Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ripe Blackberries Already?

Usually the blackberries on our farm become ripe around mid July to early August.  We have been tasting them the last few weeks and a bunch are getting ripe now.  When they become ripe there is a limited window of opportunity to pick them before they get too soft or the birds and other beasties eat them.

We have acres and acres of land that we have not cleared.  The trees are too thick to easily trim, the slope is too steep to be easy to work on or there is a ravine running through the pastures and there is a big drop off.  These are the places we have a lot of blackberries.

Wild blackberries are very different from the cultivated kind.  The biggest difference is the thorns.  Lots and lots of thorns.  Wild blackberries also have a largish seed.  Not huge, maybe about the size of 4 strawberry seeds.  Because of this I don't like our blackberries for pies, but they make great jam and I got up with the intention to get started on jam making.  We will be spending part of July traveling, so I really want to get cracking on my jam making.

Jam making is an involved process.  The hardest part, though is the berry picking.  As I said, the berries are in thickets.  The canes are covered in thorns and there is usually a lot of old growth berries that are dead and thorn covered.  The brush has been know to be a home for snakes and spiders.  At least the June bugs are not out yet!  June bugs tend to hide on the back of a luscious blackberry.  When you grab it to pick it, the bug vibrates and sounds like a wasp.  This causes me to jerk my arm back and impale it on thorns.  It is not a sport for the faint hearted!

Lee bought me a special "glove" to wear when berry picking.  It is actually a rose pruning glove, but I use it for the berries.  I keep the hand with the rose pruning glove bare and I have a glove on the other hand to push the canes away so that I can pick the best berries.  The best ones are usually the ones you can't get to easily.  There is a pain to large berry clusters ratio that I use when picking.  If there is a large cluster of ripe berries, I will work my way into a thicket of thorns.  It is not worth it for a few berries.  I currently have a bunch of punctures on my legs and arms and some of them still have the thorn tips in them.  Gotta work on that.  Need some tweezers.  I found two ticks, but I had sprayed myself with OFF! they did not attach.  Or I just found them early.  The thickets are also homes for our small population of deer.  Love the deer, hate the ticks.

In a few hours I had enough berries to get started.  I actually had a bit more than I needed for one batch, but not enough for two.  I saved the leftover berries in the refrigerator and I will pick more tomorrow when it is cool.

Jam making requires a bit of specialized equipment.  First thing I did is get a large pan that I use to boil the jars in.  This helps to sterilize them and it takes a lot of water, so I started with that on the stove and heating up.

Here is the recipe for blackberry jam

Blackberry Jam

Blackberries    and lots of them  You will need 5 cups of berries after mashing and using the food mill.
Sure Jell    This is pectin and makes it jam and not juice!
Sugar           Lots and lots - 7 cups in fact

The first time I made jam I thought the amount of sugar required was ridiculous.  I used half the amount and it never set.  It became topping for ice cream.  So do what I tell you and use all the sugar.  You will be giving a lot of this away so it is not like you will eat all 7 cups all by yourself!  A tablespoon in the morning on toast or a biscuit is not too much sugar.  Skip your soft drink instead!

Before you start, wash all the jars in warm, soapy water and then rinse them.  Put the lids in a saucepan and pour boiling water on them.  Leave them there until you put them on the jars.

Dump a small amount of berries in a colander.  Rinse well and pick out any leaves that don't go through the holes then dump them in the food mill.  I have a 4 cup glass measuring cup and place the food mill on top.  When the food mill is about 1/2 full,  I spin the handle and the berry parts I want go through the holes to the measuring cup and the seeds stay in the food mill.  In years past I have used the food mill for about 1/2 the batch and used crushed fruit for the rest of the batch.  There were always too many seeds for me, so today I used the food mill for the whole batch.  This takes more berries and there will not be pieces of whole fruit in the jam.  I am OK with that.  Don't like the seeds.


The measuring cup only holds 4 cups so I dumped out the berry juice into a large heavy sauce pan after 3 cups and then processed 2 more cups for a total of 5 cups.  Mix the Sure Jell into the berries and heat to a full rolling boil.  This is where it still boils when you are stirring it. 


While it heats up, measure all 7 cups of sugar nto a large bowl.  Keep a piece of scratch paper nearby to write down each cup that you put in the bowl.  You will lose count and have to start all over again!  A new bag of sugar has about 10 cups in it, so make sure you have enough before you start!

When the berries start to boil, stir constantly.  When you have the full rolling boil going, stir in the sugar quickly.  You will have to keep stirring to get it to dissolve.  Let it come back up to a rolling boil and boil for exactly one minute.  Then remove the pan from the heat.


Using a wide mouth funnel, quickly ladle the mixture into the prepared jars.  You want it to stay hot to keep any bacteria from growing in your food.  Don't go take a rest now, you are almost done!

Wipe the jar rims and threads.  They will not be messy if you used the funnel properly!  Screw the lids on tightly and place in the water that you have been bringing to a boil.  If it gets too hot before you are ready, turn it down and keep it simmering.  Place the jars in the water and return it to a low boil.  Make sure the water covers the lids of the jam by at least an inch or two.  Boil for 10 minutes.


Use tongs to carefully remove the jars.  Place them upright on a towel. 


As the jars cool you will hear the centers of the jars pop.  You can see the little bump on top is now a depression.  If this does not happen on a jar or two then they need to be refrigerated.  It is still good for jam, but not safe to keep in your cupboard.  The rest will keep for a year in a cool dark place.  Like my pantry! 

Save the box the jars came in.  It is great to store the jam in and makes it one trip instead of many trips to the pantry.


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