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On picking, prattling on, and preserving

“Forget our walk; I’ve got a better idea,” Kate announced with a little squeal. “There are blackberries everywhere. Why don’t you come over and we’ll go berry-picking? We’ll be like those hunter-gatherer women in National Geographic, stooped over in the bushes, foraging, chatting—but with clothes! I’ll even lend you a sunhat.”

Some women join quilting circles; others stitch ‘n bitch. Some walk together; some run together; and a few gossip over golf. Others meet for cocktails, or there’s tea and twittering. But as for me, if given the option, I prefer to prattle with fellow females over something a bit more old-school, or rather, primeval. The trappings of modernity are nice, but when the call comes, sign me up for an afternoon of foraging and flitting about the garden with a good girlfriend and a thicket of blackberry bushes to tear at our hands.

So it was that a few days ago I slipped on a pair of dirty jeans, sped fifteen minutes east of Seattle, and joined Kate in laying waste to her parents’ backyard. She greeted me at the door and, being the master of all things fishnets to frump, quickly outfitted me for the task at hand. Offering me an empty plastic yogurt tub, she instructed me to hang it from my neck by a kitchen-twine yoke, and then she led me to the family’s communal hat-rack, where she handed me a floppy blue sun-hat two sizes too small. Needless to say, I was nobody’s centerfold, but minutes later, in the bushes down by the water, telling juicy stories through the leaves, with the sun hot on my back, blackberry juice under my fingernails, and my wrists red and bramble-bitten, I couldn’t have been happier. We dished our way through to the blueberry bushes, pausing only for a quick shriek or two when I nearly fell into a hard-to-see hole, but no matter—I didn’t spill a berry. In fact, there were plenty left for Kate to steal—sneaking them into her bucket in mid-sentence—and for carrying home later and stewing into a silky purple jam.

I suppose we could opt next time for something a bit more dainty, perhaps sans sunscreen, sun-hats, and stains. Tea and scones sounds a lot more tempting, anyway, now that I’ve got a cupboard full of blackberry jam. But something tells me that a few days will find the berry bushes again full and heavy, the green vines dripping with beans, the plums nearly falling from their stems, and the two of us babbling over full buckets.

Italian Family Jam
Adapted from Bruna and Margot

A few years ago, Kate’s older sister Margot spent a year and a half in Italy, where she befriended—and was all but adopted by—a local couple. Aside from finding a good bicycling partner in the husband, she also found a very skilled kitchen companion in his wife Bruna, who offered up this classic recipe for plain-and-simple Italian country jam. Margot has since sent myriad different fruits through its formula—apricots to peaches, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries—all with tooth-achingly good results. On an average weekend morning when the whole family is at home, they’ll go through a good jar of the stuff on toast, waffles, pancakes, or eager fingers.

These days, it seems as though fancy jams are everywhere, with a new herb or spice thrown in every day. I love the idea of so much nuance and complexity, but in all honesty, I don’t often find myself itching to try the stuff. When it comes to jam, I want nothing fancy—just fruit, a squeeze of lemon, and enough sugar to set the jar sparkling. I want a clean, concentrated flavor, the essence of the fruit heightened, undisguised. And luckily, this sort of jam is astoundingly easy to make at home—no fussing with packets of pectin, no cheesecloth, no enormous pots and fears of contamination. Bruna’s method is quick and confidence-inspiring, a process that’s both immensely sensual and appealing practical. The same goes for the finished product. Dress it up or play it down, however you choose: spoon it over homemade ice cream, dot it daintily on a scone, or give it a British accent by layering it into a trifle; pair it with nut butter on homemade bread, fold it into plain yogurt, or hide it inside a cake. But first, call your girlfriends, and gather ye berries while ye may.

1 kg (2.2 pounds) fresh fruit, preferably berries or stone fruits (if using the latter, pit and cut into chunks, and if using peaches or nectarines, peel them as well)
½ kg (1 pound) granulated sugar, or to taste (if fruit is perfectly ripe, you may need a bit less)
Juice of ½ lemon

Combine the fruit, sugar, and lemon juice in a large pot or Dutch oven, and let macerate at room temperature for two hours, stirring occasionally.

While the fruit is resting, prepare the jars. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit, and wash a half-dozen 8-ounce jam jars (the type with two-part sealable lids: a flat disk and a ring) under hot, soapy water. Place the jars—but not the lids—in the oven. Wash the lids under hot, soapy water, and place them on a clean dish towel to dry. The jars will need to stay in the oven for at least 20 minutes.

