11 Aug Small-Batch Blueberry Habanero Jam (+++ Blueberry Picking!!!)
As you may or may not remember from previous posts (namely, this ice cream!), Steve and I visited his family at their lake house in Upstate New York for the 4th of July this year. Their cottage on Keuka Lake is Steve’s favorite place in the world, and over the last two summers I’ve had the pleasure of sharing in his family’s summer holiday tradition there, quietly observing how at ease Steve becomes noticeably more comfortable in his own skin, and so genuinely happy that it’s contagious to the degree where I truly believe that if we didn’t have real, grown-up lives to return to (and if the whole lake weren’t destined to freeze in the coming months) we might never, ever leave. This year, as did last, proved to be one of our favorite, okay the favorite, weekend of the summer. (Yes, I know it’s not over yet but there’s already a clear winner.)
At the end of these visits, it’s become somewhat of a tradition to play a game we call pow, wow, chow. This year we played on the drive back from Keuka to Rochester, an attempt to avert our attention from the flight we’d be boarding in just a few short hours, bound for the home we typically love but are readily willing to abandon after a long, intoxicating weekend spent living our little version of “the good life”. The objective of the game is to highlight the best (and worst) moments of the trip from each person’s perspective — pow being the low point, wow the high point, and chow the best thing you ate and/or drank (my personal favorite). Each person takes their turn naming their most memorable moments, sparking instantaneous nostalgia, even for events that are only a few hours past. This post pays homage my #1 wow (there’s never just one, when you’re me) — BLUEBERRY PICKING!!!
I thought for most of that weekend and the rest of the following month, that this was in fact my first ever blueberry picking excursion. That is until when, about a week ago, my mother gently reminded me that I’d been picking once before with my grandma when I was just a tiny thing — a trip that, while I feel deserves a shout out, I unfortunately have no recollection of. So, for all intents and purposes, I went blueberry picking…for the first time! And it was magical.
The highlight of a weekend full of highlights, we combed through the rows of bushes, collecting easily over fifteen pounds between the group, likely having consumed half of that in the process. Me, taking my time, searching for the most perfectly ripe berries (most of them made their way into my mouth rather than my bucket) and snapping photos the whole way, my attempt to capture the moment’s magic, packing the memories into my camera and saving them for the coldest days of winter when my water heater only half works and I can’t stand the thought of eating yet another tasteless, imported piece of fruit. And Steve, regressing into classic little brother mode, competing to collect the heaviest bucket, filled to the brim with the “best” berries, in the least amount of time. It was perfect.
I’m not sure how the tiny, bland berries that I typically find in my local grocery, stacked neatly in their sterile plastic cartons, will ever compare to the experience of plucking fat, juicy berries directly from their home and eating them by the handful, as fresh as fresh is possible, and still warm from the sun. Yes, I think I can without doubt say that the experience made me a full blown blueberry snob. GAH, take me back.
As we begrudgingly packed our belongings to head back to Austin, we couldn’t bare the thought of parting with our berry babies so, like the saint that she is, Steve’s mom pulled a shoe box out of the closet and helped us to pack our loot into Steve’s suitcase. Somehow, in a bag packed full of Rochester-made treats (Zweigel’s hot dogs, his grandma’s homemade jam made from her backyard rhubarb harvest, cookies from the local Italian bakery, a bottle of resiling from a Finger Lakes winery), we found space for an entire shoe box full of blueberries. [Insert: clappy hands emoji.] And yes, we did get searched at airport security as a result. But despite that brief scare, we made it home with our berry contraband, sans for the few we snacked on during the trek home, and quickly stashed them safely in the freezer so that we can enjoy them for months to come.
Since then, they’ve been making their way into Steve’s [specialty] kale breakfast smoothies (mostly to make them palatable for yours truly), and you bet I have some grand baking plans for those that survive our frequent snack breaks, but, for the last month, each time I open the freezer and see them staring back up at me, I haven’t been able to think anything but, jam.
This jam needed to be.
Inspired by a strawberry jalapeno version that Steve brought back from our favorite middle-of-nowhere pit stop — a small gas station located exactly halfway between Houston and Austin — I decided to add habanero peppers to the recipe. Slightly hotter than a jalapeño and with less vegetal flavor, the habaneros add just a slight note of savory heat that provides a lovely balance to the bright sweetness of the blueberries. It’s the kind of jam that’s delicious on it’s own but reaches jammy perfection when paired with creamy soft cheese and toasty bread or crackers.
A FEW NOTES ABOUT THIS RECIPE:
This recipe makes only a small batch — about one jar — and is meant to be kept in the fridge for no more than a few weeks. If you’re familiar with the canning/jarring process (I am not) it most certainly can be made shelf-stable, but trust me, it’s not going to last long.
I highly recommend that you wear gloves while chopping the peppers! Trust me, I (stupidly) did not and my fingers burned for hours afterwards. And whatever you do, do not rub your eyes until you’ve thoroughly washed your hands.
Don’t be afraid of the heat! Even with 3 peppers, my jam only had a subtle burn. For a more mild jam, remove the veins (the white part) and the seeds from the peppers before using. If you’re looking for spice, leave them in. Note that heat-level can very widely between individual peppers so if your sensitive to spice start off with 1-2 peppers and taste your jam half way through the cooking process to test, if it’s too mild you can always add more, but remember, as the jam cooks down, the flavor will intensify.
If you don’t have access to habaneros you can sub any other hot pepper — jalapeños would be perfect!
- 4 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2-3 habanero peppers, seeds & veins removed, finely chopped
- juice of 1 lemon
- In large, shallow pan like a skillet (you want the blueberries in a thin layer) combine all of the ingredients. As the blueberries heat up, use a masher or a spatula to mash the blueberries.
- Let the mixture come to a rapid boil, so that when you stir it, the bubbles do not dissipate. Continue to boil at this intensity for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently so the sugar does not burn, until the jam thickens.
- Once thick, remove from heat, let cool slightly in the pan then transfer to a glass jar. Jam will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.