Talk about brief: the wild blackberry season lasted as long as my time in Sonoma plus the few days it took to polish off the berries I’d brought home.
Blackberries, the identification of good patches and assessing ripeness, shaped my objective for each dog walk (2x day).
I carried a basket of tools: berrying buckets with lids (A yogurt container with holes punched in the sides and a long string threaded through. You wear the bucket around your neck so you can pick, theoretically, with two hands.), gloves, and clippers to whack away thorny barriers.
I guess I like to feel like Meg in Little Women—it was Meg, wasn’t it, who was crying in her failed-berry-jam-splattered kitchen when her new husband brought home an unannounced guest for dinner and caused their first fight?—because that scene comes to mind every time I make jam. I make it by feel, but must rediscover the feel each time, and those times might be years apart. Results are thus, of course, unpredictable. Recipes and pectin could offer some guarantees but where would the thrill be then?
What’s-on-hand and whim dictate ingredient lists. I’ll add rosemary or lavender to peach or apricot jam and allspice and/or cinnamon to blueberry or blackberry. But then my family says they prefer the jam unspiced. Oooook’y. For 2010, ingredients included just the basics: blackberries, lemon juice and zest, and sugar.
Having read in a marmalade recipe that citrus seeds contain pectin, I put those I had in tea balls and tied them to the handle of the jam pots. I poured in berries to a level that felt safe (when boiling rapidly, the jam and spatters would stay in the pot), divided the zest between the pots, and added sugar, maybe half as much sugar as berries. As I said, I do it by feel. And taste. As the mixture heats, I taste it for balance, adding more sugar or more lemon juice until I find the sweet/tart flavor I prefer.
And then, I let the mixture boil until I think it will set. The first two batches turned out thicker than the third. Either my courage failed me or I lost patience with the third batch or the seeds in the first two made a difference. Or all of the above. To be safe against spoilage, the sealed jars can be boiling-water-bath canned. Sometimes I do it, mostly I don’t, and plan to consume the jam sooner rather than later. Already it’s been turned into smoothies and ice cream.