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I had a very special series of kitchen dates this past week. I refer to any event in the kitchen when I try something for the first time, as a “kitchen date”, since I have to really pay attention to what is going on the entire time, spend quality time with new ingredients and equipment, getting to know them – all the ins and outs, the quirks and the possible incompatibilities and then assess if this new item/process will become a part of my regular routine or not.

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There are two major themes going on here – one is food preservation, and the other is gluten free baking. I have been talking about wanting to learn to preserve food, and can for quite some time now. I got the Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving several months ago, and have really been waiting for the right time to dive in and make something. Inspiration hit when the lovely folks at FromTheFarm.com sent me several pints of fresh blueberries. Obviously we ate quite a bit of them au naturale, but when I had quite a lot still after several days, I figured I needed to do something to preserve the rest…and then it hit me – MAKE PRESERVES.

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So I did. I opened the book to the index and chose a recipe that featured blueberries and other ingredients that I had already. Then I did something that could have been disastrous, I tweaked it – a lot! The whole time I was second guessing myself – here I was making preserves for the first time in my life, and not using pectin, and not using the same ingredients (or the same amounts) as the recipe stated! But with my typical luck, it turned out great! The color is amazing, and the taste, really really incredible – and it actually set. Plus instead of being too sugary sweet for my taste, like most jams and preserves, it has really retained its blueberry fruit flavor. I am so excited to now have 3 jars of spirited blueberry preserves to enjoy this year! One jar I have already used to make a delicious gluten free cake which I will post later this week.

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The Ball Summer Solstice Preserves Recipe (My changes in parenthesis)

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INGREDIENTS:

3 cups halved pitted red tart cherries (I just used 4 cups total of blueberries)

1 cup blueberries

4 ½ cups granulated sugar ( 1/3 cup agave nectar – no sugar)

2 TBS lemon juice

1 pouch (3 oz) liquid pectin (2 TBS agar powder cooked in 2 c. Morello cherry juice)

2 TBS Kirsch or cherry brandy (I used vanilla vodka)

METHOD:

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In a large deep stainless (or cast iron) saucepan combine fruit, sugar/agave and lemon juice. Stir to mix well. Let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the jars and lids for preserving (refer to the Ball book), If using agar, mix with liquid and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Over high heat, stirring constantly, bring fruit mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Stir in pectin (or agar mixture). Boil hard stirring constantly for 1 minute. Stir in booze if using. Remove from heat. By this point, the preserves are the consistency of syrup – do not expect it to be thick,like I did, fearing the worst.

Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch head space. To remove bubbles, poke a non metallic instrument into the jars, and wipe the rim of the jars if necessary. Center lid in jar and screw band down until resistance is met and then increase to fingertip-tight.

Place jars into your canning pot, making sure they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. And wait 5 minutes, then remove jars to cool. As they are cooling the seals will form, and you can actually hear them “pop”. Some may happen right away, others may take up to 10 minutes to form. It is all up to mother nature.

Ball suggests spreading this preserve on bread, or using in baking sweets or as a filling. I used it as a filling for a gluten free cake I made, and will be featuring soon.