Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Writing Notes in Cookbooks

Homemade Blueberry Jam
When I was a kid, books were sacred.  You were not to write in them, tear out pages or harm them in any way.  So the first time I wrote a note to myself in the margin of a cookbook, I felt guilty.  But I felt I had a good reason.  I had made this particular recipe before but had forgotten that I didn’t like it.  So when I absentmindedly made it again and still didn’t like it, I vowed to remind myself so as to not make it a third time.

Soon enough I was writing notes on almost all the cookbook recipes I used.  I would tell myself that I left out a certain ingredient or I added a few new ingredients or I found a shortcut.  Over the years this habit has proved very useful.

Making blueberry jam is a perfect example.  It’s a favorite in my house but is often hard to find and expensive to buy.  Why not make it?  I scoured my cookbooks and found a lot of competing advice.  One recipe called for 6 cups of sugar for 3 pounds of berries.  Another said to forget the sugar.  I experimented for a year, making more than a dozen batches, some with frozen blueberries and some with fresh.  Finally I came up with the perfect recipe, which happens to be light on sugar.

Even better, I don’t have to boil the filled jars in a huge pot (like my grandmother did).  I make only a few pints of jam at a time and store them in the refrigerator.

I have committed this recipe to memory, but just in case I get distracted I wrote extensive notes in the margin of the cookbook recipe I started with.  Luckily there was a lot of white space on the page.

Blueberry Jam Ingredients

The Early Stage of Cooking the Jam
The Spoon Test



The Jam Has Jelled

The Jam Is Ready to Eat
Homemade Blueberry Jam – makes just over 2 pints 
3 pounds fresh or frozen blueberries 
1 cup sugar 
1 tablespoon pectin (see NOTE) 
1 lime or lemon, cut in half 
Put a teaspoon in the freezer.  It’s for determining whether the jam is ready to jell. 
If using fresh blueberries, rinse them and remove any stems.  Put the berries in a large pot.  If using frozen blueberries, add them directly to the pot or defrost them without rinsing.  Frozen berries will take some minutes longer to jell.  
Crush some of the berries against the side of the pot with a large spoon, or use a potato masher to mash about a third of them.  Add the sugar and pectin and stir.  Squeeze some of the lime or lemon juice over the berries and toss both halves into the blueberry mixture.  Begin heating the pot over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a rolling boil.  Turn down the heat to medium-high and stir every few minutes.  
After 15 minutes take the spoon out of the freezer and dribble a few drops of the blueberry mixture onto the spoon.  If it flows quickly down the spoon, the jam is not ready to jell.  If it moves very slowly, it’s time to turn off the heat.  Most likely it will take at least 30 minutes of cooking and possibly longer to be at the jelling stage.  Continue testing every 5 minutes until the jam moves slowly down the spoon.  Turn off the heat. 
When the jam has cooled, remove and discard what’s left of the lime or lemon.  Transfer the jam to jars, cover with the lids and refrigerate.  This jam needs to be eaten within a few weeks. 
 NOTE: Pectin is a substance found in fruit, and it helps the fruit jell during cooking.  Blueberries are low in pectin, so you need to add some.  Pectin is available in boxes in powder form and in pouches in liquid form, usually sold near the Jello section. Lemons and limes are full of pectin, which is why I add one to help the jam jell.
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