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Becky's Food Tales - July 8, 2013

By Becky Hoff

Fri, Jul 5th, 2013
Posted in All Columnists

A Tale of Blackberry Jam

Blackberry season is coming soon! Every summer I go out picking, or at least buy pints of the wild growing ‘blackcaps’ at a local farmer’s market. Their sweet-tart taste reminds me of hot summer days spent roaming the woods around my Grandmother’s house. Blackberry picking was a family event and sometimes there would be a dozen of us out filling ice cream pails with the little purple berries. We would eat them on vanilla ice cream when we got back to Grandma’s, savoring the seasonal treat. There were never any berries left over, for ours is a large extended family.

A few summers back, I was reminiscing with my friend Mandy about berry picking. She mentioned that there were several berry patches in the woods around her house, and we decided to pick enough to preserve in a batch of jam. Early one Sunday morning we met at her house, donned our long sleeves and headed out into the woods to collect berries. After about three hours, we collected several quarts of berries. (And four wood ticks!)

Now it was time to make the blackberry jam. Mandy had a glass top stove, and these are not suitable for water bath canning. We thought we’d be very clever and can our jam on the grill. Mandy’s husband Brad dutifully filled the canning kettle with water and fired up the propane grill. We got down to the business of washing and then mashing our berries. We strained out some of the seeds, measured out a shocking amount of sugar, then cooked up some delicious looking jam.

But when it was time to ladle the jam into jars, we realized that we had a problem- the water bath kettle was not boiling. In fact, it wasn’t even simmering. Not knowing what else to do, we jarred up our jam and stuck it in the hot water anyway. We cranked the heat on the grill, put the cover on the kettle, and waited. And waited.

About 45 minutes into it, we accepted the fact that our kettle was not going to boil. So we did what any sensible people would do- we loaded the canning kettle into the back of a pick-up truck. Mandy drove, and I hopped in the pick-up bed to steady the kettle. We drove down the steep quarter mile of Mandy’s driveway, turned sharply left, and then went up another steep quarter mile driveway to her parents’ house. It was quite the wild ride in the pick-up bed, and I am happy to report that I did not get burned or bruised in the process! With the use of Mandy’s mom’s gas stove, we brought our kettle to boiling in no time and processed it for the required ten minutes.

The finished product was a very stiff, seedy and sweet blackberry jam. But oh, it tasted good!

Neither Mandy nor I have made any blackberry jam since, though we have both gone on to can other things with less excitement. Recently I have started using low or no sugar recipes for jams and jellies. I find that I prefer these to the super sweet traditionally made jams and jellies.

The following recipe is for a low sugar blackberry jam using Pomona’s Universal Pectin. Pomona’s Pectin is a pectin derived from citrus peel. It must be activated with calcium, which comes in powdered form with the pectin. The calcium powder is mixed into water prior to using. Pomona’s Pectin can be purchased at the Oneota Co-op in Decorah, or online at pomonapectin.com. The pectin will come with complete instructions for using the pectin and calcium water. It is important to read these over, as this pectin works a little differently than traditional pectin. If you have not done any home canning before but would like to try, I recommend getting a good, up to date book and reading it over before your first attempt. One such book is the ‘Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving’ and I reference my copy of it frequently. Glass top stoves are not recommended for home canning, the glass cannot take the weight. I wouldn’t recommend using a propane grill, either.

Low Sugar

Blackberry Jam

Before canning you must wash and rinse your jars, letting them stand in hot water. Wash your screw bands, and simmer your lids. Leave the lids standing in hot water until needed. Have all of your equipment and ingredients set out and ready to go before you begin, this makes for a smooth canning session.

1) Mash enough blackberries to equal four cups of berry pulp. It should take around ten cups of whole berries to make four cups of pulp.

2) Add 2 tsp of calcium water and 1/4 cup lemon juice to the pulp.

3) Measure 2 tsp of pectin into 2 cups of sugar, mix well and set aside.

4) Bring fruit pulp to a boil. Add pectin/sugar mix. Stir vigorously 1-2 minutes to dissolve pectin. Return to a full boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

5) Fill hot jars with hot jam, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe jar rims clean. Apply lids and screw caps.

6) Put filled jars in boiling water bath that covers the tops by at least one inch. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes, then turn off heat and remove lid. Let stand for five minutes, then remove jars from canner. Let them sit undisturbed for 24 hours. Remove the bands, check the seals, label and store.

Makes 4-5 eight ounce jars of jam.

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