7.28.2008

Blackberry jam

My mother and I used to sit at the kitchen counter when we were younger, her picking the apple pieces from a jar of blackberry jam and me snatching them up to eat with sticky fingers. I found them delicious, she, a distraction.

It was true they didn't really belong. We added them to our haul for pectin, stirring tiny chunks of tart apples into the thick, seedy mass of deep magenta berries in hopes that it would gel. With every thick spoonful that she spread on toast, my mother would oust the interlopers, picking them from their sweet roost and leaving them to her delighted child.

The flavor of apple-blackberry is still a favorite of mine. This week, when tart early apples appeared at the Provincetown farmers' market and the berries began to ripen, I walked, boxes in hand, down a nearby dirt road to pick my fill. Diving into the underbrush, I picked quart upon quart, stomping through poison ivy and thorny canes as the drupelets crushed beneath my fingers.

Later that afternoon, I found myself standing over a heavy bottomed pot, stirring berries and apples as a sweet steam rose on my brow. I'd called my mother for her recipe. "I don't have one," she'd said. "I just sort of wing it." And so winging it I was, consulting the Joy of Cooking for sugar ratios and adding apple chunks on sight.

Almost an hour later, as eight jars bubbled hot in a water bath over the back burner, the jam began to sheet off my wooden spoon and I knew time was up. I poured the preserves into the glass, wiped the rims with a sterile cloth, and sealed the berries away for winter toast. With seven jars full, I managed to tuck away the extra half cup into the eight for breakfast the next morning.

We woke early this morning, spoon it over hot cornbread, and sat down to enjoy—apple and all. It was just as good as I remembered.

BLACKBERRY JAM WITH APPLE PECTIN

Makes 7 pints plus a little extra for eating fresh

In a large, heavy bottomed, non-reactive pot, heat 3 quarts of fresh picked blackberries and 3 finely chopped tart, early apples over medium heat until the fruit begins to weep. Add 9 cups sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring to a slow boil, stirring frequently, and continue to simmer about 25 minutes, until the liquid begins to sheet off a wooden spoon.

Keep in mind that jam thickens quite a bit as it cools; you can always turn off the heat, let the mixture cool, and keep cooking if it's not thick enough—this is better than making 7 jars of rock hard jam. Test as you cook by pouring a small amount of the liquid onto a plate and waiting to see its consistency as it cools over the next few minutes.

When jam consistency is right, pour into 7 sterile pint jars, leaving one half-inch head room. Take care to clean rims of jars with a cloth dipped in boiling water and to seal with sterile lids. Screw caps on tightly as tightening later may break the seal. Leave upside down on a cloth to cool overnight; check seals, label, and store in a cool dark place.

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.