I have occasion to travel to Walla Walla Washington, and while there a few weeks ago, I could not help notice the HUGE banks of wild blackberry bushes along the creek at Rooks Park. It was going to be a banner year for blackberries.
I returned last week and on a still cool Tuesday morning at 7:30, armed with long sleeves, long thick pants and a five gallon bucket, I got to work. I was serenaded by bull frogs, startled by a great blue heron lifting off, and generally given a variety of weird looks by the local walkers, joggers and bikers. The berries were JUST getting ripe. Ungloved fingers were necessary in order to judge ripeness (unripe berries, even when black, don’t release easily; overripe berries squish in your fingers).
While picking, I also spent some quality time getting branches untangled from my hair, pulling the occasional thorn from a finger and wishing I had remembered to change into closed toed shoes (insert colorful language here). Blackberries are thorny mothers. I picked for three hours (it’s hard to stop when there are SO MANY), working my way up, down, and into the brambles. And all the while I kept thinking, “Where the hell IS everyone? These are NOT cheap at the store. This is beautiful tasty free food.” Perhaps I didn’t get the memo that it is not cool to pick blackberries, as they are considered a weed in the area. Oh well. More for me!
Later that day, home with my bounty, I decided to make Blackberry-Apricot jam. I like combining seasonal fruits into jam, and blackberries and apricots seemed like a good combination. To read some canning books, the world will end and everyone will die of botulism if you should ever stray from a tested, printed, blessed by the National Center for Home Food Preservation or your local extension office recipe. And honestly, this is generally good advice. People don’t follow directions (or even read them). I listened to a talk show/call in with canning questions the other day and a woman could not figure out why her water bath canned green beans would not stay sealed after a week or two. (You should never water bath can non acidic foods – fruit is naturally acidic. Her cans would not stay sealed because they were releasing gas and pushing the tops off as they rotted in the jar. Yikes!)
That said, there is no reason why you can’t mix and match jam ingredients, other than running the risk of the mixture not jelling properly. I get around this issue by using a low/no sugar pectin. Using the packet insert that came with the pectin, I looked up their recipes for Apricot jam and Blackberry jam. Apricot = 6 cups chopped fruit, four and a half cups sugar, 2 tbls lemon juice. Blackberry = 5 cups of crushed fruit, 4 cups sugar. Therefore Apricot-Blackberry jam equals 3 cups Apricots, 2 1/2 cups Blackberries, 1 tbls lemon juice, 4 1/4 cups sugar. Simple enough.
I also canned 3 pints of berries in their own juice with a little sugar (for yogurt topping on some winter’s day) and froze almost a gallon of the berries with nothing added (freeze on a cookie sheet individually before putting into a zip top bag to avoid one giant frozen wad).
I still had apricots, so also made a batch of brandied apricot jam with vanilla. This one I did the old fashioned way, with no added pectin (thinking that the more “cooked” flavor would go well with the brandy and vanilla). Traditional jam is made by cooking the jam until it reaches the magic jelling point (which can take a while and is likely directly proportional to how much jam has splattered onto your stove, floor, and counters. I had to mop the floor when I was done).
Baxter decided I was spending WAY too much time in the kitchen and it was time to pay attention to him instead. When I didn’t stop what I was doing, he jumped up onto the counter and placed himself on the Ball Blue Book page explaining how to test for the jelling point. Guess he showed me (and made me realize perhaps why a commercial kitchen is required to be in a separate building from the home dwelling. No one wants cat hair in their jam)!
It’s probably good I don’t live in Walla Walla. If I did I’d be out there now, still picking.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2010, where we’re miles away from a store bought blackberry, and our fingers are stained purple.