Place the pot containing the fruit over medium-high heat, and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil the jam for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. As it cooks, the jam will give off a pale-colored foam that will rise to the surface. Use a wooden spoon to skim off as much of the foam as possible (and save it, if you like; it’s wonderful with plain yogurt). If you leave the foam in the pot, your finished jam will be cloudy.

After 30 minutes, remove the pot from the heat. Using tongs, remove each jar from the oven, and using a ladle to scoop the hot jam from the pot, fill the jars to within ¼ inch of the top. Wipe off the rims of the jars with a clean, dry paper towel to remove any errant drips. Place the lids on top of the jars, and screw them down finger-tight (firmly, but not too tight). A batch of jam should fill anywhere between 4 and 6 jars, depending on the fruit, water content, etc.

Fill a large, deep pot with water, and bring it to a boil; it should be large enough to hold all of the jam jars, and the water will need to be deep enough to reach up to half an inch below their rims, or higher. When the water is boiling, use tongs to carefully place each of the jars, standing upright, in the boiling pot. Boil for 15 minutes; then turn off the heat. Allow to sit for a minute; then remove the jars with the tongs and allow them to cool completely on a dish towel. When they are cool, press each lid lightly to make sure it has sucked down and sealed. If necessary, tighten the lids. Store in a cool, dry place.

Yield: 4-6 8-ounce jars


Blogger Lady Lavender of the Kitchen said...

I admire how much care and time you take to put together each post. You always have tons of wonderful information and beautiful stories and pictures that are so perfectly woven together. You must have ample patience to do all this.

Who knew jam was so simple? I wonder if there's berry picking like that her in so. cal.

11:20 PM, August 12, 2005  
Blogger lauren said...

I like the new redesign. still simple, but a little more thrilling. nicely done.

2:26 AM, August 13, 2005  
Blogger Ruth said...

Sounds wonderfully simple and truly delicious. I might have to do my berry picking at a store, but can't wait to make the jam.

Thanks for sharing. Love the way you write.

5:49 AM, August 13, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

I went berry picking a month ago for the first time with the hubby and it was ever so fun! We picked blueberries and rasberries. Thanks for the recipe!! How long does the jam last?

7:20 AM, August 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Molly! I'm so happy you're spreading the love of jam! A few notes-
1. I never bother putting the jars in the oven since i'm too lazy- i just shake them out or let them stand upsidown on a dishtowel to dry.

2. After the mix of berries, sugar, and lemon has been sitting for 2 hours, bring the mixture to a boil. Hold it at a ROLLING BOIL for 30 minutes, while skimming off the foam. If you don't boil it hard, the jam will be runny. My sister and I tested this on apricots this year- the low boil jam was runny, while the rolling boiled jam had a great thick consistency.

3. regarding the water bath for sealing the jars: you can fill up to 1/2 inch below the lid, or cover the jars. whatever will fit!

4. jam lasts practically forever once it's canned. after a year, the color might fade a bit. i try not to keep mine longer than 2 years.

hope that helps!
: ) Margot

8:31 AM, August 13, 2005  
Blogger kan said...

Ok, now I am so hungry I can not write this note fast enough. Your site is so yummy. After my texmex lunch I will have to break out the jam!

12:23 PM, August 13, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Lady Lavender, thank you. Orangette is definitely a labor of love, with heavy emphasis on the "labor" part! But I can't imagine doing it any other way. It does mean, though, that I can't post as frequently as I might like to, and I always feel as though I should thank my readers for their patience! And as for the jam, yes, fantastically simple. I'm sure there must be some u-pick farms in SoCal; get picking!

Thanks so much, Lauren! Blogger imposes some pretty strict constraints, but I'm trying to wiggle my way around them...

Ruth, the pleasure is all mine. Thanks so much for reading, and enjoy that jam!

And foodiechickie, so glad to hear that you are a fellow forager! There's nothing quite like a warm berry, straight from the bush. And as for the jam's shelf-life, see above. Margot, the jam master, weighs in...

Marge, my dear, I'm so happy that YOU got me started on jam! Thank you mille fois. As for your suggestions:
1. I picked up the jars-in-the-oven idea from a few other jam recipes; I didn't feel comfortable not sterilizing the jars at all, and this way is easier than boiling them. It somehow just makes me feel, well, a little safer. After cooking all that fruit, I would die if it was contaminated by some invisible something in the jar!
2. Thanks for the boiling tip! I've made note of it in the recipe above. The past few times I've made jam, I've only simmered, and you're right--the end result is on the runny side. Perfect for ice-cream drizzling, though!
Thanks, m'dear, for being such a great jam-making instructor...

