Blackberry Jam

I’ve made a plan for my postings this week around the theme of  “berries”.  Each day I’ll have a recipe that uses fresh berries in a different way. Looking into my crystal ball I see a lot of baking in my future, and along with that I see the pounds/weight going up.  I guess I’ll also need to increase my dancing in order to work off the calories.  Any way you look at it its a win-win situation:  more baking which I love, more dancing which I love, and more blogging;  all for you, my dear readers!   So to begin, here’s  the story about my adventures in making homemade blackberry jam.

It’s always a challenge and an adventure when you pick blackberries!   Not too far away from where I live there is a farm which features “pick-your-own” fruits, beginning with strawberries in the spring, right through to apples and pears in the fall.  My favorite fruits to pick are raspberries and blackberries.  Blackberry picking has not started yet, so what is pictured is the farm open for this year’s harvest of raspberries.

When you drive down the lane to where the bushes are located you can see the berries hanging heavy on the branches.  Blackberry bushes are planted in rows with straw beneath them to keep down the weeds, and they grow thick and high.  The best berries are the inky black ones, and they are usually found deep into the bush.  Oh, did I mention that blackberry bushes have THORNS?   Yes, well no matter how carefully you try to avoid them those thorns will bite you.  So to get those wonderful fat, juicy, black berries you must suffer.  When you have picked your limit and set out for home, there will be blackberry juice, scratches and dried blood on your arms and legs and a blackberry stain around your mouth.  (Who can pick without tasting?)   Anyone would think you have been in a fight.

Why do I do this year after year?  Because it’s so worth it.  There are so many things you can do with blackberries like make jam, pie, cobbler, liqueur, and sauce.  They freeze beautifully.  Just lay them out on a baking sheet. Stick in the freezer for a while and when frozen place in zip-lock bags for future use.   Today I will share with you my recipe for blackberry jam.

BLACKBERRY JAM

Yield:  6   six-ounce glasses

  • 6 cups blackberries
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 3/4 – 1 cup orange juice
  • 3 – 4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon grated orange zest

Cook the berries with water until they are heated through.  Crush the berries and rub through a sieve to remove the seeds.  Add sugar, fruit juices and grated orange zest.  Cook over low heat until thick.  Because blackberries are naturally high in pectin,  and the juices add citric acid,  this mixture thickens well without the addition of more pectin.

While the berries are cooking I put my jars, lids and rings in the dishwasher and run it to wash and sterilize the jars.  Then as the berry mixture is thickened and ready to be jarred, I remove the hot jars one at a time from the dishwasher, (keep the other jars hot)  fill it leaving about 1/8  inch space at the top.  Wipe jar rims and threads.  Cover with two-piece lids and screw bands on tightly.  As each jar is filled and covered, immediately turn it upside down on a dish towel.  After about 5 minutes turn jars upright.  Soon you will hear a snap/pop sound as the vacuum forms and the jars become sealed.  This is so neat!  There will be no need to boil jam-filled jars in a large kettle to achieve this same result.  If for some reason a jar does not make a seal, then that’s the one you can start to enjoy right away.

This jam was made last summer.  As long as it is well sealed it will keep for several years on your pantry shelf.  I like to give a jar of jam and home baked bread as a Holiday gift or Hostess gift when I am visiting.  It is always welcome.

SOURCE:  Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook   ? edition.  This wonderful cookbook was given to me as a wedding gift, and it has seen much use over the years.  It is well worn and well loved.

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Rhubarb Liqueur

While browsing through an old books store several years back, I came across a book called Infused,  100 Recipes for Infused Liqueurs and Cocktails.  The very first sentence caught my attention:  “Making your own infused liqueurs is simple, and the results are delicious.”  I was suddenly caught up with the idea of being able to capture the flavors and beautiful colors of fresh fruits ( and herbs and vegetables, too) in a liqueur that could be enjoyed year-round.  These make wonderful gifts as well,  particularly at Holiday time.

All infused liqueurs are created using the same basic principle.  A flavor is steeped in an alcohol base for a period of time.  The solids are filtered out, and a sweetening is added.  The liqueur is aged which allows the flavors to mellow, then it is bottled and ready to serve.  Vodka–clear and neutral tasting–is an ideal blank canvas for infusions and this is what I use.  However, other spirits work beautifully as well:  rum, tequila, bourbon, brandy and gin, so long as they are clear or have minimal color of their own to contribute.  By making your own infusions you are not limited by what you find in the liquor store,  the flavor combinations seem endless.

RHUBARB LIQUEUR

Makes about 3 1/2 – 4 cups

Bring 6 Tablespoons sugar and 1/4 cup water to boil in a small saucepan, stirring just until sugar dissolves;  remove from heat and allow to cool.   This is called a simple syrup.

Place 1 1/2 pounds coarsely chopped rhubarb in a large  wide-mouth jar.  Add 3 cups vodka, 1/2 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur, and cooled syrup;  stir.  Screw lid on tightly;  let stand at room temperature in a dark place for 2 to 3 weeks.  Give it a shake every now and then.  During this time the color will leach out of the rhubarb, giving the liqueur a rosy color.  Strain mixture through a sieve over a large bowl. (One with a pouring lip is ideal).  Discard solids.  Pour the liqueur into a bottle.  Now the HARD part:  Wait 1-2 weeks for flavors to mellow.  OK, you can have a small taste.   YUM!

This is how I made my first batch, and it was very good,  but I’m going to make more while rhubarb is still available, and this time I am going to put in a few thin strips of orange peel (no white pith) instead of the Grand Marnier because I didn’t taste quite enough orange flavor the first time around.  No, wait, I think I’ll use both.  Wonder what that will do to the color????  I feel a little like a mad scientist as I continue to come up with flavor concoctions.   Most have been HITS, but a couple have been MISSES.  I”ll be sharing more flavors with you as time goes on.

This is what rhubarb flavor looks like!    Top photo shows a variety of flavors including cranberry, peach, orange, and lemon.