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Simple Cooking: Blueberry Bourbon Ginger Jam

By Anthony Todd in Food on Aug 5, 2013 3:30PM

Photo via Shutterstock.

Jam making, like pickling, can be intimidating for the uninitiated. We're here to tell you that jam making is fun, easy and a great opportunity for creative flavor combinations. Don't believe us? Check it out.

We'd never made jam before until this summer when, alongside our pickling mania, we decided to start putting non-sour things into jars. After some initial experiments with strawberry jam that convinced us that the fuss was mostly silly, we decided to move on to the fruit of the moment: blueberries.

Blueberry jam is incredibly flavorful, and a tiny bit goes a long way. We upped the ante by adding a few other flavors. Bourbon mellows the blueberries and gives the jam a boozy kick, while ginger gives it some herbal notes on the finish. Plus, both ingredients keep almost indefinitely in the pantry or freezer, which meant that we could wait for the star of the show, the fresh blueberries.

Blueberries are at every farmers market right now, and we're nearing the peak of the season. For jam-makers, that means you can often get really good deals on fruit in bulk. Not so much at the well-trafficked and fancier markets like Green City, but if you head to your local farmers market on a weekday, you never know what you might find. We got a box of five pounds of organic blueberries for around $16. While this might sound like a lot for fruit, it turned out to make a reasonable amount of jam.

In addition to a way to keep the fruits of the season preserved and bring a little light to a wintery morning, we also look at jam as the perfect instant gift. It's like money in the bank. Forgot to buy a birthday present? Looking to keep holiday giving simple this year? Throw a pretty label on the jar and give that jam away. Everyone will be wildly impressed with your creativity. There's no need to tell them it took about two hours and no effort aside from stirring.

A final note on flavors. We invented this recipe about two hours before we started cooking, based on some simple rules and what we had around. If you're not sure of a combination, try it with the raw fruit - we took a cup of blueberries, a shot of bourbon and some powdered ginger and mashed it up. If it tastes great, your jam will probably be a success.

Blueberry Bourbon Ginger Jam
5 pounds of fresh blueberries (about 16 cups)
3 cups of sugar
The juice of two lemons
2 tablespoons of grated ginger (see below)
4 tablespoons of bourbon

Assemble your ingredients. Pick over the blueberries to make sure they are free of debris and leaves. Rub the fresh ginger over the finest side of your grater, scraping off the pulp from the inside periodically and keeping it, while discarding the junk on the outside. You can't put chopped ginger into a jam as it will become fibrous, so grating it is the way to go.

Put all your blueberries, sugar, lemon, ginger and bourbon into a heavy pot. Heat it on medium high. If you like, you can mash the blueberries with a potato masher - if you're more patient, they'll come apart on their own. If you have a splatter guard, this is the time to use it.

Watch the blueberry mixture cook down, stirring periodically. Watch out - if you wait too long to stir, the mixture may suddenly and violently boil. This isn't a problem for the jam, but it will splatter and potentially burn you. Use your splatter guard or stand back.

Taste as you go. There are plenty of tests for when jam is ready and set - the chilled plate test is a favorite - but we just cook it to 220 degrees and keep tasting it. If you're concerned, let the whole batch chill over night and you'll see what the final product will look like in the jar. You're going to cook it down pretty significantly, because this jam doesn't use pectin. We think that gives a much richer, fruitier flavor, but it also requires a bit more attention. The whole batch took about 2 hours to cook down for us, but results may vary.

Fill jars (we use four ounce jelly jars) and process them in a hot water bath for about 15 minutes. This jam will keep for weeks in the refrigerator, though that will make it more difficult to give away.