Joli Noir Perle, what a lovely name you have. Thanks so much for stopping by--and happy lunching!

1:45 PM, August 13, 2005  
Anonymous fethiye said...

hey, have you ever tries baking your jam under the sun? that makes the jam colour so vibrant! I have some example on my website, if you like.

9:14 PM, August 13, 2005  
Blogger Shauna said...

Ah, blackberries...

You've inspired me. I've been talking about picking blackberries for day, and now I'm going. Discovery Park, here I come.

Molly, your blog inspires me every time I read it. Thank you. I know just how much time it takes to lavish attention on these food blogs. As another Seattle woman for whom food and writing about it is the center of her days, I salute you.

8:56 AM, August 14, 2005  
Blogger Nic said...

The only berry picking I ever did was from the (rather sad) blackberry bush behind my house when I was growing up. There were usually enough berries to eat a handful and sprinkle the rest over two bowls of cereal - one for me and one for my dad. But perhaps someday I'll be making my own home grown and cooked jam. Great post, Molly.

9:19 AM, August 14, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmmmm ... fresh Seattle blueberries in the summertime! You're making me homesick!


5:00 AM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger joe said...

I'm glad I stumbled across this. I'm picking blackberries tonight.

6:00 AM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

Yes Little House made me have a love of nature, farming, forging and doing it yourself. Thanks Molly and Margot.

7:46 AM, August 15, 2005  
Anonymous Becca said...

marvelous post ... reminds me of childhood summer's in Maine where berry-picking and making jam was a favorite past-time.

2:02 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Fethiye, I haven't yet tried sun-baking my jam, although I've heard of the practice here and there. Your apricot jam example sounds pretty intriguing, though, and it looks lovely too...

And Shauna, thank you! What a sweet, generous compliment. I'll tuck it away for a rainy day. I hope your Discovery Park blackberry-picking adventure was fruitful (oof, pardon the pun), and that your cabinets are now full of jam. By the way, you're doing great work over at Gluten-Free Girl. You bring a much-needed addition to the food-blog community...

Thank you, Nic! I may be picking and canning now, but you were one step ahead of me as a kid, even with your single meager blackberry bush. Berry bushes aren't so common in Oklahoma, and in fact, I don't think we had anything edible in the backyard until I was 15 or so, when my parents started a little herb-and-tomato kitchen garden. But your cereal with homegrown berries--what a nice childhood memory to have.

Pesto, my dear, hurry home! If you're fast enough, I might save a jar of jam for you. More likely, though, I'll just invite you over for a big fall dinner, so I can hold you captive and make you tell me every detail about your stay in the Philippines...

Joe Miller, I'm glad you stumbled over here too. Have a wonderful time picking--not such a bad way to start the week, eh? I'm jealous.

Foodiechickie, you're very, very welcome.

And Becca, thank you! I spent a short summer vacation in Maine when I was very young, maybe 6 or 7, and I still remember parts of it vividly. I'd love to get back there one of these days for some wild berries, fresh seafood, walks on the rocky beaches...

3:49 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger kickpleat said...

I was hoping to pick blackberries early this evening from my own secret spot by the railroad tracks. You have given me the incentive to do just that! I'm surprised at how simple making jam seems...the canning part always looked so difficult. Do you know if you can reuse jam jars? I have a stash of empty Bon Maman jars and I'd love to use them to fill with my own jam! Thanks!

4:05 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Kickpleat, I hope you're out picking blackberries as I type this! As far as your Bonne Maman jars go, hmmm. For proper home canning, as far as I know, you need a Mason-type jar, the kind with a two-part top: a round, flat lid (with that thin rubber band that will suction onto the jar) and a screw-on band. You want your jars to have a lid that can vacuum-seal, which your used Bonne Maman lids won't do. If you want to go ahead and use your Bonne Maman beauties, you certainly can--just know that you need to keep your jam in the fridge and use it within a couple of weeks. You can also forgo the boiling-the-filled-jars step, since that is intended to seal the tops. But if you want to keep your jam for any length of time and be able to store it in a cabinet like you would store-bought jam, you should use a traditional canning jar. Less fun, I know.

6:15 PM, August 15, 2005  
Anonymous melissa said...

