I made strawberry jam several times with huge success last year; and this was a big deal to me because I had tried (and subsequently failed) at making jam for years beforehand. I wanted to make blackberry jam this year because the blackberry cane I planted three years ago has finally started giving off some fruit; however, these don’t usually make it from the yard into the kitchen. There’s a whole lot of eating while standing in front of the bush. Part of this is because I have this idea in my head that my immediate neighbors ,who are a boil on the butt of humanity ( to quote Shirley MacLaine in “Steel Magnolias”), might be reaching over the fence and helping themselves to my loot. They probably aren’t, but we don’t like each other; so my wild imagination can get pretty, uh, wild at times.
Anyway, there aren’t enough blackberries out back to make jam, so I took what I had and supplemented them with some found at the grocery store – the local Kroger had an unbelievable deal on them the other day – normally they’re like $5 a pound but I would like to think they were feeling generous that day. Either that or some poor clerk on the floor mistakenly put stickers on them that marked them down to next to nothing. So I bought some of those.
I based this recipe on several sources. Pretty much everyone out there in Googleland has similar recipes, so I consulted Mes Confitures (which unfortunately I’ve yet to make a successful jam recipe from), then the trusty ol’ Larousse Gastronomique. I don’t have packages of pectin lying around, and I don’t believe one needs stupid packages of pectin lying around just in case you happen to get in the mood to make jam. I used lemon zest and juice instead; and then halfway through the jam making itself into jammy goodness, I remembered that the Barefoot Contessa recipe for strawberry jam calls for half a Granny Smith apple for pectin purposes, so I tossed about a quarter of one of those, diced up really small, into the pot and let it boil away. In the end, the entire stovetop was splattered with ruby colored dots, which I wiped away as quickly as I could lest they harden and be impossible to scour off at a later date.
The smell of the jam cooking won’t perfume the house in the way strawberry or raspberry jam will, as blackberries tend to be less aromatic in strength (well, that’s my opinion). However, when I was hovering over the pot trying to take various pictures with the smell wafting up, I had a brief moment when I was transported back to childhood. The house I partially grew up in until I was 7 – the house where my parents currently reside when my mom’s not gallivanting around France – is in Northern California, and the yard out back is surrounded by wild blackberry bushes. There is a park down the hill with swings and a slide cut into the hillside. The quickest way to get to the park is to take the trail that cuts between other people’s houses, and the trail is surrounded by blackberries. My brother, sister, and I would leisurely take our time going to the park, and come nightfall when our parents would call out for us through the living room window and their voices would echo through the trees, we’d leisurely take our time climbing back up the hill as we would pick and eat those blackberries until we were full and our fingers bled from reaching through the brambles. There are very few times when I wish I still lived in California; however when I do get that urge, I must remind myself that I will never, ever be able to afford to live in Sausalito. Besides, I’m not terribly fond of Californians.
Boy am I going to get crap for that one. Anyway.
The addition of alcohol to this recipe is optional. If you have blackberry brandy, by all means use that. I have the world’s largest bottle of cheap kirsch lying around, so I used that. It just makes the jam more fruity, I guess. Ah, who am I kidding; I’ve no idea. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I also added less sugar than other recipes called for. I find that the older I get, the less sweets I can tolerate. I made my tried-and-true chocolate chip cookies recently for the first time in a long time; and after biting into one, realized I just can’t eat them anymore. My tastes have changed.
So I’ll call this: Sausalito Blackberry Jam. makes 1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups.
. 18 oz of blackberries (that’s about three of those usual sized containers they come in at the store – usual size meaning around 6 oz)
. 1 cup sugar (and even that might be too much)
. Zest of 1 lemon
. Juice of half that lemon
. 1 or 2 tablespoons of kirsch or blackberry brandy (optional)
. ¼ of a Granny Smith apple, diced (optional)
Stir together all ingredients in a heavy bottomed pot or large saucepan and put over medium heat. Stir as it begins to heat up, then leave it alone to do its thing until the mixture reaches 220 degrees F. If you want a smoother jam, put the blackberries in a food processor or pass through a food mill first before adding to the pot. I like a little texture in mine so I smoosh up the occasional berry or two like so:
Sound effects are optional.
The berries themselves will disintegrate a bit while cooking – it will take between 20 and 30 minutes to get to 220 deg F. Turn the heat off, let cool, and store in the fridge.