Two weeks ago, Patrick and I spent a week in Maine with my Aunt Lori. If you’ve never been to Maine, well.. you must! I’d be happy to give you a list of reasons long enough to keep you reading for days (Maine beer, lighthouses, Wicked Whoopies, L.L. Bean).. BUT, for the sake of time, I’ll just stick to the two biggies – Lobster and Blueberries. Maine knows how to do these two very, very well.
While Patrick was busy playing in golf tournaments, Lori and I took a few glorious days of vacation to have some girl time. Our days consisted of slow mornings, afternoons shopping, Colossal Lobster Rolls at Linda Beans in Freeport, mid-day coffee breaks, and bread baking. We went to The Dolphin Marina in Harpswell where we ate steaming bowls full of lobster stew with blueberry muffins served straight from the oven. We meandered through the Brunswick Farmers Market, planning our dinners for the week and hunting the freshest Maine blueberries for jam-making.
I’m sure at this point you’re all thinking, poor Patrick, but trust me – Lori made sure he had his fix of lobster.
One of my favorite moments of the week was when Lori and I made blueberry jam. We first experimented with this recipe last summer. At the time, canning anything seemed way above my skill level, so naturally I was pretty intimidated. What I learned, though, is that making jam is actually a very beautiful process – especially if you have an Aunt Lori walking you through every step. We sanitized jars and stirred berries. As the warm scent of the vanilla beans floated through the kitchen, conversations flowed easily and we weaved around the small kitchen each doing our part. Before I knew it, we were funneling blueberry syrup into jars – and there really wasn’t anything to be nervous about after all!
Almost any jam that you find is going to call for a large amount of refined sugar, or possibly even high fructose corn syrup. My favorite part of this recipe is that the only added sugar is honey!
The very first thing to do when canning is to sterilize your jars and lids in hot water (180 degrees F) before pouring in your jam. You want your jars to still be warm when you fill them.
If you’ve never worked with a real vanilla bean, don’t let this step intimidate you – it’s actually a lot of fun and the deep vanilla flavor you get is unbeatable. Flatten the pod and cut straight down the middle of it, opening up the bean. Using the tip of your knife, scrape out the seeds and add into the berry mixture. You can also put the actual vanilla bean pod into the berries, just don’t forget to remove it before canning! Or, as my genius Aunt Lori suggests – you can bury the vanilla bean pod into your sugar to make vanilla sugar.. yum!
Rinse about 1 quart of berries (1 1/2 pounds if you’re weighing) and pour into a low, wide mouthed pan. Mash the berries, until the juices begin to release – leaving a few larger pieces for texture. Add in the honey, lemon juice, and vanilla bean seeds. Cook for 12 to 14 minutes until the mixture thickens and, just like that.. you have jam!
Once your jam is done, you can go one of two ways here – quick jam or shelf stable jam. If you go the quick jam route – you will simply funnel the jam right into your sterilized jars and immediately place in the refrigerator. These will last for about one month. If you choose to make your jam shelf stable, you will divide the mixture between a few clean, hot jars, apply new lids and rings, and process them in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. Once sealed, these will last for months to come.
And, remember.. there are no rules. This recipe uses blueberries, but you can use just about any of your favorite fruit and spice combinations – be bold! Strawberries, raspberries, peaches, lime, lavender, cinnamon.. anything.
Maine Blueberry Jam with Honey and Vanilla
- 1 Quart Blueberries (equal to 1 1 /2 pounds)
- 2/3 Cup Honey
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
- 1 Vanilla Bean
- Pour blueberries into a deep, wide pan and mash.
- Add honey, lemon juice, vanilla bean seeds, and vanilla bean pod (optional) – stir to combine.
- Heat over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cook for 12 to 14 minutes, stirring frequently. (Remove vanilla bean pod if using)
- If you wish to make your jam shelf-stable, funnel into clean, warm jars, securing with lids and metal rings.
- Submerge jars in a large pot of boiling water for ten minutes.
- Wrap the jars, right side up, in a large towel and leave for one hour (as Aunt Lori says – “you put the babies to bed”). Flip jars upside down, wrap again in the towel and leave for another hour. You may hear popping as the jars seal themselves.
- To ensure your jars are sealed, check that the lid does not pop up and down when pressed. If it is securely concave, your jars are now shelf stable for months to come!
**If any of your jars do not seal, place immediately in the refrigerator and use within four weeks.