September 19, 2012

Making Blackberry Jam—A Summer Classic

There are a lot of great things about living in Oregon again: the ocean, the towering trees, the lushness of everything, the democrats. But one of my favorite things? The blackberries. And now that I know I can make a fantastic batch, the blackberry jam.

Blackberries growing on vine, some ripe some not

Blackberries seem classically Northwest to me. In fact, wild blackberry vines are so prevalent here that when I think of my childhood I can mainly recall people talking about them merely as annoying weeds (and it’s true they’re considered an invasive plant). “Those dang blackberry vines!” neighbors and friends would shout with disgust. “Looks like we need to spray again!”

We had a lot of blackberry vines growing on and around the property where I grew up. I remember eating blackberries when I was out playing and riding my bike. There wasn’t any thought involved. They were always just there—everywhere—and when they were ripe, I’d pluck one as I walked by, popping it into my mouth. When we needed a pie or cobbler for a last-minute get-together, my mom or one of my siblings just went “out back” or to some nearby field or lot and picked a bucket of plump, sweet, juicy berries. No charge.

I didn’t appreciate this at all as a child. I just thought it was like that everywhere—that the whole world probably cursed (and yet also ate) their blackberries. Of course, I grew up, moved to the Midwest, and realized this fruit was more special than I knew. Not everyone gets free pie filling whenever they want it.

This summer—my first back in Oregon after my early-to-mid-life Midwest stint—I had a welcome reintroduction with the sweet berries of my youth. I went on a walk with a close friend, we both brought empty buckets, and I came home with stained hands, a full tummy, and enough berries to make 15 jars of blackberry jam.

Home food-preservation is important to me—and I get more and more into it with each passing week—but this was actually my first ever jam-making experience. It was even easier than I thought it would be, and the results were even more delicious.

Making Homemade Blackberry Jam on stovetop

Many jam recipes call for an insane amount of sugar. I wanted to make a low-sugar blackberry jam, so I used a pectin called Pamona’s that’s formulated especially to work with jams that have only a small amount of sugar or honey. I didn’t have quite enough local honey on hand, so I used organic cane sugar with this recipe. 

Pamonas Pectin for Homemade Blackberry Jam

Here’s how you can make this blackberry jam at home, too. I promise it will make you think of summer every time you taste it, all throughout the year. If you pick your own berries, be sure they are growing in an area you know has not been sprayed.

Ingredients:

8 cups fresh blackberries
1/2 cup lemon or lime juice
1 1/2 cups organic sugar or local honey
4 tsp Pamona’s pectin powder
4 tsp calcium water (comes in Pamona’s box)

Note: As with all canning recipes, take care to be exact in your measurements. Canning processing times and the method required (water-bath vs. pressure canning) are based on the level of acidity in a recipe, and not being exact can lead to an unsafe final product. 

Supplies:

Water-bath canner
Large pot for mashing and mixing berries
Pot of water for heating canning jars and lids
Small, sterilized canning jars with lids and rings
Berry masher (or another kitchen utensil you could use for mashing)
Basic canning utensil set (tongs, funnel, etc., pictured below)

Basic Canning Supplies including tongs, head space measure stick, funnel and lid magnet stick

Instructions:

Get set up: Fill your canner with water, add your canning lids and rings to a pot of water on the stove, and sterilize your jars (I add mine to the dishwasher, and then take them out when the drying cycle turns on; the jars are hot and sterile).  

Canning Rings and Lids in pot of hot water

Wash your blackberries and add them to a large pot, turn to medium-high heat, and mash berries (no need to be incredibly thorough in your mashing; some chunks make for good jam). 

Smashing Blackberries for Blackberry Jam

Next, add lemon or lime juice and calcium water and stir well. In a separate bowl, stir pectin powder into honey or sugar. Bring berries to a boil, add pectin/honey or pectin/sugar mixture to berries, and stir for 1-2 minutes until pectin is dissolved. Return to boil and then remove from heat. 

Stirring Blackberries when making blackberry jam

Add jam (you can call it jam now!) to clean jars leaving 1/4-inch head space. (That little blue stick thing second from the left in the photo in the Supplies section measures head space, which is handy.) Wipe each jar rim clean with a (clean) cloth, and add lid and ring. Using tongs, lower jars into canner (which, by the way, should be on and full of boiling water, in case I didn’t mention that).

Jar of Blackberry Jam with tongs going into water bath canner

After all jars are in the canner and the water returns to a rolling boil, cover with lid and process for 10 minutes. Then, turn off heat, carefully remove lid (don’t get a steam burn—that puppy will be HOT), and let everything rest for a few minutes. Finally, using tongs, remove the jars and place them on a towel on a flat surface. After they’re cool, check to ensure every jar has a good seal (you know that little pop-up thingy in the center of a canning jar lid? It shouldn’t pop anymore). 

Several jars of Homemade Blackberry Jam

This isn’t a part of the formal instructions list (well, in my house it is), but as the very last step you need to eat some jam. You can’t go through all of that just to look at it (even though looking at jars of homemade jam is quite spectacular). So, toast some bread (maybe some homemade wheat bread), smear it thickly with jam, and take joy in having made something lovely, sweet, summery—and damn good.

Top photo by Flickr/Spherical Bull; all others by Shelley Stonebrook

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