Last year the college that I work at had some extra trees/shrubs from a construction project and asked if the garden had space to give them a home. We sure did! But, this was some of the back story that I found out about later. I first noticed these trees because of the beautiful white flowers that it produced in the spring. These trees are called Serviceberry trees or shrubs. However, they do get quite tall. So, am going to call them trees.
As the summer began those beautiful white flowers began to turn into small berries. I really didn’t think anything of it. But, one day while in the garden – gardening, I saw our garden coordinator pull a few berries off the tree and pop them in her mouth. I immediately became curious. She told me that the berries were eatable and quite delicious. Serviceberry trees are indigenous to this region and would have been a food source for Native Americans as well. I plucked off a couple in my hand and tasted. It was delicious; a mix between a blueberry and a cranberry. I decided in that moment that I would harvest some of these berries and try my hand at making some Serviceberry Jam.
Last Thursday, I got my girlfriend to help me pick as many berries as we could manage by hand. We spent about the better portion of an hour in the late afternoon heat harvesting. In the end our efforts yielded a half filled bag of serviceberries. I wish we could have picked more, as many were beginning to fall to the ground as the berries are too big for some of our local birds.
When I got home, I placed the berries in a large non-reactive bowl and placed them in my refrigerator. Then I got to thinking about how to make and bottle jam! First, I hit the internet and deferred to a man I respect on all things culinary – Mr. Alton Brown (Food Network Star). I found a recipe of his for Spiced Blueberry Jam, since serviceberries most closely resemble this fruit I thought it a good place to start. The ingredient list is as follows;
Large stockpot or canning kettle
Jar rack or cake cooling rack (for holding filled jars off the floor of the pot
6 (8-ounce) Mason style preserving jars with lids and bands
Wide mouth canning funnel (technically optional, practically indispensable)
Canning tongs (specially made for snatching jars in and out of very hot situations
Large (8-ounce) ladle
Paper towels or dishtowels
Magnetized “lid-wand” or magnet tool from hardware store (optional, but how else you gonna get hold of those darned lids)
Nutmeg grater (optional)
2 (12-ounce) bags frozen blueberries
One (1 3/4-ounce) packet dry pectin
1/4 teaspoon star anise, ground fine
10 to 20 grinds fresh nutmeg (or 1/4 teaspoon pre-ground)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
After looking over this list carefully – I became a man on a mission. Next, I searched for a place in NYC that I could buy Mason style preserving jars which lead me to a wonderful specialty food store on 100 Frost St. in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn called The Brooklyn Kitchen. On Sunday I made a trip and picked up a canning kit; canning rack, lid wrench, canning bottle tongs, magnetic lid lifter, stainless steel funnel, stainless steel ladle and a de-bubbling stick. I also picked up a flat each of 8oz and 4oz Mason jars, around $11 to $13 bucks for 12 jars. Not too bad. But, what I did forget to pick up was a package of pectin. Pectin is a natural citric acid found in fruit. Some fruits like Apples are naturally high in pectic, but blueberries have low amounts. Adding pectin will help to make your jam, well jammy. This would launch me into a search in my neighborhood that would take me the next two hours. I went to KeyFoods, PathMart, Associated, green grocers and calling large chain stores in my attempt to procure a small box of pectin. I got, “Pectin?”, “What is Pectin? How do you spell that?”. What I did find was gelatin which is produced as an animal by-product and I was NOT about to put that in my food. So, yesterday on my way back from a work-related meeting in the city I went back to The Brooklyn Kitchen and finally got a box.
Following Mr. Brown’s instructions, I placed all of my jars, minus the lids (check jars for any cracks, don’t use if you find any) and canning tools in a large stock pot and let come to a rolling boil. Once at a rolling boil, set a timer for 10 minutes to sterilize. After the 10 minutes has elapsed, set another timer for 5mins, after that place jar lids in the pot to be sterilize. Leave everything in the stock pot until ready to can, otherwise the jars can cool too much and may shatter when you place the hot jam inside.
I triple washed the berries in a big bowl of cold water. You want to make sure that all stems, leaves and creepy crawlies are removed. I don’t think you want the extra protein in your jam. Once satisfied, I placed the berries in a large non-reactive (stainless steel pot). This is very important as you don’t want to end up with metallic tasting jam.
I then prepared the pectin. This brand of pectin relies on calcium to set, others rely on sugar. As the berries were already naturally sweet, I didn’t want to have to dump a bunch of unnecessary sugar in there as well. Less sugar, calcium fortified jam = win win! It’s simple, pour all of the contents of the calcium packet into a jar, add 1/2 cup of water and shake well. I poured that mixture over the berries and stirred well. Next, I added the pectin packet and stirred. I had 11 cups of berries which warranted use of the entire packet of pectic but you can store the calcium solution for up to a year in the fridge and left over pectin in a pantry for later use. I had to augment Alton’s original recipe because of the amount of berries I had. I also threw in my own twists here and there.
- 11 cups of berries (88oz)
- 8 tbs of lemon juice
- 25 shaves of nutmeg
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 15 tbs on cider vinegar
- 3 inch piece of cinnamon bark
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 3 cups of brown sugar (if I simply multiplied Alton’s recipe, I would have added nearly 8 cups of sugar, but the berries were sweet and the pectin I used allowed less sugar)
- 1 1/2 cups of water (calcium solution already had 1/2c)
I added the lemon juice, nutmeg, vinegar, zest, cinnamon, pectin, calcium solution and bay leaves and turned on the heat, brought to a boil and then immediately reduced to a simmer for 5 mins. Next, mash in the sugar and added water and let boil for about 20-30mins for serviceberries to begin to break down. Other berries, like raspberry etc. will take only 5 more minutes.
I carefully removed out my tongs and tools from the stock pot. Then carefully, the jars and placed on a clean towel. Next, I placed the funnel and filled each jar with jam. Make sure to only fill to the bottom rim of the funnel which will leave about 1/3 of an inch of room (this is for headroom and will allow a vacuum seal). I used the magnetic lid lifter to place the lid on the jars, then used the jar wrench to close to a finger tightness. Next, I reused the water from the sterilization process and placed the bottles in batches with at least 1 inch of water covering the tops. I did the 8oz first, removed some water and then the 4oz jars. Once jars are in the water, bring to a rolling boil and set a timer for 5minutes at the exact point of the rolling boil, not when you place them in the hot water. Remove and let cool. You will hear the lids pop a little as the vacuum seals are set, as the bottles cool down and the headroom air is removed via this final heating/vacuum sealing process.
Label if you like, make a nice ingredient list and store, give away or enjoy immediately! You can literally make jam with anything. The helpful folks at The Brooklyn Kitchen while explaining to me the difference between powered and liquid pectin told me that liquid pectin is used to make jams with ingredients that have no natural pectin at all; veggies, jalapeños or rhubarb. Who says jams have to be sweet, why not a savory one to spread with cheese and crackers! I may just try that next!
I am giving away (1) 8oz jar and (1) 4oz jar of serviceberry jam to the first and second place winnings of UrbaneNYC’s first promotional giveaway. RULES: Get (5) of your friends to like our Facebook page. Then comment on this post with your name, the names of your qualified friends and you win. It’s that simple. We believe in what we are doing here and would like to share as much as possible. NEXT! End-of-Summer San Marzano jar of tomato sauce giveaway!