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Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Pump up the (blackberry) jam

“I was reaching over to pick one and a thorn stung me.” It was a case of no pain, no gain at the weekend when the Clan embarked on its first blackberry mission of the season.

Only Anna sustained any injuries  (although thankfully the ‘thorn-sting’ wasn’t overly serious) and after a mere hour’s picking through the sleeve-snagging brambles we had enough wild fruit to make a small pot of fridge jam.

Our fingers were puce too by the time we’d finished, crushing as we had, so many ripe blackberries the remnants of which surreptitiously ended up ended up in our mouths instead of the plastic tub. Sure, it’s all part of the fun.

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I love the whole idea of gathering blackberries, and like wild garlic and mushroom hunting, I find the whole process mysteriously exciting as if I’m tapping into an historical collective consciousness via a practise which has been repeated by generation after generation, down through the centuries.

With Halloween on the horizon, the chill of the darker evenings, mornings veiled in cool mists… collecting blackberries feels almost magical. It seems to me to be the kind of thing a witch or a wizard might do, as a break from their magical toils.

And what can be more magical than a humble berry’s transformation from sharp-sweetness to a luscious and earthy tang, after mere minutes in a pot with a dash of water, lemon juice and some sugar.

One of my absolute favourite jam memories was a batch my mother made one year after a previous blackberry mission.

It was a small cook-up (I’d only collected enough to make two or three jars) but the one pot I was gifted was savoured and then savoured some more, on toast, on hunks of buttered wheaten bread and even on ice-cream until my unfortunate  spoon rattled around the jar without reward.

This jam, more than any other,  struck  the  perfect balance of sweetness, depth of  flavour and the necessary acidic tingle.

It was  probably the best jam I have ever tasted. Like any other wild foods, there is a sharp difference between blackberry jam and the ubiquotous strawberry or raspberry.

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Whilst I have more than enough time for all jams and preserves and jellies, I think the annual blackberry mission holds a special place in my heart (and stomach) simply because the season is so brief.

As a reminder to myself what my new jam tastes like I took a break from writing to make a cup of tea and eat a toasted slice of sour dough, the very one you can see in the picture. I wished I toasted more of that bread as soon as the last morsel was washed down with the dregs of the tea.

With real butter, it is the most wondrous stuff, exactly the kind of jam a witch or wizard might enjoy with his or her beverage of choice. And the fact that I now have a pot of this loveliness in the fridge means I’ll have to make soda bread or a wheaten before the week is out, just so I can up my wild jam consumption.

Best of all though, the blackberry season has just begun, and if our local brambles are anything to go by, there’s going to be a real glut of fruit over the next week or so. That’ll mean a second and possibly a third wild fruit mission before the end of the month. Maybe I’ll be writing about a blackberry crumble next week or maybe I won’t; I find it nearly impossible to look past the jam.

The other great thing about this jam – ‘fridge’ jam – is that you don’t need to mess around with large quantities of fruit or thermometers or pectin sugar or waxed discs or anything like that. I mean, if you’re making proper jam then fair play to you.

This fridge variety cooks quickly but won’t keep as long as traditional jams. But you shouldn’t have any bother on that front. Once you taste home-made blackberry jam it’ll be lucky to last a week (although if you wanted to this would in theory, keep well for at least a fortnight in the fridge and even longer in the freezer).

Or, if you’re thinking, “I’ve never made any kind of jam before, it sounds like a hanlin,” I can assure you it most certainly isn’t. And it’s also foolproof.

INGREDIENTS (MAKES ONE JAR – OR THEREABOUTS)

1 collection of blackberries – about 250/300g

2 tbsps of water

2/3 heaped tbsps of sugar (I used caster but granulated works fine) depending on how sharp or sweet you want it to be. I like a bit of zinginess.

tiny pinch of salt

tsp of lemon juice

THE PLAN

Wash and prep the blackberries, discarding any that look wizened or discoloured and then place these with the rest of the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down and simmer for about ten to 15 minutes, until the juices thicken. The berries will break up slightly as they cook but I usually give them a helping hand by crushing them against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon, but not too much, ‘cause I like a bit of texture.

Remember that as the jam cools, it will thicken up more, so a good idea is to  cook and stir and keep an eye until most of the liquid is gone but it’s not completely thickened.

Decant into a super clean jar and allow it to cool completely before screwing the lid on tight.

And if, perchance, you find that you’ve filled the jar and there’s a little left over, dig a bit of bread out and getting buttering – waste not, want not! Magical.

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