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Every Summer, I Jam On

As soon as I saw what chef Stefano Frigerio was up to with his new Copper Pot Food Co. and then tasted his stuff at the 14th and U Farmers Market, I knew I had to plan a jamming session with him. I spotted a kindred spirit immediately and figured he could help inspire me for another summer of capturing in a jar some of my favorite flavors.

I've been at it for years now, but have gotten truly serious only in the last couple. My sisters Rebekah, who puts up hundreds of jars in Maine, and Teri, whose fig preserves are the stuff of legend, have influenced my own experiments, but it wasn't until last summer that I thought I might just have a knack for it on my own. I had followed recipes in glossy food magazines and some books -- including, of course, the must-have Ball Blue Book -- but was always looking to add my own touches and twists. Besides, some of the classic recipes, frankly, I find much too sweet; I want to taste fruit and maybe a spice or herb accent, not sugar.

That's what I ended up finding so appealing about working with Frigerio. As I wrote in today's piece, his first priority is to taste the fruit and adjust the amount of sugar to match. The result is that his Strawberry-Vanilla Jam tastes of exactly those two flavors and nothing else.

Last year, I had pretty good success with a peach-cardamom jam that I made, based on this recipe and using peaches that I bought by the case from one of my favorite 14th/U vendors, Kuhn Orchards. I made adjustments as I went and didn't take notes, so unfortunately there's no recipe (beyond that link above) to share. I did myself even better with a plum-ginger jam, taking a flat of super-ripe Italian prune plums I bought from a vendor at the Dupont farmers market, looking around my kitchen for something to combine them with and spying a big bag of particularly pungent ground ginger from Penzeys. Bingo. Again, no notes, so no recipe.

The lesson, for me anyway, was this: Use recipes as a mere guideline, to get ideas and understand basic proportions, perhaps, but feel free to play around.

That's how I ended up with this summer's winner.

At the Dupont market this past Sunday, I tasted blueberries from Tree & Leaf that blew my socks off: truly better than anything I've had outside Maine. Sweet, full of flavor, just luscious. So I splurged on six pints (and dropped $24 on them!) and then flipped through one of my instantly favorite new jam books for guidance: "Mes Confitures" by Christine Ferber. (Thanks to Josh Short of Buzz Bakery, where Frigerio showed us his jam-making process, for clueing me in to the fact that this book had been published in English.) Now, if you don't know the name, you probably haven't shopped for jam much in Paris, because Ferber is the queen of confiture in France, and for good reason: Her combinations are simple yet magical.

Ferber's wild blueberry and lemon recipe caught my eye because it uses whole lemon slices, one of my favorite ingredients. I took huge liberties with the recipe. She suggests a multi-day process of macerating, simmering and resting that results in particularly plump fruit, but I didn't have that kind of time. And after tasting my blueberries, I thought her recipe called for far more sugar than I'd need here; those wild blueberries she's used to working with must be on the tart side. So I poached the lemon slices in a little simple syrup, added the blueberries and sugar, boiled the mixture until it became nice and jammy (and reached 220 degrees, the proper jelling temperature), and sealed it into jars.

The texture was perfect, and the taste: Well, I think it's spectacular. Full-on blueberry, with a subtle backdrop of lemon -- until you get a hit of tang from one of those sweetened slices. This time, I took notes, because I want to be able to do this one again. And again. And again.

-- Joe Yonan

Blueberry-Lemon Jam
Makes four 8-ounce jars

Loosely based on a recipe in "Mes Confitures," by Christine Ferber (Michigan State University Press, 2002).

2 lemons, washed and cut into thin slices (seeded)
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 pounds blueberries, washed and stemmed

Combine the lemon slices, water and 1/2 cup of the sugar in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil and cook undisturbed for about 20 minutes or until the lemon slices become translucent. Add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar and the blueberries; cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and reaches 220 degrees or until a spoonful placed on a frozen plate firms up and doesn't run.

While the jam is still hot, ladle it into hot, sterilized canning jars (see NOTE), leaving about 1/4 inch of head space at the top. Remove any air bubbles by running a long, nonmetallic utensil such as a chopstick or wooden skewer between the jar and the jam. Top with new, clean lids, close tightly and let cool to room temperature. The lid of a properly sealed jar should be slightly concave; if the lid springs up when you press your finger in the center, the lid is unsealed. If the lids have not sealed, process for 15 minutes in a hot-water bath (jars submerged with least 1 or 2 inches of water overhead), let cool and test again.

NOTE: To sterilize the empty jars, fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat so that the water is barely bubbling. Have ready four 8-ounce canning jars with 2-piece lids. Immerse the pint jars in the canning kettle. Place the rings and lids in a separate small saucepan and cover them with hot water. Leave the jars and lids immersed while you cook the jam.

By Joe Yonan  |  July 8, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Recipes  | Tags: Joe Yonan, blueberries, jam, lemon, recipes  
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