July 15, 2011


On Wednesday, as I was mowing the lawn, I noticed the neighbors had a lot of perfectly ripe blackberries, that were just waiting to go bad. The more times I walked past them, the more it seemed like a crime against humanity to let them go bad.

When I was done, I saw the neighbor husband doing yardwork, so I went and asked him if they were going to use them. He looked at me for a bit and then said "No, we aren't going to use them." I took that as a "sure, pick 'em" and I did. We spent about an hour and a half staining our fingers (and feet!) and snagging our clothes on the brambles. Orianna and Lily pretended that they were Sal from Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey and ate some. 

Blueberries for SalJamberry [Deluxe Edition](text only) by B. Degen
Then Orianna remembered Jamberry, her favorite board book as a baby and quoted the "Trainberry, trackberry, pick me a blackberry. Rumble and ramble in blackberry bramble, billions of berries for blackberry jam-ble." Alright she just quoted the train, track, blackberry bit, but my mind finished it and I decided to make some blackberry jamble.

No wonder there are a lot of kids books about berries (Sal, Jamberry, Brambly Hedge, one of the highlights of Almanzo Wilder's year, etc.) there is something magical about finding these bits of yumminess amongst all the prickles! The girls absolutely loved it.

We gave Gilbert berries to buy his cooperation.

Blackberry belly

Orianna and Lily smooshed blackberries to make their hands evenly red.

When we came in, I got out my Ball canning cookbook to see what the recipe was. Oh simplicity! Berries and sugar, cook to a gelling point and plop in a jar. I needed the jars though, so I decided to go to Wal-mart and grab some. I scanned the other recipes and in short order, had made a list of ingredients so I could make cherry jam, Kiwi jam (come on, who doesn't want to try that?) and mango-raspberry jam (ya hello, loveliness!).

In case you didn't notice, I never do things in moderation. If I am going to make jam, I might as well make 4 different kinds, none of which I have ever made. I am not even sure that I ever made regular jam. Just a freezer jam. Despite that small detail of inexperience, I was already seeing gleaming rows of jam in a rainbow of color. I started thinking about doing a blog on making jam and showing everyone that it really isn't that difficult. This all, despite the making-a-charm-skirt tutorial I was going to do last week that turned out the most flawed skirt I have ever made for my poor children. Everytime I do something, I have this innocent optimism that THIS time, it can't help but go right. Obviously the cosmos has a sense of humor and a vested interest in me not becoming conceited.

The recipe mentioned a gelling point, so I looked at the gelling point illustration, that shows the jam first dripping, getting thicker, and finally sheeting off the spoon in the globulous deliciousness that is jam. I didn't read the fine print above, which mentioned that it must be done with a cold metal spoon. I kept happily dripping jam from my wooden spoon and wondered why the recipe said "cook quickly to gelling point" when I had been cooking for a good 20 minutes and still no gelling point. As I was boiling the daylights out of my tender little berries and pondering gelling points, I was chopping cherries for cherry jam. Efficiency! Finally, I decided to try a metal spoon. The blackberries glommed onto that spoon and wouldn't let go. Ah ha! Gelling point. So I put them into the jars, burning myself and melting my ladle (a plastic measuring cup) in the process. As I was screwing the lids on, I tasted a bit. An odd bit that stuck to my teeth like hard candy. Well maybe I over did the gelling point, but in the canning process, maybe it will heat up again and turn out alright anyway.

Nope. For one thing, I discovered a small burned patch on the bottom of the pan. And when I opened the jar that I was planning on leaving in the fridge, I discovered I had made slightly burned blackberry rock candy. Completely inpenatratable. Like poking at a rock with a stick. This was discouraging, but since I had the cherries chopped, I decided that everyone messes up the first batch of jam and I might as well make cherry jam, since that one used pectin and couldn't help but turn out right.

Except it uses LIQUID pectin and the crazy cookbook people didn't see fit to highlight that in flashing neon pink for simpletons like me. It is more of a lovely cherry ice cream sauce. It could be used as a runny jam in a pinch. It didn't burn though, so progress!

The blackberry jam. That white-ish patch you see is where I chipped away at it with a knife to see if I could stick a knife in for a picture. I couldn't. You can't even cut this jam with a knife. Sigh.

Figuring up how much money I wasted on non-edible jam was too discouraging to do accurately, but I feel pretty sure I could have bought about 10 jars of smuckers for the same amount, all perfectly edible. That is not even counting the ruined big saucepan, the messy kitchen (understatment of the week), the melted measuring cup, and the stove that now has permenantly attached blackberry dribbles. I am considering buying  a new stove. This one doesn't cook evenly anyway.

I still have the kiwis and the mangos..... Surely these couldn't go wrong? After all, they use regular pectin....


Virginia said...

Well, now you know! It's hilarious you made hard candy, tho. If you knew before you put them in jars, you could have made actual little candies! I just commented on Ver's last blog about my kitchen fiasco and in general, I seem incapable of making good bread. Mine always turns out like lovely flat rocks. I refuse to give up! And Matt is kind enough to eat the lovely flat rocks, so I figure when it becomes inedible, then I'll quit. It would have been a crime to let the blackberries go to waste on the bushes, tho. I'm glad you picked them, whether your neighbor liked it or not. :-)

laura said...

This sounds all too familiar - anytime I try anything new, I always think that this MUST be the thing I am just a natural at... this past weekend, it was kayaking and fishing - no dice. Despite the fact I haven't found my "natural" skills yet at 28, I'm stubborn in the search...

Blackberry hard candy sounds great. Keep on keepin' on. (: