I always anxiously await summer, but not for the reason most would. When summertime is in full swing, I can’t wait to start canning. I have vivid memories of my mother and grandmother stockpiling canned tomatoes, cooking up fresh fruit jams, and pickling everything from asparagus to cucumbers and spicy green beans. The sweet summer harvests at local farmers markets signal that its time to get out the canning equipment and safely pack away the best fruits and vegetables to break out during those cold winter months.
This year, in the 80+ degree weather that hit Seattle and most of Western Washington, summer crops are growing and producing beyond expectations. True to this trend, my family’s backyard blueberry bushes have popped out more fruit than ever before. For several weeks straight, we harvested large colanders full of perfectly ripe blueberries every other day. At some point, theres only so many fresh blueberries you can eat and when the freezer is already full of 5 cup bags of blueberries for future pie fillings, its time to start getting creative. Instead of cooking up a batch of jam like I normally would, I decided to try canning fresh blueberries in a simple syrup that would cook down and make a blueberry infused syrup with fresh fruit still intact. Mixing fresh cut lavender and deliciously tart blueberries with a sweet, fragrant lemon balm syrup brings citrus, floral, and fresh fruit together in the perfect balance…
For this recipe I used the amazing Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and modified the “Fresh Berries in Syrup” recipe for the Raw-Pack Method. In addition, I chose to use a medium syrup, but you can do a lighter version if you prefer less sugar. Our bumper crop of blueberries, although delicious, were on the tart side this year, so I wanted to balance that with a sweeter, thicker syrup that would work well with baked goods, pancakes, ice cream, etc. I taste tested a jar of these canned blueberries by pouring a generous spoonful over french vanilla bean and lemon cake ice cream which I discovered might be the closest thing to bliss in a bowl…
8 pint (500ml) canning jars
6-12 lbs fresh blueberries, washed and stemmed
16-20 fresh lavender stems, with buds mostly unopened if possible
3 1/4 cups granulated sugar
5 cups water
10-12 fresh lemon balm leaves
Follow the instructions for properly preparing your canner, jars, and lids. This step is essential in ensuring that your jars seal well and do not begin to grow bacteria. It might seem like a lot of silly labor intensive steps, but trust me it is beyond disappointing when you go through all the work of canning jams or fresh produce only to find that your jars didn’t seal and you now have to try to re-process the jars, eat everything within a week, or throw them in the freezer. Take your time preparing everything before starting any recipe, and when in doubt, consult the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving’s “Boiling-Water Heat Processing Step by Step.” Always consult the pros when dabbling in the science of home canning- it is a true art.
Prepare the medium syrup by mixing the sugar, water, and lemon balm leaves in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and syrup thickens (about 10-15 minutes). Keep warm over low heat being careful not to cook the syrup down further. Remove the lemon balm leaves. This yields about 7 cups of medium syrup, enough for 8 pint jars.
Ladle 1/2 cup hot syrup into each hot jar. Place a few lavender sprigs in the jar and then fill with blueberries to within a 1/2 inch of the top of the jar. Shake the jar slightly to pack the berries further without smashing the fruit. Fill the jar with hot syrup, covering the berries and leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean towel, center the prepared lid on the jar and screw the band down until fingertip tight (just until you feel resistance- do not over tighten!).
Place the jars into your canner or stock pot ensuring that they are completely covered with water. Bring the water to a boil and process your pint jars for 15-20 minutes. Remove the lid from your canner or pot and wait 5 minutes before removing the jars. Carefully remove the jars from the canner without tilting them and cool on a wood or towel covered surface away from drafts. Leave the jars completely undisturbed for approximately 24 hours. As the seal forms, the lid should lower and tighten until it looks concave. Check your seal after 24 hours by unscrewing the band and pressing down on the center of the lid- a fully sealed lid will not move at all and ensures that your jars can be stored safely.
Last but not least- crack open a jar and test out your creation!
A special thank you to my family for inspiring me in so many ways. You have always created and tended to our own little backyard oasis wherever our family ended up, despite the back breaking work. My love and appreciation for the earth and all the things that come from it starts with you…