This weekend, I took some time to visit family in Southern Indiana. I’ve always gotten a kick out of my aunt and uncle – they’re hilarious, a little kooky and live in a solar house they built themselves in the beautiful woods of Brown County, near Bloomington. They used to buy a couple piglets in the spring and have a big “butcher the pigs” shin-dig around Thanksgiving – I should have paid more attention as “noise to tail” is big right now and this is a skill that would probably be beneficial. (BTW, they find this trend hysterical as it’s how they’ve eaten for years. Don’t get my aunt started on “free range chickens” either.) There’s a mess of chickens in the coop, cats and dogs wandering about, a big garden and wonderful things in the woods – wild blackberries, chantrelles, deer. The food is always great, the conversation loud and strongly opinionated and I really enjoy myself.
My aunt had sent word that the blackberries and chantrelles were starting to make appearances in the woods near their house. Hmmmmmmm…….. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at foraging so with an open weekend ahead of me, I hoped in my car and made the 5 1/2 hour drive from Chicago.
On a cloudy morning, my uncle and I headed out with our “pickin’ cans” strung about our necks for a short hike in the woods with the plan that my aunt and I would make jam later. We didn’t have to go far at all – the first batch of bushes were right in the backyard with more just a short hike away. I learned very quickly that picking wild blackberries sucks. There I said it. Wild berry picking just stinks. The best berries are always deep in the middle of bushes that are covered with sharp little prickers that, I swear to god, leap out at you. I became so tangled in the canes on several occasions that I’m sure they could hear me swearing in Indianapolis. At one point my head – my head! – was attached to 8 different canes and I nearly lost an ear in my death struggle just to get out. Good lord. I’m not so sure about all this.
To make it even more annoying, we were about a week too early. Doesn’t that just figure? Story of my life. Oh, there were plenty of berries but the majority needed a couple more days to ripen so we had to carefully pick out the dark berries amongst hundreds of sour red berries. Oh well. You deal with what you’re dealt but I have to say that we did pretty well – two large coffee cans full and more than enough for jam. We headed home after about an hour scratched, bitten, bloody and beaten up. But that was just me – my uncle, the old grizzled pro, fared much better.
Back at the house, my aunt laughed and informed me that was exactly why she never goes picking. Her deal is my uncle picks/gathers/forages and she deals with it back home. I think she’s onto something. Exhausted and beaten up, I spent an hour picking the thorns out of my fingers and took a well deserved nap. We decided to make jam later. This happens sometimes. I’m a big fan of naps and afternoon laziness on rainy days and berry picking is tough work. So hours later (actually the next day, minor detail) we took about half the berries and made some really great jam. Amazing jam. Nothing complicated – the recipes was right off the Sure Jell pack and was just berries and sugar but what a revelation! I’d only made jam with purchased berries but wild berry jam is something else entirely – bright, bursting with flavor, exploding with berry goodness. Really quite delicious.
So now I’m actually rethinking the whole picking thing. Maybe it is worth it; maybe I can make this work. If I wait until the berries are really ripe and plentiful and armour myself up, I bet I could pick buckets and buckets in no time. The Army Surplus store has to have some type of pricker repellent clothing, right? Some type of uniform that bomb diffuser teams wear? I need to look into Kevlar. I would love to make wild blackberry ice cream. And a pie. Maybe a cobbler. I think the scratches and blood loss might just be worth it after all.
WILD BLACKBERRY JAM
Makes 6-8 half pints
5 cups crushed wild blackberries (crush with a potato masher then measure)
1 box Sure Jell less sugar pectin
½ teaspoon unsalted butter
4 cups sugar
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and process canning jars for at least 10 minutes at a rolling boil. Turn off heat and leave jars in the water until needed.
- In a saucepan, bring water to a simmer. Place screw bands and lids in the water and leave at a simmer until needed.
- Place measured fruit in a large saucepan or stockpot. Keep in mind that the mixture will boil up so make sure you use a large enough pan.
- Measure sugar into a separate bowl and set aside.
- Take ¼ cup of the measured sugar and mix with the pectin in a separate bowl.
- Add the pectin/sugar mixture to the fruit along with the ½ teaspoon of butter (to reduce foaming) and stir to combine.
- Bring mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
- Stir in remaining sugar quickly.
- Return to a rolling boil and boil for 1 minute.
- Remove the jam from heat and skim off any foam.
- Remove the jars from the hot water and drain well. Turn the heat back on under this pot to bring to a boil while you fill the jars (cover the pot.)
- Ladle jam into the hot jars, leaving 1/8” headspace.
- Wipe each rim clean, top with the lids and the screw bands.
- Place the jars into the boiling water and process for 10 minutes.
- Remove from the hot water and allow to cool completely.
- After the jars cool, check the seal by pressing down on the lid. If it springs back it did not seal so store in the refrigerator and consume within 2 months. Sealed jars will keep forever at room temperature.