All things blackberry — First, jam.

Just one part of one day's effort! Big, juicy, and wonderful mouthfuls of summer...
Just one part of one day’s effort! Big, juicy, and wonderful mouthfuls of summer…

In the lot beside the office where I work, there is a lovely bunch of blackberry vines. There’s also a thicket of them on the other corner of the property, and some in the trees on the back. (No, we aren’t out in the country — we are four blocks from the main street downtown.) No one seems to know where the blackberries came from, but everyone agrees that they just grew. No one planted them on purpose.

I am just about  the only one anymore who is willing to go out in the heat and pick them. My mom was worried about it being “snakey” (a truly wonderful Southern descriptor), but when I explained that the lawn was mowed right up to the vines on one side, and on the other, the vines are growing on a concrete pad, she settled down a bit. I have also made it quite clear that the day I see a snake is the last day I will ever pick blackberries out there.

Last week when I came in from picking, soaking wet and dying for water, I checked the temperature. It was 92, with a heat index of 108. See why I’m the only one who will pick them?

Anyway, I have picked this year. And picked. And picked again. Then I made my daughter and her friend go out to finish picking.

She didn't mind TOO much, even though it was her birthday!
She didn’t mind TOO much, even though it was her birthday!

So far we have about 3 1/2 gallons. So right now, cooking is all things blackberry, while we have them.

And what is the first thing you make when you have lots of fresh-picked blackberries? JAM! 

I haven’t made blackberry jam before, but I had promised some to friends to be used at their wedding next weekend. (More on that in a week or so!) I will admit I cheated a bit. I went by the recipe in the box of Sure-Jell. Well, sort of. (Of course.)

Before you start, put your jars into the dishwasher and run them through a cycle. Be sure to include the heated dry feature. You can start the jam when the dry cycle begins. (You have to have hot jars, otherwise you run a great risk of breaking them when you pour the boiling hot jam into them.) You also need to put the rings and lids for the jars in a pan of water and let them heat while the jam cooks.

First, I crushed 5 cups of berries with a potato masher — one that looks like this:

potato masher

Only mash them enough to break them, not enough to pulverize them. You are just making it easier for the juice to come out, not pureeing.  Put the mashed berries into a large pot. I used a Dutch oven.

Here’s where I, um…deviated. The recipe calls for cooking the berries with the pectin until it reaches a full rolling boil, then adding the sugar. I didn’t quite read it that way (ALWAYS READ THE WHOLE RECIPE BEFORE YOU START), and added the sugar to the berries at the beginning. When I realized what I had done, there was nothing I could do about it, so I threw in the box of pectin and turned on the heat. And crossed my fingers.

I also added a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. To me, blackberries can have a bitter edge without it, but that’s up to you. Taste it as you cook to make sure it’s what you want.

Keep the taste of summer all year round with homemade blackberry jam.
Keep the taste of summer all year round with homemade blackberry jam.

Be sure to stir the mixture almost constantly as it heats, to make sure it doesn’t scorch. When it reaches a full rolling boil, let it boil for one minute. Remove from the heat. Immediately ladle the hot jam into the hot jars, leaving at least 1/4″ at the top of the jar. Wipe any drips off the tops and rims. Use tongs to place a hot lid on each jar. Screw a ring tightly onto each one.

Put all the jars in a pan of hot water, using tongs. Boil them for 10 minutes, then remove.

If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the little pop from each jar as it seals. After they have cooled, check the jars to make sure each one sealed. You can tell by pushing in the center of the lid. If it pushes down and stays down, or won’t push down at all, it is sealed. If the center will push down and comes back up, it didn’t seal. Unsealed jars will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. Sealed jars are good for about a year.

When you open them, summer will be in your mouth!

In the next post, I’ll have a recipe that uses one of those delicious jars of jam — Blackberry Lemon Cheesecake Trifle.

 

 

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