Autumn is upon us and its a wonderful time in nature. My favourite thing in the month of October is to take a day to go blackberry picking and make a delicious batch of blackberry jam. It’s such a basic and lovely thing to do and picking the juicy purple black fruit always reminds me of the wonderful poem by on of Ireland’s most famous poets, Seamus Heaney. In his poem ‘Blackberry-picking’ the poet describes the pure childhood joy of picking these delicious berries. His beautiful description of the ‘glossy purple’ berries makes me hungry for the delicious fruit and we are lucky to have such an abundance of Blackberry bushes here in the North West.
My favourite line in the poem is ‘Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it’ and even though I adore Summer, Heaney’s sensual descriptions make me crave for Autumn every time. The poem ends with Heaney saying that he always felt like crying when ‘Once off the bush, The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour’ highlighting the transience of nature and making the eating directly from the bush so much sweeter.
‘Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not’.
Today I did just what Heaney describes, I trekked and picked until my cans were full. Juicy and delicious, every berry tasted unique and I ended up eating half of my harvest before I even got home. What remained of my bounty however, I used to make some jam which is the perfect way to prevent them from spoiling. Here I have outlined a recipe for making a delicious Blackberry Jam.
Wild Blackbeard’s Jam
For my Jam recipe I have decided to use Agar-Agar instead of gelatine, which is made from freeze dried sea-vegetables and a great alternative for vegetarians. It can be tricky to use but if you make sure that the flakes dissolve totally then its a great natural product. I have also used only a small amount of sugar which I prefer as I think too much sweetness takes away from the taste of the berries. If you like yours sweeter just add about 300grams more.
1kg Blackberries with a few Raspberries
juice of 1 lemon
500 grams granulated sugar
4 grams of Agar-Agar (health food store)
1 Madagasgar Vanilla Pod
1. After picking the blackberries wash them thoroughly to make sure they have no insects or dirt on them.
In a sterilised pot add your blackberries and sugar as well as the Vanilla pod which I like to slice in half and add whole while cooking.
Add the juice of your lemon and 2 cups of water.
Simmer on a low heat for about 15 minutes.
Remove the mix from the heat and for a smoother Jelly like Jam you can blend this in a mixer but I love a bit of texture in a Blackberry Jam. It feels so much more like eating them off the bush!
Now it’s time to spinkle the Agar Agar flakes over the jam mix and you can put the pot back on the boil and stir the mix until the flakes are all dissolved. You’ll notice a jelly like consistency start to happen.
Remove from the heat and stir a little more, maybe 2 minutes or so, as the mixture cools down.
Fill your sterilized Jam Jars to the top making sure you dont burn yourself as it can be very hot.
Cover each jar with a disk of wax paper and seal with the lids and turn them upside down to cool.
Note. These jams should keep for about 2 months of you store them in your cupboard. They will however lats longer if you have space in your fridge.
Sterilising your jars
Heat oven to 140C/120C fan/gas 1. Wash the jars in hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place the jars on a baking sheet and put them in the oven to dry completely. If using Kilner jars, boil the rubber seals, as dry heat damages them.
Sealing your Jars
A great way of sealing your jars without a canner is to use a pot of boiling water to sterlilise the glass jar (make sure this is a heat proof one such as a kilner jar). When totally immersed in the boiling water, the jars and lids are naturally sterilised. Be sure to remove the rubber seal if using a Kilner jar or similar as the heat damages the rubber.
Once you take the jar out of the water, ladle your jam into the jar and then using tongs take the lid out of the water also and place it on top, making sure you hold everything with a cloth not your fingers. Screw on your lid tightly and you should be able to hear your lids popping shut over the next few hours.
Enjoying your harvest
May favourite way of eating the jam is on a slice of good french bread, Le Fournil in Sligo’s Italian Quarter have an incredible selection of fresh breads that are simple and perfect.
You can also use your jams to bake some goodies such as Blackberry crumble cake or even a Blackberry Frangipane or Bakewells. Yum.
You could always add a little bit of ginger to your mix which will make this Jam a really lovely warming winter treat. Another fab idea is adding a little cinnamon and nutmeg for a real Christmas feel. Or for a fantastic jam for meats and cheese what about adding some balsamic vinegar, pepper or chilli and cardamom! Sounds strange but it actually works!
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.