By the time June rolled around in Myrtle Creek, we could head outdoors and find blackberries almost anywhere on the property up until Halloween. Every year we scrounged up a few old boards and leaned them out into the thick, lush green blackberry bushes. These were are bridges to otherwise unreachable areas where we believed the biggest, juiciest, and sweetest berries were hidden. Nevermind the scratches from those huge thorns, or the chore of cutting back never-ending briars with a sickle in the August heat. If we filled a big bowl, my mom would make blackberry cobbler. Sometimes we had to pick for hours so she and my aunt could make jam. When we got a little older, we filled buckets and took them to the local Dairy Queen to be blended into fresh blackberry milkshakes. The berries seemed so much sweeter and juicier back then.
Nowadays, I see the blackberries at the market, five dollars a pint, and chuckle. Most are Marionberries anyway, not what I consider “real blackberries”. Not like the ones I grew up popping into my mouth all summer long.
When I opened my eyes Wednesday morning and saw the sun coming through the sliding glass door, I knew it was time to head out to one of the farms and pick some of those real blackberries. If you grew up out in the countryside, close to the land, you might also just get a feeling about when the berries are ripe, when it’s going to rain, or when there’s a critter outside, in the dark, before you turn the light on and can actually see it.
There were three buses and several other vehicles in the gravel parking area at the farm when I arrived. Luckily, the summer campers were all sitting at picnic tables or visiting with the goats. I was able to get my flat, wash my hands (the farm requires), and stroll out into the field in my lemon, cotton sun dress lickety-split. I had the time, so I was careful to look closely at each blackberry before barely giving it a tug to see if it would release easily into my hand. That’s how I pick `em anyway, not over ripe, not under ripe, just ripe!
Once I got them home, I gave them a 15 minute soak in a couple of very large bowls filled with water and a quarter cup of distilled vinegar in each. Then, rinsed them well in filtered water and put them in the refrigerator overnight to keep until my daughter and I would turn them into jam the following day. And so, we made jam and it's delicious, just like what I remember.
If you’d like to make some too, here’s what we did:
We stopped by Portland Homestead Supply Company earlier in the week to pick-up some more of my favorite Weck jars. On jam-making-day, We followed the instructions for sweet blackberry jam found inside the box of Pomona's Universal Pectin I picked-up at the farm during checkout.
A variety of your favorite canning jars (estimate volume based the amount of berries)
(1) 12-quart Stainless Steel Pot (for sterilizing and processing)
(1) 8-quart, Stainless Steel, Heavy Bottomed Pot
(2) 4-quart Large Glass Bowls
(1) Jar Lifter
(1) Potato Masher
(1) Canner Rack
(1) Long-Handled Tongs
(1) Firm Heat Safe Spatula
(1) 2-Cup Glass Liquid Measure Cup
(1) 1-Cup Glass Liquid Measure Cup
(1) Large Tablespoon
(1) Small Glass Plate (put in freezer for testing jam)
(2) Clean Kitchen Towels (I use flour sack towels)
(1) Clean Cloth for Wiping Jars
- 10 Cups Blackberries, Mashed
- 1/4 to 1/2 Cup Lemon Juice, Freshly Squeezed (I used just over 1/4 cup)
- 2 1/2 Cups Honey - I used Oregon Growers Raw & Unfiltered Wildflower
- 5 tsp Calcium (from the 1/2 tsp calcium + 1/2 cup water mixture)
- 5 tsp pectin (powder)
1. We placed a canner rack in the bottom of a 12-quart stainless steel pot, filled it with water and brought it to a boil. Then, followed standard canning procedure to sterilize our favorite jars, lids (and rings). You can find complete instructions for sterilizing your favorite canning jars at the National Center for Home Preservation website.
2. We mashed the berries in the 8-quart pot, spooned them into a 2-cup liquid measure, and transferred them to one of the large bowls. We repeated this until we had the total volume of berries (10 cups total) and then poured them back into the pot.
3. We mixed 1/2 teaspoons calcium powder (found in the smaller of the two packets inside the box) into 1/2 Cup filtered water in a glass jar, put on the lid, shook, and let it sit.
4. Because we had 10 Cups of berries, we decided to go with 2 1/2 cups of honey and 5 teaspoons pectin (found in the larger of the two packets inside the box). The instructions indicate mixing the pectin thoroughly into the honey.
5. There was some lemon juice in the fridge squeezed earlier in the morning so we poured a heavy 1/4 cup of it into the pot of mashed berries and brought it to a boil, stirring occasionally with the heat-proof spatula.
6. When it came to a full boil, we removed it from the heat, mixed in the calcium water and the honey pectin mixture, and returned it to the heat and back to a full boil.
7. We let it boil for a couple of minutes and then dropped a tablespoon of it onto the glass plate we put in the freezer to see if it was ready.
8. It was definitely ready. We transferred the pot onto a trivet beside the prepared canning jars and used the 1-cup liquid measure cup to fill the jars with jam (leave 1/4" head room).
9. We wiped any drips of jam that got onto the rim or outside of the jars, put the sterilized rings onto each, and put on the glass lids and clamps.
10. Finally, we processed the jam using the standard process method for canning jam. You can find those steps (steps 6-9) Here.