“I don’t can much, but what I do can, I do can well.” -Anthony.
Atop that list of what I can is wild blackberry jam, the fruit handpicked along a well-traveled roadside near our home. These past few years of wet springs have translated into nearly 20 pounds of blackberries over the course of a few hours of picking. Well worth the entangled effort to retrieve them. I ultimately ruin a pair of old socks with weed burrs so stuck that picking them out is pointless. I walk back home with red-purple stains on my hands that make me hope passing law enforcement doesn’t stop me as a suspect in some heinous crime. But if you’ve ever tasted blackberries from a wild patch, you know the product- raw or processed- surpasses the domesticated varieties for sale at the local nursery. And that naturally-wild sweet-tart flavor is the foundation of my blackberry jams.
The trick to picking the quantities you’ll need for jam is to locate a patch that will give you at least 4 cups of crushed blackberries all at once, the quantity you’ll need for the jam recipe below. Yes, that means a lot of pricking for the picking. Of course, the best berry patches are those located near a water source- usually a creek. This allows the roots of the plant to develop a deep system that will sustain the plant into the fruiting stage. Patches too far from water will produce berries that will wither before they can be picked.
So… how does one pick blackberries without getting stuck by the thorns? If you really want lots of good berries in a single picking session, you don’t. And what clothing you wear will get snagged and tugged and frayed, so wear those clothes that you will soon turn to rags anyway… the thorns will accelerate this rag-making process for you. The truly bold will take along a half-sheet of plywood. The idea is to toss the plywood down on the brambles, step-jump on the plywood to create a flat surface to surf atop the thorns, and reach those hard to reach berries. You get more berries with this more aggressive approach to picking. Just don’t fall off the board and into the berry patch….
Of course, the Sac Valley has numerous patches that advance well into the Sierras. They ripen as the temperatures warm. So here in the Sac Valley, berries will ripen right at the end of June / beginning of July. As you move up in elevation into the Foothills, the ripe-date lengthens. We were turned on to a spot by a local lake out of Newcastle where the berries sit next to a spring. These berries turn ripe by early July and continue to pump out berries till fall. Problem: so many know about them that harvesting a big bowl all at once is a challenge. Not so, however, with the patch down the road. With the exception of a few who pick a few berries for breakfast, I seem to be the lone picker of this patch. Lucky me.
Anthony’s Wild Blackberry Jam
Makes about 5 half-pints
I don’t like syrup-sweet jams. Most jam recipes call for equal parts fruit and sugar… way too much for my blood (sugar). I like the taste of the actual fruit to come through when I slather it on my morning toast made of Rachel-baked bread. This is our kids’ favorite jam, bar none.
Note: this recipe uses Ball Low or No Sugar Needed Pectin. If you have another type of pectin on hand, feel free to use it. But make sure to follow the recipe for Blackberry Jam that’s provided with the pectin you use – the recipes don’t translate across brands and types of pectin. For Rachel’s tips on making amazing jam, check out her post on Triple Berry Jam.
- 4 cups of blackberries
- 1 cup of unsweetened apple juice
- 4 1/2 Tbsp Ball Low or No Sugar Needed Pectin
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 5 half pint canning jars
- 5 half pint canning lids and bands
- Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.
- Rinse berries thoroughly through a strainer. Pick out any wayward stems and spent blossoms. After straining and rinsing, the berries need to be gently crushed. This is most easily done with a potato masher. You’ll need exactly 4 cups of lightly crushed berries once the mashing has taken place.
- Measure juice and other ingredients.
- Put fruit and juice in a 6 or 8 quart saucepan; a high-sided pot is preferred. Gradually stir in pectin. Add 1/2 tsp of butter or margarine to reduce foaming if desired.
- Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.
- Add sugar. Return mixture to full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim foam if necessary.
- Ladle hot jam into hot jars, one at a time, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Clean rim and threads of jars using a clean damp cloth to remove any residue.
- Center hot lids on jars, allowing sealing compound to come in contact with the jar rim. Apply bands and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.
- Place filled jars in canner. Be sure water covers tops of jars by 1 or 2 inches. Add hot water if necessary to create this 1 to 2 inches. Bring water to a gentle, steady boil.
- Process jars for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude if necessary.
- After processing is complete, turn off heat and remove jars from canner and set upright on a towel to cool, undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours. Bands should not be retightened as this may interfere with the sealing process. If a jar doesn’t seal, refrigerate and use within 3 weeks.
- Clean sealed jars. Remove bands. Wipe jars and lids with a clean, damp cloth. Label and store in a cool, dry, dark place. Quality will be best if used within 1 year.