Thursday, July 14, 2011
It's hot and sticky and buggy. The cicadas come up and start buzzing at precisely the moment the first blackberries are ripe.
Canes are loaded but thorny. Picking blackberries requires military courage and precision. You have to have a strategy. You have to wear boots and body armor. You have to tolerate significant discomfort. You will return with chiggers and ticks. You will return scarred and stained.
Blackberries taste like sunshine and bird song and stormy weather. I love them. And it's a good thing because we have about 10 acres of wild ones.
I confess that for years and years I admired them from afar, but could never figure out how to make them edible. I'd taste one every year and be disappointed at how sour and bitter they were and I'd leave them alone. Again.
They kept spreading. Soon there were so many that they created their own gravity source, drawing me to them. I hated the thought of not using all that free food so I did some research. And I experimented.
The key is to make jelly so you can discard all those bitter seeds and skins. I made some good jelly and some bad jelly. In the end, I learned how to make jelly with and without pectin. And I discovered how good blackberry syrup is on pancakes.
This year our berries are plentiful and sweet, for a change. I made blackberry syrup with the first berries.
I squish them with a potato masher to break them up and release the juices, then I cook it until it boils.
I put a single layer of cheesecloth in my chinois, which I set in a big bowl to catch the juice, and dump the cooked juice and goo into the cheesecloth a few cups at a time to strain. I gather the corners of the cheesecloth and twist it up tight to get all the juice out. Then I dump the seeds out of the cloth and do a few more cups until I've got all the seeds out. I give the seeds to the chickens. They love the seeds.
Then I measure the juice. I had 10+ cups of juice.
For pectin free jelly, you use equal amounts of sugar and juice.
For syrup, you can add just enough sugar to make it tasty. Since our berries are quite sweet this year, I used only 75% sugar and I probably could have used less. For 10 cups of juice, I used 7 1/2 cups of sugar.
I put the juice and sugar back in the pot and boiled it, then put it in jars and processed them for canning. [10 minutes for pints and jelly jars].
If I decide to make jelly with it later, I'll dissolve the pectin [Ball] in a cup of water, and after the first hard boil, I'll put in 4 cups of syrup, boil it again and voila! Blackberry jelly!
Blackberry syrup is beautiful. And delicious. We had some on crepes yesterday.