory ones. In fact, it would be an excellent glaze for grilled chicken thighs or pork tenderloin. I’m glad there’s a lot of it! And even though there is, I might go back to that blueberry pinot jam idea if I can get my hands on a nice local bottle.