Beautiful jam and beautiful story! I wish I could take some of these fabulous northwest berries back with me to Scotland. Then again, there's always the possibility of care packages from expert jam-makers! ;)

By the way, I learned a technique of canning from a woman in France that basically involved filling clean Bonne Maman jars with boiling jam and turning them upside down until a vacuum had been created. She kept them on the shelf and claimed she never had one spoil (or kill anyone, I'm assuming). I have never tried it myself, but I'm curious if you (or anyone else?) ever ran across someone who did it that way and lived to tell the tale?

6:49 PM, August 15, 2005  
Anonymous Julie said...

The site looks just beautiful, Molly. I'd better do some prettification over my way, soon.

Oh, summer. Picking and preserving. I just made plum jam from plums I brought back from Berkeley, but I wish I'd had your recipe. I used a complicated one -- it was a 3-day process. It's delicious, very thick, but I almost feel as if I cooked it a bit too long. It's very concentrated, but I'm missing the still-fresh flavor of fruit that I get when the jam's a bit runnier...

BTW, I LOVED Tartine -- I think we went there 3 times in 4 days...I just blogged about it (with thanks to you) in my interminable summer odyssey post.

10:24 AM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thank you, Melissa! I'll have to see if any expert jam-makers in the area, ahem, might be willing to toss a jar in the direction of Scotland. And as for the upend-the-jar method you mention, hmm, I've never heard of anything like it! Very intriguing. I might try it with a jar or two the next time I make jam, or if you find some jam-worthy berries back at home and want to give it a whirl, would you report back? Thanks, m'dear.

Julie, welcome home! I absolutely loved reading about your food-centric vacation over at A Finger in Every Pie. And this business of bringing home a kilo of plums from Berkeley? You're a woman after my own heart.

8:37 PM, August 16, 2005  
Anonymous Julie said...

Aw Molly, had you only been there with me, and had we a little time...you see, the story behind the plums is that THEY DON'T USE THEM. They let them fall off the tree and rot. And damned if I wasn't gonna rescue at least one pathetic little kilo. I tellya, we would have been making jam (and galettes and clafoutis and plum tortes and anything else we could think of) for days. I shudder to think what's going to happen in a week or so, when their peaches (yes, they have a tree of those too) ripen...

9:25 PM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Hi Molly, well its no stitch-n-bitch but it could be called a pick-n-bitch, which seems somehow much more fun. Although I do wish you had included a picture of the hat :)

10:02 AM, August 18, 2005  
Blogger Clare Eats said...

How could you not be sexy with the purple stains of your .... oops better watch myself here :P

Jam looks awesome!

4:44 PM, August 18, 2005  
Blogger pomegranate said...

I am forever seduced by the stories and recipes here.

Just before this was posted my mom gave me two perfect jars of blackberry jam from blackberries picked in the woods next to her house.

I am constantly intrigued by the fantastic things you post here and I think it's wonderfully charming the way you actually respond to all these people leaving comments. Seems you entice a lot of us..

5:05 AM, August 19, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Julie, if there's one thing that makes me crazy, it's the thought of good food being wasted. Those plums...those peaches! Grrr.

Michele, I actually did have Kate snap a few photos of me picking. But the sunlight was very bright, and I was wearing a halter top...and let's just say that the glare of my pale white skin would have blinded you. So no photos of me and my hat? It's for your own good.

Clare Eats, you're too funny. Thank you.

And pomegranate, thank you--so much. You know, half the fun of Orangette, for me, is reading and replying to these comments! I love the little conversations that go on here, and I'm always learning from them--maybe a tip for a dish I've been discussing, or a different way to look at my writing or an experience I've had. Thank you for taking the time to contribute, m'dear. Now, go get some toast and jam.

7:45 AM, August 19, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alright Ladies
I am having trouble...my blackberry bushes here in England are producing faster than I can make jam. I have tried twice to make it this week and both batches have been runny...how long does it take to set once you have canned it? In one batch I used pectin, the other consisted of berries, sugar,lemon juice and water...can someone tell me what I am doing wrong. Thanks for your help!
Feel free to write me at Marvlousmadammim@aol.com

1:15 PM, August 26, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Google, for having sent me to Orangette! Molly, you have a beautiful blog. I hope to be a regular reader, and will encourage others to visit.

My mother is 88, and has made Italian plum jam almost every year of the past 16 years that she has lived with us. She has been ill this summer, so I thought I would lend her a hand with the project. One of the vendors at our local Farmer's Market agreed to supply me with tiny, tart, dark blue plums.

