One thing I've learned in the few years I've been in Alaska is that locals are very protective of their berry-picking spots, especially now with the season hitting its peak. When I recently subtly asked a few people where they like to go, the response was friendly but vague. "Oh, it's over that way," I've been told with a shrug and a non-committal wave of the hand. Or, "It's so high up, you would never want to climb that far...," and so on.
As I'm still figuring out the best areas for scooping up the fruit, luckily I have friends in high places -- berry picking places -- who have been bringing me some of their hard-won earnings knowing I'll happily toss them into cakes and scones, or a fruit-laden tart for them.
One of the few fruits native to North America, blueberries are rich in antioxidants, vitamin K and manganese, but despite all the health benefits, they have a sweet tartness, especially when plump and full, that is as good as candy. What I also love is how versatile they are in the kitchen, from savory sauces to sweet confections.
Instead of subjecting all the berries to heat, I like to maximize the fresh taste of summer by preserving them in a no-cook freezer jam. The recipe below is inspired by my good friend, Sara Foster, cookbook author, chef, and owner of the beloved Foster's Markets in North Carolina. Originally, Sara's recipe calls for blackberry and culinary lavender, which is delicious, but since we have all these blueberries and I happen to have container pots full of lavender and lemon verbena growing, I decided to add minced fresh leaves of lemon verbena. If you prefer lavender, use either fresh or dried flowers (which can be found in the spice section of most supermarkets). You can also change up the fruit -- try cranberries or raspberries or peaches and add fresh mint or pink peppercorns, basil or thyme. The possibilities are as numerous as the stories we tell to make sure secret berry patches stay secret.
Blueberry Lemon Verbena No-Cook Freezer Jam
Recipe adapted from Sara Foster.
(Makes about 3 pints)
1. In a large pot, combine blueberries, lemon juice, lemon verbena leaves, and salt; stir to combine. Mash berries with a potato masher just until they start to release juice but are still in big chunks.
2. In a separate bowl, stir sugar and pectin together until well blended. Add to the blueberry mixture and stir until sugar dissolves. Pour into clean freezer-proof jars or containers, leaving 3/4-inch of space at the top for the jam to expand in the freezer. Cover and let sit at room temperature 24 hours or until set. Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks or in freezer up to 1 year.
Berry inspiration from around the Web