Friday, August 27, 2010

Blackberry Bonanza!

As a Pacific Northwesterner, I am surrounded by an ever increasing mass of blackberry bushes each year. And each August, those prickly, pesky bushes become a thing of beauty. The berries turn a deep blackish purple and they call to be eaten.

Unfortunately, blackberry bushes like disturbed ground, which often comes with construction, which happens to usually occur near roads. This means that while you're surrounded by what should be delicious berries, you are instead surrounded by beautiful bushes that taste like exhaust and dirt. If you eat a berry off of a plant on the side of the road you end up with a mouth full of a taste that you never quite want to eat again.

Some of us Seattlites that love berries find blackberry bushes off the beaten track where they can harvest full flavored berries by the bucket. Once upon a time at a rental, I had a patch in my back yard that I cursed 11 months out of the year, but that one month, right before we moved out, I hate my weight in berries. Today, I've had an increasingly hard time finding berry patches close to me that are up to my high standards. Luckily, I often work "in the field" near hydroelectric projects. These places are ripe with disturbed ground and sometimes have acres full of berries behind gated fences to keep the masses out. Also, luckily for me, I usually have a key.

This year, I hit the motherload. I found a patch during my monthly trip south to the small town of Cougar that was not only off the road, but also on public land (you never know about private land - they might have sprayed the bushes or even just want to keep them all for themselves).  I finished my work and on the way back stopped to pick six cups of berries, conveniently enclosed by the plastic containers still in my car from camping.

 True to my recent obsession, I had to make jam out of it. Nothing quite compares to homemade blackberry jam. Except maybe Mom's raspberry jam. Or my orange marmalade.

Now, if only they could modify the blackberry bush to be non-invasive, we'd be golden.

Blackberry Jam
Adapted from Tasty Kitchen

5 cups fresh blackberries
1 box Pectin
1/2 tsp butter
7 cups sugar

Wash (11-12) jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water, or in the dishwasher.  Pour boiling water over flat lids in a saucepan off the heat.  Let stand in hot water until ready to use.

Crush blackberries thoroughly, one layer at a time.  Stir pectin into fruit mixture in saucepan.  Ad butter to reduce foaming, if desired.  Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.  Stir in sugar.

Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly*.  Remove from heat.  Skim off any foam with metal spoon.  Lade immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops.  Wipe jar rims and threads.  Cover with 2-piece lids and process in hot water canner for 10 minutes.  Remove from hot water and place jars on a cool dry surface.  After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger.  If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and reprocessing or refrigeration is necessary. 

*Comments on this recipe said the jam didn't quite set when boiled for only 1 minute.  Other comments recommended boiling for 4 minutes.  I boiled for about 3 minutes and it's perfect.

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