Battlefield Blackberry Jam from The Fiery Cross
Jamie and the Governor, shaken out of their nose to nose confrontation, had also retired to the shadows; I could see them, two stiff shadows, one tall and one shorter, standing close together. The element of danger had gone out of their tête-a-tête, though; I could see Jamie’s head bent slightly toward Tryon’s shadow, listening.
“… brought food,” Phoebe Sherston was telling me, her round face pink with excited self-importance. “Fresh bread, and butter, and some blackberry jam and cold chicken and…”
“Food!” I said, abruptly reminded of the parcel I held under my arm. “Do pardon me!” I gave her a quick, bright smile, and ducked away, leaving her open-mouthed in front of the tent.
Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross (Chapter 72 – Tinder and Char)
As we approach summer’s end, the squirrels among us start to count the stores on our pantry shelves. Where are the holes? What will we put up this year? Much of that depends on how the backyard harvest goes…and what the prices in the produce aisle are like.
And then there’s foraging. Claire gathered most of the non-meat food she and Jamie ate on the road– from Outlander all the way through Echo — and here on our little rural island, there is no more ubiquitous wild food than the blackberry.
Despite their juicy sweetness and health benefits (blackberries are among the richest source of antioxidants in the world), some islanders regard the blackberries growing everywhere along our roadsides and garden fences as a thorn in our collective side rather than a (free!) tasty nutritional goldmine.
The most common variety of blackberry here on Pender (and across most of the Pacific Northwest of North America) is actually an invasive species. The Himalayan Blackberry, Rubinus discolour, was brought by European immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The plants took hold and spread quickly to a point where they are a serious threat to native vegetation, including the smaller, less robust (and now very rare) Trailing Blackberry, Rubus ursinus.
It took me less than an hour to pick the 2 pounds of berries I used for this jam. It would have been a bit faster if I had gotten out a couple of weeks ago, but the easy pickings were long gone by this weekend. I took along an old wire coat hanger, and used the hook to pull down the higher bunches of berries that the deer and earlier pickers hadn’t had to bother with.
Just at the end of my pick, OK fan, Saskatchewan resident and frequent visitor to Pender, Lorna, came walking along the roadside on her way to the Saturday Farmer’s Market. We chatted for a bit, exchanged berry picking stories, and briefly debated the merits of jams and jellies. It turns out she makes raspberry jam every year, and she reduces the seed count in her jam by straining half of the cooked fruit.
Great idea! Thanks to Lorna, we’ll all now have blackberry jam with a manageable number of seeds! Even those of us with incredibly close-set teeth are happy — may we never have to do the bathroom mirror “seed check” again…
This is an old-fashioned jam, something pretty close to what Phoebe Sherston would have brought to the battlefield at Alamance.
Instead of packages, green apples provide the pectin here. The recipe includes a range of sugar — the more you use, the thicker and sweeter your jam will be.
(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)
: Old-fashioned, whole-fruit goodness thickened with sugar and natural pectin from green apples.
Yield: 5 to 6 cups
- Blackberries – 2 pounds
- Green Apples, peeled, quartered and cored – 4 medium
- Water – 1 cup
- Sugar – 3 to 4 cups
Add the blackberries, apple quarters and water to a large pot over medium-high heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce to low, cover and simmer until very soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Using a ladle or measuring cup, remove 3 cups of the mixture in stages, including all the apples, and force it through a strainer using the back of a wooden or silicon spoon. Collect the juice in a bowl and scrape the pulp from the bottom of the strainer into the juice. Discard the almost-dry seeds still in the strainer basket.
Combine and measure the strained juice/pulp together with the mixture still in the pan. Add ½ cup to ¾ cup sugar per cup of fruit (see notes) and stir well. Heat over medium, stirring, until all of the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to high, bring to a vigourous boil, uncovered and not stirring, until the jam has reached gel stage (220° F), about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Skim the top of the jam and discard the scum. Ladle the jam into hot, sterilised mason jars, cap and allow to cool completely. Check the seal when cool (see notes).
- Use a large pot with at least 6” of clearance from the berries to the top of the pot. The mixture needs to boil vigourously and you don’t want the sticky mess of an over-boiled pot. Trust me. See the pot in my pictures? Use a much bigger pot than I did — or half the recipe. Jam under the elements is never fun.
- I used ½ cup sugar per cup of fruit and got a slightly loose jam that I’m calling a compote. It’s fabulous on toast and scones, but also saucy enough to go over ice cream or into the middle of a cupcake. It’s not overly sweet, either — and the berry flavour really shines through. ¾ cup sugar per cup of fruit will get you thicker and sweeter jam — more like store-bought.
- Some people would insist you process this jam in a water bath after capping — I’ve never done that with high-sugar jams, but if you want more information about canning safety and food preservation in general, I strongly recommend this fabulous resource from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.