Picking Blackberries and Blackberry Jam Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

Blackberries are an abundant fruit in the Irish countryside

Shining and black, tightly packed and full of flavour. Each segment a tiny drupe, like a miniature stone fruit, they line the lanes and roadsides of the Irish countryside. Blackberries are abundant, their prickled stems arch over the hedgerows and back to the soil where each stem can take root at its tip and continue its colonization of the earth.

Blackberries, Rubus fruticosa are a bit of a  Jekyll and Hyde for gardeners, sometimes hated. Then it is called a bramble or a briar, a sharp prickled vigorous and multi-stemmed woody weed; Mr Hyde, wild vagabond and unwelcome. Brambles are sometimes loved. In September the sweet and juicy black fruits ripen to the darkest black, picked for jam making and delicious pies, then they are blackberries; Dr Jekyll, most welcome.

I have spent hours, days, maybe weeks chopping bramble stems in our garden. Gloved hands dragging their roots from the soil after vigorous hacking at their toots with a spade. It is a constant battle, more like war, where battles are sometimes won but the enemy always return to the same front or ambushes you somewhere else. Yet I love them, yes, I love my enemy.

Rubus fruticosa is a variable species and there are said to be hundreds of varieties occurring in the wild. Plants around our garden produce small hard fruits without great flavour so I take cuttings from plants that I find with good fruit. I will plant these into the woodland bordering our garden so I don’t have to travel looking for good berries in the future, reducing my carbon footprint! Until our new introductions of superior blackberries produce fruit, which will be a couple of years as they fruit on previous years growth, Hanna and I have been picking the fruit along the roads in our locality.

Rubus fruticosa – its a love hate thing!

One of the reasons I enjoy food foraging and discovering more about the edible properties of the wild plants that grow all around us is that It gives me a new respect for plants I previously called weeds. It also creates a link with the past. This is something our ancestors would have done. Foraged food played an important part of their diet. It also bring back fond memories of my childhood. I have happy memories, of purpled hands and face, plastic buckets filling slowly and the sweet taste of blackberries in my mouth. Sometimes I ate more than I picked on our family expeditions to the countryside, where we would walk along the country roads gathering the fruit, falling in ditches, getting scratched and dyed. Recently when visiting Turlough Monastery and round tower near Castlebar in Co. Mayo I tasted delicious berries. They were big, juicy and sweet. Picking berries beneath the towering presence of a thousand year old stone tower, watched by a statue of Jesus and passing by the old yew trees brought a connection of site and action that goes back to pre-christian Ireland where probably this old monastery was preceded by a holy site where our ancestors probably nibbled on a berry or leaf when they visited.

Round tower and blackberries -Turlough, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

You also have amusing encounters with people of the present when they see you picking berries. Last Monday on a country lane, we were filling our buckets ripe sweet fruit. A blue Nissan  car approached and slowed to a stop. An elderly local lowered the passenger side window, an amused look on his face. We greeted each other and he asked “ are ye gettin’ many?”. I replied, telling him that there were lots of berries, he laughed and said “they will have lots of maggots by now” and drove away.  Our relationship with the bramble in modern Ireland is a curious one, while the roadsides are filled with their free fruit, people buy farmed and imported blackberries instead, €3.95 for 250 grams! Last Monday we picked a small fortune of fruit in a couple of hours, and no maggots!

BLACKBERRY JAM RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 2kg Blackberries
  • 3 cooking apples cored and chopped
  • 750 g of organic sugar
  • Juice of one large lemon
  1. In a  sauce pan I cooked the chopped apple  with about 150ml of water until the apple had gone to a soft pulp. (Leave on the skins if organic and remember to wash them well)
  2. In another larger saucepan I added 150ml of water and the blackberries and the juice of half a lemon.
  3. Cook the berries slowly until they have become soft this can take 20 to 30 minutes
  4. Then press the apple pulp through a sieve into the blackberries.
  5. Slowly add the sugar, stirring to help it dissolve.
  6. Turn up the heat and stir occasionally. The jam should be boiling really hard and it will splatter. I always leave the lid partially covering the pot to reduce the mess on the walls!
  7. The jam will start to thicken, when set you pour it from a wooden spoon it will form thick droplets that are slow to leave the spoon. I like my jams to have a little give, not like a jelly. This boiling stage will take about twenty minutes, a little more if you want your jam more set.
  8. Then transfer the jam into jars which have been sterilized.

I use my new jam funnel, it cost about €6.50 and it reduces the mess, in fact there is no mess and it speeds up the process of jar filling. I put on the lids immediately.From these quantities of ingredients I got eight jars.The best part of jam making is continually having to taste the jam before it is ready, making sure it is sweet enough and the fruit has softened, and the smell of the cooking fruit is delicious too.

My new jam funnel used here to fill pots when making plum jam.

Taxus baccata “Fastigiata’ _ Irish Yew and the round tower at Turlough, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

One Comment to “Picking Blackberries and Blackberry Jam Recipe”

  1. Jam funnels are great! I got one this year too: gone are the days of wiping half the jam off the side of the jar after filling 🙂 We’ve just got the first flush of brambles (as we call the fruit) here. They are always the best so we eat or freeze those, then make jam with the later ones.

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