Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wild Blackberry Jam

One of the great joys of our property has been the blackberry vines that grow alongside our long driveway.  The Carnivore and The Boy Wonder pick a few giant bowlfuls each year, generally providing enough for a cobbler or two, along with a plentiful supply for snacking out of hand.  The nasty drought that we suffered through over the past few summers was tough on these old berries though, and it has been years since the vines have been full with the kind of plump, sweet blackberries that we most adore.

This Spring has brought on the best crop since we moved here in the summer of 2003, and the blackberry season has gloriously stretched out longer than I generally remember it lasting.  Best of all though, we discovered that those thorns we had been trying to eradicate from our front yard were actually more wild blackberry vines, and, after neglecting the yardwork for, oh let's just say a very long time,  we suddenly found ourselves overrun with the sweetest, fattest, most beautiful berries I have seen since the days of my childhood spent foraging in the woods with my mom.

Note: I should take this opportunity to assert my superiority in the field of deferred gratification.  My mother, no matter how many empty bowls she brought with her, has always been incapable of bringing berries home from a picking expedition.   I, on the other hand, have long enjoyed a particular neurosis that allows me to plan ahead, and countless times was able to buy myself out of restrictions by bartering portions of my saved berries to a desperate mother.  Children should take heed.  I know of what I speak.

Here in present times, however, where I am finally able to make the rules, saved berries have little value and are eaten with impunity.  My little family made it through the first week of blackberry season by gorging ourselves on the berries as fast as The Carnivore could pick them.  Little Miss Hazelnut, a clear descendent of that aforementioned mother of mine, would plant her diaper-clad bottom in the middle of the blackberry patch and eat until her entire body was stained with the juice.  It was cute.  At first.

More than one cobbler was made and devoured, and then, two or three weeks into this madness, I returned home from yard sales on a Saturday morning to find another 16 cups of berries sitting in containers on the kitchen counter.

Something had to be done.  And as much as we love and adore and pledge allegiance to our favorite cobbler recipe, I was just itching to try something new, and (wahoo!) there I was with a yard-sale canner and a giant box of small jars on hand .  It was high time to dig through the beloved Southern Living cookbook collection.

I had a mind to try my hand at a jelly or jam or preserves kind of recipe, but was an utter neophyte and really had no idea what to expect, other than a vague tickle that I was going to have to get some pectin or some other such thing.

Really, I was clueless, so you can imagine my utter delight and excitement when I saw a recipe in the 1982 Southern Living for blackberry jam that had only two ingredients: berries and sugar.  The instructions were simple, the time commitment was small, and God help us all, our personal berry supply was neverending.

I had no idea what to expect, and was more than a little nervous about how sweet the end product might be, but oh my stars, we ended up with manna from heaven.  The jam was so good we were licking it off the wooden spoon and burning our tongue in the process.  The texture was old-fashioned, with seeds and unevenly crushed berries, and the level of sweetness was spot on, more tart than sweet, really.  Literally.  Spot.  On.  And it tasted fresh and familiar, like the kind of thing you might have enjoyed at your grandmother's house in the middle of summer back when you were a kid, back before silly little things like seedless jam and citric acid became part of the vocabulary.

We were a little afraid that we had made too much at first, and since I wasn't really feeling up to driving to the store to pick up lids for the new-used jars, I chose to freeze some of the jam, keep some out to enjoy right away, and share the rest of the batch with my mother (as a proactive measure in case she threatens to ground me anytime soon), my grandparents, and my friend that had an upcoming birthday.

I shouldn't have worried, of course.  I made slightly-burned, brick-like whole wheat biscuits the next morning, and our little family went through the first jar of jam in one sitting, ending with Little Miss Hazelnut sticking her entire hand in the jar to scrape out the remainder.  Most surprisingly though, was that the portion that had been frozen and subsequently thawed still retained the fabulous texture of the original batch.

We are a little bit in love with this jam, and I went out today to purchase jar lids for the sole purpose of making a few more pints to put up before the season ends.  Because as quickly as it begins, the abrupt end of blackberry season is always a bit of a shock, though we can always take heart that blueberry season comes right on it's heels...


BLACKBERRY JAM (adapted from Southern Living, makes about 3 pints)

  • 9 cups (about 4 lbs) crushed blackberries
  • 6 cups sugar
  1. Combine berries and sugar in a large, heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven.
  2. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves.
  3. Boil at a medium heat for 30 minutes to an hour, stirring frequently, until jam reaches desired consistency, taking care to avoid splatters (man, they hurt).  
  4. Freeze, can, or share as you see fit.


Beth said...

She-who-was-born-at-the-height-of-blackberry-season can attest to the just-rightness of this jam. Mmmmm...

Grace said...

Do you think this recipe would work with other kinds of berries too?

Sarah Beam said...

Grace, this should work fine with other berries as well, though I might be tempted to use a little less sugar with sweeter berries.

Grace said...

Awesome. Hmmm... I don't know much about how this process works, but is the sugar there as a preservative or just to sweeten it? If it's just for taste, I wonder if you could use stevia... Oh, the possibilities. :)

Sarah Beam said...

Grace, I would be wary of substituting alternative sweeteners for sugar here. Most of these other sweeteners (even the natural ones) are much sweeter than regular sugar and cannot be substituted one-for-one. Also, the texture would be affected in this case. Best to check around for some recipes specifically mentioning stevia or truvia or any of those others. Best of luck.