Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Every summer, my girls know that we are going to head to a back-country trail next to my dad’s house, carry baskets and boxes, and get down to business: picking blackberries.
During this crazy picking afternoon, the four of us can pick anywhere between 5 and 10 pounds of plump, juicy, sweet blackberries ripened by the Mediterranean sun of the Languedoc. My little one eats as much as she picks but fortunately, we’re faster than she is. Once we’re home, I make wild blackberry jam the way my dad has taught me ever since I was a child. Here is the simplest and most delicious recipe to make your own wild blackberry jam.
Since picking blackberries is thorny business, my girls always wear long sleeves and concentrate on the lower branches. Ripe blackberries are black and best for sweetness, but I always pick a couple handfuls of red (unripe) blackberries as they have more fruit pectin. Pectin is what makes the jam set so it’s quite important.
Give it an hour or so and you should have this much per person. Well, maybe more. The basket holder may be a secret blackberry eater.
Once you’re back with you loot, you have to measure it. I’ll give instructions both for metric and imperial systems.
Classic jam recipes have two main ingredients–fruit and sugar, as well lemons for pectin. I like to keep my jam recipes simple so that they have the purest flavor. For quicker results, you can use jam sugar (sugar with added pectin) which means you’ll cook the jam for a shorter time. Less cooking = more flavor. However, this recipe works great with regular caster sugar too.
Add sugar using a ratio of 1:1 if counting in cups or measuring weight.
Since this is my dad’s recipe, it’s neither rocket science nor exact science so if you like your jam on the tarter side, use less sugar and adjust. However, too much fruit and you may lose the preserving effects of the sugar; too much sugar and it may crystallize during storage. It’s a fine balance.
The sugar and fruit mixture is ready to be heated in a deep-bottom pan on the stove. I cook my jams at low heat because I don’t want the sugar to burn and I don’t want to stand during hours on top of my pan either. Low heat gives me the opportunity to stir a couple times with a wooden spatula, leave the fruit alone, grab a book and come back when the smell invades the kitchen–or when my girls tell me to come see the bubbles.
How long should the simmering process last? Usually, 20 minutes to half an hour. Once the mixture reaches a gentle boil or simmer, I count 10 minutes or so before checking the jam. Checking the jam is essential and a great kitchen science trick for kids.
Place a small plate in the freezer during 10 minutes. Pour a few drops of jam on the plate and let them slide. If they slide slowly, the jam has reached setting point. If the drops are liquid, you need to wait some more. The cold plate is basically what the jam will look like in your plate when it’s cool.
When the jam is set, let it cool down, ladle into jars and sterilize. Jam done! Your kids will love it and this jam makes the best toast and jam after-school snack. Actually, blackberry anything tastes divine in the cold days of winter. Hide this blackberry jam and store it in a cool dark place if not eating right away. Beware the afternoon jam fairy. It makes any blackberry jam go poof! and disappear when it’s hungry.
1. Pick blackberries. Discard unwanted leaves, stems and insects.
2. Measure (or weigh) blackberries in cups or grams.
3. Place blackberries in pan with equal amount of sugar (or jam sugar with added pectin)
4. Over low heat, bring to a gentle boil and simmer another 10 minutes
5. Check that jam has set.
6. Cool down, ladle in clean jars, sterilize.