It's blackberry picking time. Life as I know it comes to a grinding halt when the sweet summer perfume of ripe blackberries permeates the salty island air. It's time to face "the monster." That's what I call the massive tangle of prickly wild Himalayan blackberry canes that we have attempted to cultivate and tame along our driveway. Many folks call them a nuisance, or a noxious weed. I love them. I covet them. I've used the ones on our driveway for over nine years now, making more and more jam and pies each successive year.
I can lose myself while picking berries. I forget who I am, and just focus on each perfectly plump black-bursting-with-juicy-tangy-sweetness-bauble of beauty. I practically squeal with delight when I find a cluster of "berries on steroids"- some that seem larger than possible- full of so many globules of goodness that they are almost a cartoon of what a berry looks like. And the taste- well, I eat very few while picking, but when I pop one in my mouth and it explodes - sweet, tart and with a hint of the concord grape juice of my youth, I know summer is real... and I know I have to preserve it for the rest of the year when it's cold, dark, wet and gray.
I have been canning and making jam for over fourteen years now. I used to ride my bicycle around Seattle and pick blackberries in parking lots and in the overgrown sidewalk areas in my neighborhood. The jam was good, but once I found my island home and discovered berries that had never been doused in car fumes and city emissions, I never looked back. Berries on the island are pristine, and the ones that grow on our neighborhood beach even have a touch of the sea in their sweetness. I know the berries are getting ripe when the bird poop on our deck turns a lovely shade of lavender.
This past weekend we picked 28 cups of berries. I made 13 pints of jam and one pie from that picking. If I am lucky I will get two or three more rounds of jamming over the next weekends. I'm hoping to put up 36 pints of jam. Now you may be wondering how on earth we can eat all that jam. We don't eat it all. Most of it will be my annual holiday gift to my friends and family. They have come to expect it at this point, and some of them start getting cranky when they run out.
For those of you who think making jam and canning sounds like too much work, let me just say that nothing, absolutely nothing in the supermarket tastes like homemade jam. Give up one day and you'll get a year's worth of pleasure. I have also turned the berries into fruit leather, and I've made blackberry-applesauce and canned that, too.
There are wonderful canning books out there. I have used "Clearly Delicious" for many recipes. (I have an older edition.) But I have created my own Blackberry Jam recipe from reading many things in different articles and books, and from my own experience.
Since this isn't a food blog, I'm not going to go into detail on the whole jam/canning process, but my "recipe for success" is:
The Right Ratio: 4 cups of berries to 3 cups of white cane sugar.
Mash the berries with a potato masher for a few minutes in a large heavy-bottomed stainless stockpot.
Warm the sugar in the oven while the berries cook over medium heat until their juices run, then bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes while stirring often.
Then add the warm sugar and combine well, then turn the heat on high and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture reaches exactly 220ºf on a digital thermometer.
Now you are ready to ladle the jam into hot, sterilized jars (I use the sanitize setting on my dishwasher) and seal. You don't need a water bath on blackberry jam, nor do you need to add fruit pectin.
My ideal ratio for my large All-Clad stockpot is: 12 cups of berries to 9 cups of sugar. This amount should not overflow. This will make about 7 pints of jam.
Now go find some berries. But don't pick ours. Ever since our neighbors, The Willows Inn became famous for their "foraged locally" world's best food- we've been watching their sous-chefs picking things all over our neighborhood. They even pulled into our driveway the other day.
So I had to make this sign:
We love our neighbors. We really do. We just don't want them to cut into our personal supply. If they are compliant, maybe I'll give them some jam at Christmas.
I hope you are "preserving" your summer memories.