Preserving Summer: Jam time
Growing up I was surrounded by blackberries. In the summer mornings my dad would stroll down the block to the empty field near us and pick a small bowl of blackberries while the rest of the family was still in our pajamas. We might eat those fresh, unadulterated, or they might get tossed into a fruit smoothie. One banana, cup of blackberries, apple juice and ice and I was a happy happy girl. My sister and I would smile at each other over our glasses filled with dark frothy shake, purple mustaches and blackberry seeds in our teeth.
Occasionally the berries were put into a cobbler, but more often we just picked them and ate them, or begged for a smoothie. Of course if we wanted a smoothie my dad wouldn’t do the picking everytime– we had to pick too. The poison oak grew within the blackberry bushes (rearing up at you when you least expected it, so well hidden within the brambles), so we had to suit up to go picking. There is something comforting about the memory of being dressed in pants and long sleeve shirt (usually too short in the arms by this time of year) and picking berries in full sun in August. My arms would slightly sting, and threaten to itch. I would feel the sweat beads forming at my hairline and behind my knees. Then, instead of dropping that next berry in my container, I would slip it into my mouth. Warm from the sun, soft with ripeness and sweet. Now that is summer.
The one thing we didn’t ever do with the berries was make jam. Although both my grandmothers would make jam here and there out of old habits, no one ever canned with me as a child. That was a skill learned later in life. But the first year I learned to can, I made blackberry jam. Somewhere a long the line I had tasted some homemade blackberry jam, and nothing can compare to that taste of summer, transported to a cold January morning with your morning toast. Nothing.
So today I made sure I jammed. I picked the berries about 3-4 weeks ago one afternoon, meeting my friend and her kids with my own. It was hot though, and the kids wandered off to play in the shade while we picked and talked, and picked and talked. When we got home I spread my berries on cookie sheets, and tucked them into the freezer for a week bit. Once they were frozen, I got them all in one container and stowed them away for a free afternoon. And today I was free.
This is the first time I’ve tried this Pomona’s Pectin, as well as using some honey instead of all sugar. It all went smoothly and my jam was bubbling away before I knew it. The Pomona’s was a little different then I’ve been used to; you dissolve the calcium in water and then mix the pectin with the sugar before adding. I’m not quite sure what the difference is between this pectin and the other brands, but I have to say it did set up nicely without too much sugar being added (it’s probably a little tarter than usual as I didn’t use as much sugar this year, but the blackberry flavor is strong).
It’s all sealed up now, waiting for the winter, but I did sneak a taste already from one jar that only got filled part way with the dregs from the pan. It was as good as I remember summer being and makes me long for winter so that I can taste the contrast and sweetness a bit more.