If the recent blossom on the wild blackberry bushes around our house are anything to go by, this year is going to see a bumper harvest.
The milky-white petals have all but blown to the four winds over the past few days and in their place, little hard, runty nubs of embryonic fruits are emerging, almost timid in their bearing. They seem shy but determined and I will have to keep an eye that they don’t ripen early, especially after the recent spell of I-don’t-know-what-I’m-going-as, hot and cold weather. I can’t have the birds taking all the bounty and yet, at a rough estimate, if even half of the bushes bear pickable fruit I’ll have more than I could hope to handle.
Berry-wise, it’s been a mixed bag for me in recent weeks. First of all, I planted a small grove of gooseberry bushes at the beginning of the summer, naively thinking I’d soon be making gooseberry jam – naively being the operative word. Not only were the little bushes too juvenile from which to expect fruit, I have also concluded that I’ve been over-watering and they have been struggling accordingly. Still, it’s all part of the learning curve. There’s always next year.
However, after worrying over my stunted bushes with no fruit, you can imagine my delight when a friend gifted me a big bag of gooseberries one Friday of late, verdant green globes that he had picked from his own rampant plants. “Gooseberry jam on toast, here I come!” I thought and retired the bag to the utility room for a later processing. Unfortunately, this gift of gooseberry goodness coincided with one of my weekends on at work and what was initially put onto the metaphorical back-burner turned into a cry of anguish the following Monday. That evening, when I went in search of the gooseberries to make jam the words, “Gooseberry jam on toast, here I come!” turned to ashes in my mouth. Whether it was the blistering heat of that weekend or a bruised berry or two spreading their angst among their brethren or my unforeseen delay in making the jam – or a combination of all three elements – the berries had turned into a furry mess.
You can imagine my despair. Stunted trees and now stunted jam dreams – am I ever destined to make a balls of everything?
Considering my affliction to be something akin to the opposite of the Midas Touch (where everything I touch turns to dung), I determined to learn the lesson of the mouldy berries. I affirmed, “I shall never again delay for a single moment when I am gifted berries of any kind.” I was referring, of course, to the process of making jam and less than a week later, I was granted a reprieve.
Instead of gooseberries, this time it was a bag of blackcurrants from my mother-in-law and without missing a beat, I dug the jam jars and scales out of the cupboard, washed up the currants and began measuring out quantities.
I don’t know if this qualifies as a jam or a preserve although I suppose that hair-splitting moniker depends on your tax bracket and/or your score on the Hifalutin Scale.
Chose one of the following statements pertaining to scone at tea-time.
Is it: “Hi, gone fire us over that jar a jam there, to we get a dose of her.”
Or: “Begging your pardon, if it pleases, could you pass me the preserve, mummy?”
On Wednesday evening I embarked on my first jam session of the year and all things considered, it was an unqualified success. Deceptively easy, I know now that blackcurrants are one of the easiest fruits to jamify (or preserve) seeing as how they are naturally high in pectin. All you need is blackcurrants, water and sugar – and latterly a few little humans to lick the pot when the jam jars are filled and the scraped up leftovers are still warm verging on hot – which is why this is the perfect jam for beginners.
1 kg of blackberries will need about six to eight jars (depending on size), so make sure you have enough before you start the process.
These are easily prepared by washing (lids and jars) in hot soapy water, rinsing really well in hot water and then retiring the jars to a low oven (100C) for 15 to 20 minutes. While that’s happening, I put the lids into a bowl before pouring on a kettleful of just-boiled water. It matters not if you take off the original labels but apparently, if you plan on keeping the jars for any length of time, the little wax discs to top the jam are a must. These can be bought online for a pittance. I didn’t use them this time around because a). I didn’t have any and b).
I’m sharing the jars with family and friends, so they won’t make it beyond the next few weeks.
Another point: It’s always better to sterilise the jars in the oven as the jam is being made, so that you’re pouring hot jam into hot jars – it helps with the preservation, I’m told.
Also, it’s completely possible to make jam without a jam thermometer. I use the Cold Saucer Wrinkle Technique to make sure the jam is set. For that I put two saucers into the fridge before starting the jam. But I’ll get to that later.
My grandmother used to make blackcurrant jelly. She had half a dozen bushes in her back garden and once a year the big pot would come out. I remember she used a pillowcase to strain the liquid into a bowl – drip-drip-drip – and the result was the most amazing topping for the heel of a loaf. There was no such thing as olive oil spreads in her world either. If you couldn’t see your teethmarks in the butter, the bread wasn’t buttered.
Whilst not as good as her jelly, this is easily the best jam I’ve ever made. Tart and zingy and deeply flavoursome, it’s the sort of simple but luxurious purple loveliness that turns a slice of soda bread into an adventure for your tastebuds. As I write this, it is four days since I made the jam and already, I am nearing the bottom of Jar One. I’ve also eaten my way through two home-made soda breads and I’ve stopped putting the butter back into the fridge. Jam Jar Two is standing by like a good little soldier but all the others have been shared out. That means I’ll have to make more and if the recent blossom on the wild blackberry bushes around our house are anything to go by, this year is going to see a bumper harvest.
950g of blackcurrants, washed and stalks removed
900ml of water
1100g of sugar
Start by putting those two saucers I mentioned into the fridge.
Next, prep the berries and dump these into a big saucepan. Pour on the water and bring to a simmer. Let it simmer for about five minutes to cook the berries through and then add in the sugar.
Yes, it looks like a lot but fear not, the eventual jam (or preserve) will still be lovely and tart. Stir and swirl with a wooden spoon until dissolved and then turn the heat up so that everything is going at a rolling boil. Let it rip, stirring from time to time and revelling in the fact that you’re making ACTUAL JAM, for 15 minutes. After this time, it’s time to partake of the Cold Saucer Wrinkle Technique to make sure the jam is set.
Turn off the heat and take one of the saucers out of the fridge and drop a teaspoonful of the jam into the plate. Return the saucer to the fridge and set a timer for five minutes. After that time, push the jam on the plate with your finger. If it wrinkles, the jam is ready. If there is no wrinkle, boil the jam for another five minutes and test again.
To fill the jars, I first pour the jam out into a sterilised jug and then pour from the jug. Fill the hot jars right to the top and get the lids on right away.
Congratulations, you’ve just made some of the finest jam (or preserve) available to mankind.
Feel free to fire a jar my way.
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