Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bewitching Bramble Jelly – and the art of (competitive) blackberry picking

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Bewitching Bramble Jelly

Blackberry picking is a very meditative activity. To select the perfect berry, you must concentrate fully on your task. If the berry refuses to be parted from its stalk, then it is probably not yet fully ripe. If the berry tickles away too easily from its thorny anchor, it is probably ‘gone over’.  A berry that yields to a gentle tug is usually just right. Round 2 of the selection process can then follow.

Pick a dry day to gather blackberries...

Turn the berry so you can see its ‘belly-button’ – the white bit that is freshly exposed when you pluck it from the plant (evidently I was snoozing during the biology class that covered plant anatomy). If it is discoloured, or has obvious signs of insect activity, discard and pluck the next purpley-black jewel. Eat the sweetest juiciest ones – purely for quality control purposes, you understand – and take a moment to enjoy the sunshine on your face and the white noise of a million hidden insects, all a humming, and a buzzing and a chirruping.
Choose only the sweetest, juiciest ones...
In all this peace and quiet, I hear my husband yelp every so often as he impales himself on yet another thorny cane and I hear the thunk, thunk, thunk of berries spilling rapidly into his bucket. Is he really ...? Could he seriously...? Can he possibly be... trying to out-pick me? Surely not! Competitive blackberry picking makes just about as much sense as competitive yoga. Ommmmmmmm.
We go back to the house with full buckets for the weigh-in. There are 60 grams in the difference.
“I win!” he crows.
‘Oh do you now!’ I think as I watch him dab antiseptic on a dozen scratches and begin the process of thorn extraction. ‘Ommmmmmmm.’
The question is: What to do with this bounty... pie or jam/jelly? Today, jam/jelly wins. This is a short-lived preserve so don’t be tempted to make large quantities and don’t save it for a rainy day.

Spread on toast, pancakes, sponge cakes and anything else
that can be improved by a little purple-black gold

For about 3 jars of bewitching bramble jelly - depending on size - you will need...
500g ripe blackberries, washed
500g caster sugar
1 lemon
200mls water

A sugar thermometer– if you are likely to make jams and jellies on a regular basis, this is a great investment and usually relatively cheap to buy on the internet.

Sterilised glass jars – I run mine through the dishwasher but you could wash them and pop them in the oven at 100°C (212°F) for a few minutes.

First, place the berries and the water in a thick-based saucepan over a low heat. Cut strips of peel from the lemon (yellow part only) and add to the berries. Add the juice from the lemon, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and stew gently for about 15 minutes.

Next, mash the berries – a potato masher is ideal. Don’t be tempted to use a stick blender here as crushing the seeds can upset the balance of acids and affect the gelling process.

Keeping the heat low, add the sugar, letting it dissolve into the sweet-scented juice. (If someone could make a perfume that smells like this, I’d buy.)

When the sugar has dissolved into the mixture, turn up the heat and pop the sugar thermometer into the saucepan. When the temperature comes up to Jam (106°C or 222°F), keep it there for 8 minutes.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little for about 5 minutes then remove and discard the lemon peel. For Jam, that’s it - it’s ready now - Alchemy performed. For Jelly, rub the mixture through a sieve to remove all the pips.

Transfer (carefully) to hot, sterilised glass jars. Seal and keep in a cool place for up to 3 weeks.
Note: As an edible gift, these garner big brownie points.

p.s. The bread pictured in the main photo is the Patchwork Party Bread from Alchemy -  Simple Ingredients… Magical Food

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  1. Ooops - halfway through that jar now - sorry. But next batch coming up soon, there's plenty of berries - I don't remember a better harvest of beautiful sweet fat berries. By the way, good luck with your show. For anyone in Dublin on the 20th of September, The Verticle Rhythm Club is not to be missed. (

  2. Those blackberries look so juicy and delicious! I remember as a kid we'd go on school trips to pick our own berries. Of course, we'd get tired after a few minutes and simply start snacking on them instead. But like you said, quality control is vital. :D

  3. I love blackberry picking, but I never knew about the belly button. Love the name of the jelly too. Very creative. :)

  4. Love the name for this delicious sounding jelly!


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