I discovered today that Mother can't remember making the jam, or the recipe she used. Your post will give me the opportunity to carry out the project. I'm looking forward to the time in the kitchen with my mother, and I'm sure she will look forward to tasting the fruits of our labors.

I truly enjoyed my visit here, and can't wait to see what you post about next.


11:54 AM, August 27, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Anonymous, hmmm, I'm not sure what to tell you. After the jam has been canned, processed, and cooled, its texture really won't change much. It may stiffen up a bit if you put it in the fridge, but not a huge amount; generally, if it's runny after it has fully cooled, it's going to stay runny. Now, that said, you should know that my blackberries made for somewhat runny jam too--a thin jam with hunks of soft, falling-apart blackberries throughout. It's not your typical grocery-store stuff. But it may be that way because I didn't boil it hard, as Margot (in her comment above) has since told me I needed to. Did you give yours a good, solid boil, or did you only simmer it? If you only simmer it, this recipe yields a runny-ish jam. And keep in mind, too, that different fruits have different pectin content, so some will yield more or less stiff jams. Now, as far as this pectin issue goes, I'm not sure why your jam was still runny with added pectin. You've stumped me! And as for the second batch, it sounds like normal ingredients to me, except that you shouldn't be adding any water. The fruit should give off plenty of liquid when it macerates for a bit with sugar; any extra liquid is unnecessary. At any rate, m'dear, sorry to not have more conclusive answers. If I were you, I'd try again and maybe boil the jam for longer--say, 45 minutes rather than 30? Hope that helps!

Buffy, thank you for finding Orangette! It's a pleasure to meet you. I absolutely love imagining you and your mother hovering together over burbling pots of plum jam. What a beautiful mental image--and a wonderful way to spend time together. I only hope that this recipe can measure up to your mother's, which was surely a treasure...

2:36 PM, August 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I live oustside of Seattle in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains...What a great year for the Blackberries!! The size of a large black grape last week when I was picking. I love the jars in the oven to steralize, I used to use the dishwasher but now I AM the dishwasher, LOL. I'm so busy with all the produce that I "Put up" this time of year that I usually freeze the berries until the heavy fall work is done then make Jams and Jellies and Syrup at my leisure. It works great! Freezing with a small amount of sugar helps the berries, I just note the amount of sugar to berries on the container. Happy canning!!

8:36 AM, September 09, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Thanks for the freezing tip, Anonymous! The blackberries were exceptionally fat this year, weren't they? Happy canning to you!

5:24 PM, September 09, 2006  
Anonymous Sean said...

I am making some of this right now. Can't wait to crack into it!

10:33 PM, August 13, 2007  
Anonymous flosshilde said...

This recipe is the absolute best for jam making. You need look no further. I made the most amazing apricot and raspberry jam batches with this last summer. For the raspberry jam, I added a rose geranium leaf to each jar before adding the jam, then canned as usual. Awesome.

4:32 PM, June 06, 2008  
Anonymous jenn said...

I just read your wonderful article in bon appetit on making mixed berry jam, which led me to your blog- what a great find for me!

One question with the jam, can you substitute honey for the sugar? same quantity of honey as sugar?

10:31 AM, June 22, 2008  
Anonymous Corrie said...

Hi Molly,
I am from Germany. I discovered your blog some weeks ago and am reading my way through from the beginning. It's fun, and I keep on printing recipes madly. I even bought your book.
I've been cooking jam for years and always used the upside-down method with used jam jars, as mentioned in the other comments, (I don't even sterilize them), and everyone I know does it, and it was described that way in every German jam recipe I ever saw. I think that's much easier than special canning jars. And I can assure you, the jam keeps forever, too.

10:53 AM, April 26, 2009  
Anonymous Corrie said...

By the way: as a lover of cooked bananas, did you ever try banana jam? It's delicious.
I also like to add a banana to cherry, kiwi or strawberry jam.

11:19 AM, April 27, 2009  
Anonymous Kate said...

Corrie- I bet a banana curry jam would be amazing...am I crazy?

I just made this the other night with concord grapes. I followed your method though and it was fabulous...all of my jars sealed with no problems! To do concord grapes, use a cup of sugar/lb of grapes, peel the grapes and puree peels with sugar. Mix with lemon juice and seeded grape "pulp" and boil away!

10:33 PM, October 05, 2009  

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