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I grew up in the Pine Barrens, in south Jersey, whose acidic, sandy soil provides a most hospitable environment for the growth of blueberries. (There are giant commercial blueberry farms in that part of the Garden State). I had some growing in the woods around my house, and remember picking them with my sister; as soon as we’d spot them, we’d scarf them down.
So, I have soft spot for berries. They are hand held. They are super concentrated in flavor. They work great in both savory and sweet applications. They preserve well, freeze well, and jam up well. That is, when you’re not doing like Little Sal in the childhood favorite book Blueberries for Sal—eating all the ones you pick so there are none to put away for the winter! (Kerplink, Kerplank, Kerplunk! Into the pail!)
Turns out Sally Vargas, who just happens to be one of our regular contributors, has a few things in common with this scenario. She’s been called Sal her whole life and confesses to a soft spot for blueberries, too. And that, among many other reasons, is why she wrote The Blueberry Cookbook (Down East Books, 2019).
SUMMER MEANS BLUEBERRIES
As someone who spent many years visiting and living in New England, Sally understands that blueberries are part of what makes summer what it is. And if you’ve visited Maine in late July or early August, as she did with her children, you’ve seen and, hopefully, you’ve purchased wild blueberries from people selling them on the sides of highways.
These wild ones are eagerly anticipated (and also available frozen from Wyman’s, too, if you can’t get to Maine) and pack a more concentrated flavor.
However, this cookbook, which is dedicated to all things blueberry, doesn’t discriminate between wild and cultivated berries. Any blueberry will do. And any time of year will do for making these recipes—you can use frozen ones in many of these recipes.
JAM IN THE MICROWAVE IS A THING!
There are many lovely recipes in Sally’s book that incorporate blueberries into muffins, brioche, cobblers, crumbles, scones, ice cream, pies, and so forth. One in particular called out to me—the blueberry jam you make in the microwave.
It solves so many problems. Run out of jam for your kids’ PB&J but you’ve got blueberries? Done. Picked berries and you’ve got a surfeit even after the best-laid plans for cooking, preserving, and/or freezing, have been implemented? Got company coming unexpectedly and want their parting gift to be homemade and easy to transport? Or maybe you just don’t want to get all hot and sweaty in your kitchen by making jam. That’s totally understandable.
Microwave jam to the rescue, one jar at a time.
Q & A with Sally Vargas
Why did you write this book?
The idea for the book actually came to me from the publisher, Down East Press in Camden, Maine. I had just finished writing The Cranberry Cookbook, for Globe Pequot Press, Down East’s sister imprint for a larger press, and Down East wanted a similar book. We settled on a strictly baking book, which was a lot of fun. I returned to my restaurant pastry chef roots and revisited some old recipes and memories from my past, and refined some of my favorite recipes, adapting them for blueberries.
Doing all the photos myself was also a big draw to doing the book—it was challenging and fun.
So you definitely have a thing for berries! Are strawberries or raspberries next? What is it about them that so captivate you?
I think I might have completed my berry phase! What captivates me is that berry seasons are ephemeral, and there is so much pleasure in seizing the moment. They are the essence of summer and come with a heaping plate of nostalgia for my favorite season.
What are your favorite things to do with blueberries?
Pies and galettes—I am a total pie freak!—as well as simple cakes like Sweet Wine Cake, and Berry Skillet Cake. And I wouldn’t turn down a stack of blueberry pancakes.
Do you eat blueberries all year round? I love to pick them in summer and try to freeze half of what I pick!
I do! If I haven’t had the foresight or time to pick and freeze them, I buy frozen ones and stir them into yogurt for breakfast almost every day.
Are there any recipes where you can’t substitute frozen ones for fresh ones?
For the most part, the two are interchangeable in baking. There’s a knockout Fresh Blueberry Pie in the book that came from a friend, and a few others where fresh blueberries are much better, like the Fresh Berry Pavlova and Summer Berry Shortcake for a Crowd.
This recipe for blueberry jam in the microwave is such a revelation. It shortcuts the whole process, which is great for people who want to can but don’t have a lot of time. A friend of mine said it felt like “cheating,” because of that! Was this the most surprising use of blueberries?
Yes! I was surprised to find I could make blueberry jam in the microwave. I was in a heated debate with a friend who has a jam company. She felt that microwave jam was an affront to the whole process of jam making, which is all about slowing down and going through the process. While I do enjoy that, I was thrilled with the results you could have in just a few minutes, without a ton of effort, and for a teeny batch, which works for people who don’t want to spend the afternoon in the kitchen or fill their pantry with jars of jam. I especially like the combination of blueberry and raspberry.
KICK OUT THE JAMS! HERE ARE 5 MORE!
Blueberry Jam in the Microwave // Cookbook Recipe Recipe
From Sally Vargas: “A single jar of jam made in minutes in the microwave comes in handy when you want to coddle houseguests or take a homemade jar along to a friend. In addition, making jam one jar at a time will cure just about anyone who suffers from jam jitters. Cook the berries, sugar, and lemon juice in the microwave briefly to dissolve the sugar, stir, and return to the microwave for a few more minutes until the jam looks thick, rather than syrupy. That’s it. You can swap out half the blueberries for other berries, such as strawberries, blackberries, or raspberries to vary the recipe. This method gives new meaning to the idea of small batch jam, in 10 minutes or less.”
This recipe is reproduced with permission from Down East Books, an imprint of Globe Pequot, 2019.
- 2 cups fresh or frozen cultivated blueberries
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Combine the ingredients: In a medium, microwave-safe bowl, combine the berries, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and lemon zest. The bowl should be large enough for the jam to bubble as it cooks.
2 Microwave the jam: Cook the berries in the microwave on high power, uncovered, for 3 minutes, until the sugar dissolves.
3 Stir, and cook again: Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir the ingredients together. Return to the microwave and cook for 3 to 5 minutes longer, or until the jam reaches the setting point.
To test, dip a spoon into the jam and hold it over the bowl so the jam drops back into the bowl. When the drops off the spoon are thick, rather than runny, the jam is ready. Stir in the vanilla. (I found the jam to be thick and a little gloppy off the spoon—that was the tell. - Carrie)
4 Fill a jar: Spoon the hot jam into a clean 8-ounce jar with a lid. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
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