This will be the last post on Hitchhiking to Heaven for a while. We’re in Fairbanks, Alaska and will soon head out to our cabin, which is, as they say, “in the bush.” That means way the heck out there. In the past, I’ve asked my friend Spike, the blogging porcupine, to write some guest posts while I’m away, but he seems to have other things on his mind right now. I think he might have a new girlfriend.
I’d like to leave you with a recipe for one of my favorite preserves — a simple wild blackberry jam enhanced with a splash of black raspberry liqueur. It’s a darkly elegant jam, with some of the seeds removed to make it much smoother than it would otherwise be. (The recipe also contains a tip for turning those removed seeds into a bonus blackberry liqueur.) Really, I don’t know anything better than sweet, fat, blackberries picked at the end of a hot, summer day. This jam is a way to keep that feeling close, long past September.
Enjoy the rest of your preserving season. See you down the road.
Wild Blackberry Chambord Jam
3 1/2 pounds wild blackberries
2 pounds sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons Chambord liqueur
1. Sterilize your jars and put 5 teaspoons on a plate in the freezer, to test your jam for doneness later.
2. Carefully pick over the blackberries, removing any stray thorns or brambly bits. Rinse them only if necessary — that is, only if they’ve been sprayed or subject to vehicle exhaust. Better to pick them in an unmolested spot far from the road.
3. Combine the berries, sugar, and lemon juice in a large glass or ceramic bowl, cover the bowl tightly, and let it rest in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. If you prefer, you can skip this maceration step and make your jam right away. I macerate my berries because I pick them in the evening and don’t usually feel like making jam as soon as I walk in the door with them. The sugar initiates the preserving process and the maceration creates a flavorful, pectin-rich juice. If I have more berries than I need for a batch of jam and for eating out of hand, the rest go immediately into the freezer. Whatever else I might do, I don’t leave the berries sitting around in the fridge, losing flavor and pectin by the hour.
4. When you’re ready to make the jam, transfer the contents of the bowl to your jam pan. Heat the mixture on medium, stirring frequently until the sugar is fully dissolved. Then turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring as needed to prevent sticking or burning. (If it really wants to stick, turn down the heat a bit.) Use a shallow, stainless-steel spoon to skim the stiff foam off the top of the mixture as it cooks. In my 11-quart copper jam pan, the total cooking time is 20-25 minutes, depending on the temperature of the burner and the ripeness of the berries. (Berries that are less ripe have more pectin; they cook noticeably faster.) Watch the mixture and test it when it starts to thicken up, the foam settles down, and the bubbles become small and shiny.
To test your jam for doneness: Remove the pan from the heat. Use one of your frozen spoons to scoop up a little bit of jam — not a whole spoonful. Return the spoon to the freezer and wait 3 minutes. Retrieve the spoon and hold it vertically. If the mixture just fails to run and is thick and gloppy when you push it with your finger, it’s done. (If it sits solidly on the spoon, not moving at all, it’s probably overdone and you’ll have an overly firm or rubbery set. You want it to move just a little.) If the jam isn’t ready, cook it a few minutes more.
5. When the jam is done, bring it back to the point where it just begins to boil and immediately remove it from the heat. Remove some of the seeds from the jam by quickly pressing 3-4 cups of the very hot mixture through a stainless steel sieve. I use the back of my wooden cooking spoon to work the jam through the sieve, holding it directly over the pot. (This entire step is, of course, optional. Our California wild blackberries are seedy and I prefer to pull out some of the seeds this way. I don’t remove them before cooking, like I used to, because I don’t want to lose all that good pectin. And instead of discarding the jammy seeds, I toss them into a quart jar with a few cups of vodka and an extra handful of sugar. I shake the jar once or twice a day and, ten days later — blackberry liqueur!)
6. Stir in the Chambord.
7. Ladle the jam into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Process 10 minutes in a hot-water bath.
Yields about 6 half pints.