Jul 30, 201411:31 AM
Bon Vivant

Exploring finery, fun and the good life with New Orleans Bride editor Melanie Warner Spencer

Tastes of Summer

Simple, fresh and local ingredients create the best treats of the season.

Blueberry jam

While I could do without the heat and humidity of a New Orleans summer, one of the many things I do look forward to is biting into a sweet, fresh juicy peach, strawberry or handful of blueberries or adding them to a bowl of Greek yogurt with honey. There are few treats as appealing to me as summer fruits. Having grown up on a farm, I guess you could say I was a locavore before I had ever heard of the word and long before it became trendy. In my family, it was just called eating. So, eating locally and seasonally is second nature, because when you spend the better part of life eating food fresh from the garden, bush or tree, nothing else will do. Thankfully, the New Orleans area is home to a host of farmers markets throughout the week; as well as local and national grocery stores committed to carrying fresh, local food; and services such as Good Eggs, which bring the goods right to your doorstep. Perusing the stalls at the Crescent City Farmers Market, for example, while listening to live music by local bands is a delightful way to spend a Saturday morning. 
 
Given that seafood has been a staple of the region’s cuisine for centuries, it comes as no surprise to see the city embracing the national trend of eating local. Since Hurricane Katrina in fact, multiple programs, such as the Fresh Food Retailers Initiative, the ReFresh Project, Grow Dat Youth Farm, as well as Tulane University’s Prevention Research Center and and its Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine —to name a few — have launched and, or banded together to bring fresh food to underserved areas and to educate residents about healthy nutrition. Point being, regardless of your budget, it’s now easy to eat fresh, healthy and local in the Big Easy. 
 
Despite being a former farm girl, I find it impossible to keep the list of what produce is in season straight in my head. I blame this on having lived in different three states, with varying growing seasons over the past 12 years. A tool that I find handy, especially if like me you like to occasionally cook when travelling, is an app called Locavore. Find local, in-season food, farmers markets and farms, recipes and other locavores in your area. 
 
Another challenge in my household is consuming the fresh goodies before they go bad. There are only two of us and while it’s not surprising for me to consume a shocking number of berries or melon in one sitting, even I have limits. Which is why recently when I found myself in possession of a couple of pounds of blueberries, I had to dig deep into my memory bank for ideas on what to do with the surplus. After exhausting everything from eating them straight, in my oatmeal, blended into a smoothie and muddled into lemon juice and sugar for a homemade vodka cocktail, it was time to pull out the Mason jars. Canning is of course a bit of a process. Also, we don’t have a lot of storage space, so I whipped up some quick jam. The beauty of quick jam is that it doesn’t involve sanitizing the jars or dealing with pectin. But this also means it will only last about two weeks, so again, it’s all about making a batch that can be consumed before it goes bad. 
 
So, long story long, here’s my recipe for a delicious, quick, small batch of blueberry jam: 
 
Easy Blueberry Jam
 
1 cup fresh blueberries
¼ cup raw sugar
2 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
 
Combine blueberries and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Mash and stir with a muddler, potato masher or some other implement for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture bubbles. Add sugar, stir and cook for about 1 minute. Add lemon juice, stir and boil for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Pour into a heat safe jar, bowl or other container. Refrigerate for up to two weeks. 
 
For days, we enjoyed fresh blueberry jam on toasted French bread with butter, peanut butter sandwiches and paired with goat cheese on a cheese and charcuterie board. It was like summer in a jar. 
 
 

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Bon Vivant

Exploring finery, fun and the good life with New Orleans Bride editor Melanie Warner Spencer

about

Melanie Warner Spencer is a native Kentuckian, but says she got to New Orleans as fast as she could. For more than 12 years, Melanie has covered lifestyle, design and entertainment at various publications, serving as the design columnist at The Austin American-Statesman, a senior staff reporter at the Houston Chronicle and most recently as the editor-in-chief of Houston Brides magazine. Her work also has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post and Reuters in the United States and across the globe. In her spare time, Melanie is an award-winning fine art photographer and has been honored by the Texas Press Association for her editorial photography. Cooking and eating fabulous food and taking road trips with her spouse of 15 years, fellow writer and filmmaker Mark Patrick Spencer however, is at the top of her list of favorite pastimes. Click here to like Spencer's Facebook page and follow her on Twitter @MelanieSpencer. 

 

You can reach her at melanie@myneworleans.com.

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