Every August, I’m faced with the tough choice between how much I adore the taste of wild blackberries and how much I hate picking them. It’s 102 degrees outside, the sun is blazing, picking blackberries almost invariable involves a hike, and, best of all, they’re covered with thorns. As much as I love California, I still daydream about the soft, dew-covered grass back in New York that you can walk on barefoot all summer long. The plants on our property here are either pointy (star-thistle, nettles, blackberries, etc.) or make you itchy (poison oak).
Ah, but the blackberries.
Their flavor is rich and dark and perfect for jam. Varying degrees of sweetness from the wild berries makes a complex final product with plenty of sweet and plenty of tart; the berries that make your mouth pucker when you eat them raw are the magic ingredient here.
Of course, make sure that whatever berry patch you find hasn’t been polluted by run-off from a nearby road or sprayed with anything (which is good practice for foraging in general).
The actual making of the blackberry jam is easy as pie.
Wild Blackberry Jam
Since foraging tends to involve inexact amounts of produce (unlike the pretty baskets of berries at the farmers market), this recipe works better written out as a formula.
Yields: every cup of crushed berries that you have will end up equalling about one half-pint jar of jam.
Cook Time: about 30 minutes, but the time will vary drastically according to how many berries you cook in a batch
- wild blackberries: I recommend a batch size of 4 c. of prepared berries. Much less and you will have to really be vigilant to prevent sticking and burning during cooking. Too many berries and you will end up cooking the jam so long that you may lose some of the fresh blackberry flavor. If you go nuts and pick 12 cups of berries, just split them into four separate batches. The amount doesn’t have to be exact, though. No need to get four cups on the nose. 5 and 2/3 c. would work, or 3 cups, or… you see where I’m going here.
- sugar: equal amount of sugar to crushed berries
1. Bring boiling water canner to a boil. Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water.
2. Rinse berries and drain thoroughly. Put the berries into a mixing bowl and give them a gently crush. Not enough to completely pulverize them, though; some chunks of fruit in our jam is a good thing.
3. In a large, non-reactive pot, combine the berries with an equal amount of sugar. If you have 4 cups of berries, put in 4 cups of sugar. 1:1 ratio. Easy.
4. Cook the jam until it reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer (or whatever gel test you like to use). Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove the pot from the heat and ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ head space. Wipe rims clean and screw on lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. Now hide those jars away, deep in the pantry where no one can find them. Once people know how good they are, poof! They will be gone. This photo and one lone jar is all I have left from my blackberry picking mission. (My brother discovered the jam and realized that it will make the best peanut butter and jam sandwich you’ve ever eaten.)
The vibrant flavors in these jars taste like August, and remind me of the rows of wild blackberry jam that my mom had on the pantry shelves when we were little kids.
Maybe you’re weary and you don’t give a damn
I bet you’ve never tasted her blackberry jam
-Greg Brown, from Canned Goods