Small batch jam #2, and my femivore failures.


I’m realizing that I have romanticized canning.

It’s like reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, in book club with my second-grader:

“The windows were shining and the pink-edged curtains were freshly crisp and white. Laura and Mary made new starry papers for the shelves, and Ma made vanity cakes.

She made them with beaten eggs and white flour. She dropped them into a kettle of sizzling fat. Each one came up bobbing, and floated till it turned itself over, lifting up its honey-brown, puffy bottom… The cakes were not sweet, but they were rich and crisp, and hollow inside. Each one was like a great bubble. The crisp bits of it melted on the tongue.”

This scene glows for me, with all its talk of crisp linens, shiny windows and shelf papers. Those cakes seem like the most delicious confection in the history of mankind — surely the pastries had power to mend broken friendships in their sharing.

But then there was the whole part about how they had to ride across the country in a wagon. And live in a hole in the ground. And wonder if they would survive the next Minnesota winter. That was the reality of Ma & Pa Ingalls.

With canning, in my persistent optimism (ahem, no comments from the peanut gallery, please) — I just had this vague, quaintly-blurred image of a basement full of home-canned goods. Jams, jellies, tomatoes to get us through the winter. Little labeled jars, all stacked up nice and neat, making me an organized, thrifty, able femivore.

But reality is: massive quantities of fresh produce for little yield (not, by the way, from our lackluster garden), tennis elbow from cranking a food mill, unwanted steam facials from an over-boiling canner, and giant, looming question marks. Are my tomatoes safe to eat? Can you see botulism? If you can’t see it, can you taste it?

It’s enough to make me want to hang up my jar lifter and put my canner on craigslist.

Or more likely, for a day or two, just stick with freezing. I have a deep-freezer, and darnit if it can’t handle a few half-pint jars of blueberry jam.

Which, by the way, is likely more delicious than vanity cakes. I mean, c’mon — who is Laura kidding? Eggs and white flour, deep-fried in fat, with no sugar? No wonder Nellie left in a huff.

(No, I kid — please, no angry emails from my older sister staunch Little House fans. The vanity cakes still sound magical to me, and Nellie was horrid to leave the party like that.)

If you have a shy two-pounds of blueberries leftover, say, from the 20 pounds that you might have purchased from a farm in your zeal for preserving, then this small batch of freezer jam is for you. So easy, and so worth the berries. I have been so taken with this jam, in fact, I’ve decided to try and get a few more pounds so I can properly can a few jelly jars as this year’s infamous teachers’ gifts at winter break.

Just to keep the vicious cycle rolling, like a late-19th century wagon wheel.



Recipe: Small-batch Blueberry Jam

: makes 3-4 half-pint jars of jam
adapted from a recipe in
The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook, by Christopher Kimball


  • 6 cups blueberries (about 1 3/4 pounds), washed
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (do not use less)
  • 6 Tbsp fresh-squeezed & strained lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)


  1. In a large stainless (non-reactive) skillet (not a saucepan), combine all ingredients, and let sit for 2 hours.
  2. Have ready a small metal bowl nested inside a larger bowl filled with ice water. This will be used to test the jam for sufficient pectin.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and cook until sugar is dissolved.
  4. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until foamy. Continue cooking until blueberries thicken and start to become syrupy. At this point, stir constantly, until a wooden spoon leaves a trail on the surface of the skillet (or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the mixture reads 220ΒΊ)
  5. Drop a teaspoon of the hot jam into the metal bowl nested in an ice bath. After a few seconds, when the mixture is cool, run your finger through the jam. If the jam does not run back together, it is ready. If it does run back together, cook about 5 more minutes, stirring constantly.
  6. Ladle jam into warm sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ head space. Cover, and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, transfer to freezer (alternatively, you can water-bath can at this point).



9 thoughts on “Small batch jam #2, and my femivore failures.

  1. First, your paranoia is cracking me up. πŸ™‚ And secondly, you *have* romanticized canning. I remember when I was young – so many years ago – coming home for lunch and my mother and my grandmother having the entire kitchen laden with canning jars and the dining room table buried with the produce from my mother’s garden. There were tiny beads of condensation everywhere, it seemed. The humidity of Appalachia combined with all that boiling water turned our house into a rain forest. This production went on for a few days and I was always happy when my 20 minutes was up and it was time to head back to school. It always seemed like such a process and very intimidating to me, but my grandmother and mother grew up canning every late summer and it was part of the yearly cycle for them. They seemed to have a good time doing it, despite the heat, steam, and jars that refused to seal. Maybe I should try to learn how since my dad keeps bringing me the most delicious tomatoes you’ve ever tasted. He gets big bags full of them every time he goes to church! We’ve managed to share and eat most of them (I’m down to two left), but he’s coming back next week – that’s 3 more church services!

    I should try my hand at this blueberry jam because – when does blueberry anything ever taste bad? πŸ™‚

    1. You should definitely try your hand at canning. Jam is easy — no worries about botulism with all that sugar ; )

      I canned tomato salsa today, 8 pints. I think large-scale canning should definitely be done with a partner — something I don’t have. I also don’t have a counter-full of my own garden produce, I’m picking up seconds on the cheap from local farms. I think that’s part of my disillusionment with it — I really thought I’d be able to can many quarts of my own tomatoes! What was I thinking?!

  2. I think we both “romanticized” canning. It is a lot of work and a bit of an investment up front. I froze a bunch of stuff this year but I still have aspirations of canning applesauce this fall.

    1. Freezing is good. I canned a few quarts of tomato marinara, but didn’t add citric acid or lemon juice so now I’m nervous. I’m sure I’ll do applesauce again, other than the food-mill part it’s pretty easy.

      1. I am no expert but I think your marinara should be fine. (unless it smells or looks funny) Tomatoes are really acidic. After reading all these canning books, I see why more people don’t can. They will scare the desire right out of you. People have preserved food for thousands of years, right?

      2. Yes, but have you googled it? More fear will be instilled — apparently today’s tomatoes have been bred to be less acidic — which is why most recipes now call for more acid.

        Should it really be fine, if it looks and smells ok and the seal wasn’t broken?

  3. I’ve been looking for a simple blueberry jam recipe and this sounds great! I personally don’t care if my jam is doesn’t gel – I got hooked on fruit “conserve” that June Taylor Jams makes, which is loose and full of glorious fruit flavor. Anyway, I checked the book and saw the author of The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook suggests a 4:1 ratio – 4 cups fruit to 1 cup sugar, which sounds awesome. I’m going to use that from now on. I expect you could use honey in place of sugar 1:1, too. Thanks so much for your post!

    1. Meg, I was pleasantly surprised with the fact that blueberries didn’t need added pectin (and mine were even over-ripe, which apparently means reduced natural pectin). That’s a great ratio to remember — glad you have Yellow Farmhouse, it’s one of my all-time favorites!

  4. Just seeing this post today. No angry emails but my eyes are narrowed, and my lips are pursed.

    If I didn’t have a confirmed Little House books addiction, you wouldn’t have had the chance to learn that valuable lesson about how (not) to make butter all those years ago.

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