It’s the time of year to go visit your local hedgerows and green areas and pick them blackberries! One of the most abundant free foods Britain has to offer, blackberries are yummy in pies, puddings, in salad dressing (oh yes!), and also made into wine or jam! If you’re lucky you may come across some cooking apples to scrump, in which case you can make blackberry and apple jam. Picking and preserving your own may sound like hard work, but it’s immensely satisfying.
I had mentioned in my last post that I had just read Michael Pollan’s ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’, which is a fascinating look at what we eat today and its real cost. He bases his book around three meals, all of which he properly involves himself with – i.e. for his first meal from McDonalds, he goes and works on a corn farm, checks out the cattle feedlot and investigates the insanity that is modern industrial agriculture. His second meal involves organic vegetables and meat, and again he goes and works for a week at an organic pastoral farm, bringing up quite interesting, critical questions around the organic industry and local/seasonal/’real’ food. His third meal he designates as his favourite, which is made up of meat he hunted and foods he gathered himself. And although I can’t relate to the hunting experience – I would generally much prefer getting through life without having to kill other beings – the effort that went into assembling this meal, the foraging expeditions and doing things like grinding flour or making preserves – reminded me of just how little effort we usually put into what we eat; how we are all about the convenience, while losing our connection with where the food came from. Doing things like picking blackberries is an older and much more meaningful activity than going to Tesco’s and that’s why I don’t mind the pricked fingers and the fucken nettles stinging me and the purple stained hands; and why I want to make sure I have enough time in my life to make my own whenever I can.
Blackberry and Apple Jam
When you’re making jam, the basic idea is to boil your fruit, add sugar to help it keep, and then the acid and pectin in the fruit will help the jam set. Some fruit is less acidic or has little pectin in which case you need to add some, either by combining with fruit with higher pectin content or some lemon juice, or by adding commercially produced pectin or acid. Both blackberries and apples have a medium pectin content so it sets pretty well without having to add other stuff.
What you need for 4-5 large-ish jars:
Sugar (I used a mix of white and brown sugar)
A decent heavy bottomed and wide (not aluminium, enamel or iron) pan and sterilised jars
Place clean jars without their lids in boiling water for 10 minutes, or bake at 160 degrees/Gas Mark 2 for 10-3 minutes. Pick them out with gloves, or use a wooden spoon or tongs. After sterilising, take care not to touch the insides or the rim with your hands.
What you do:
1.Weigh your fruit – you want more blackberries than apples; I used 800g blackberries and 600g cooking apples, which filled 2 large and 2 small jars in the end. Wash the blackberries and peel and chop up the apples.
2.Heat the fruit in a small amount of water in a pan for about 20 minutes until it’s all pulpy.
3.Add up to the same amount of sugar by weight, i.e. if you have used 1 kg fruit, add up to 1 kg sugar. I used a bit less though, instead of 1.4kg I used 1.2kg and it still worked.
4.Bring to the boil slowly, stirring occasionally, and boil until it starts to set when it’s really hot – this can be anything up to 30 minutes. To test if it’s setting, put a small spoon on a cold plate, cool it down as quickly as possible, and if it has formed a skin after 1 minute, or if you draw a spoon through it and it remains separated, it’s set. You can also test the temperature – setting point is usually at about 105°C.
5.Remove from the heat, skim off any scum, and pour into sterilised jars immediately (see above). Cover with a waxed disc or a circle of greaseproof paper (this is good practise but not necessary), then top with a cellulose cover and band, or a sterilised plastic coated metal lid. You should be able to eat it straight away.
I also made a blackberry and apple pie – mmmh.