What could be better than picking and eating summer berries? Picking, eating and having enough left over to make homemade jam. Pie is amazing too, but jam is special — sweet goodness and foraging stories wrapped up in a neat little jar.
Blackberry picking in Northern California requires creative ingenuity and is a far better adventure in the company of friends. As you know, the best berries are always just out of reach. My strategy is in keeping with that of my grandmother’s — employ planks of wood, old ladders and other, random objects to serve as bridges, laying them out over brambles, stamping then down until reasonably stable before the balancing act begins. I love hanging out over the no-fall zone, surrounded by what feels like a precipice of thorns, picking as fast as I can, taking the thorns as they come – because they will – and laughing with fellow pickers (usually my cousins or mom who are just as willing to risk personal comfort for this once-a-year opportunity).
Blueberries are far tamer but equally as satisfying thanks to my favorite you-pick spot, Wolfsen Farms. It can feel like a race, picking madness really, but there’s plenty of fun and eating to be done because of the multiple varieties grown. The only way to know what you’re getting is to taste test first and, if picking with kids, this is the best part – along with the labyrinth-like lanes of bushes to run around in.
I say put the fruit of your hard earned foraging to good use right away, a bowl of blackberries with a sprinkling of sugar, pie, pancakes with flair. And then, if you’re lucky, make jam. I love combining blackberries and blueberries, they’re amazing by themselves and even better together.
Quality, flavorful fruit means you can keep your recipe simple. I either mix high and low pectin fruits or simply add using the proportions and ingredients on my pectin container when making jam. Berries, fresh squeezed lemon, pectin and sugar is all you’ll need.
Here’s what I do:
- Measure my fruit by volume. This way I know how many batches I’ll be making (it’s never a good idea to double a batch).
- Wash and sterilize jars in the dishwasher. I try to time my jam making with the ending of the dishwasher cycle. That way the jars come out hot right when the jam is done cooking.
- Prep my materials. Lids go in a saucepan on the stove which I turn on to a simmer once my jam is nearly ready to go into jars. Tongs, funnel and surfaces are cleaned and ready. (It’s really important that anything going into my sterile jars is also sterile.)
- Mash my berries and combine them into the pot with pectin and lemon. Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously, until it comes to a boil that won’t quit, even when stirred.
- Add sugar – the amount will depend on how much fruit you’re using but it will most likely be a 1:1 fruit to sugar ratio.
- Bring to a rolling boil on medium heat and stir continuously for another 15 to 20 minutes or when the jam becomes thick. Skim foam if needed. Pour or spoon jam into hot jars, one jar at a time. Wipe rims and center lids, fixing the lid to the jar with a ring. I them turn the jars upside down, so the heat of the jam helps seal the lids to the jar. I skip the hot water bath. (This is what my mom does so I do it too.)
- Flip the jars right-side-up once sealed or cool.
- Store and eat up within the year. Hopefully you’ll have enough to get you through to the next berry season.
*Note: If you can’t use your berries up right away, freeze them until ready. I clean and dry blueberries, lay them out on a cookie sheet and pop them in the freezer and then, once firm, combine them into an airtight container for storage. Blackberries are a little trickier. I generally pick through them, removing anything that isn’t fruit, and maybe give them a quick spray but you don’t want all of the juices washed down the drain so tread lightly. Then use the cookie sheet trick as with blueberries.