For weeks I’ve been playing a game of “Watch and Wait” with mother nature. Whether on a walk in the countryside or a drive into town, I have been watching and waiting patiently for the blackberries ripening in the hedgerows near our home to be ready for picking.
While the berries have morphed in colour from green to red to a deep black-purple, I’ve been daydreaming about the many things I might make: scones, jam, cobbler, sorbet, ice cream, flavoured vinegar, even a blackberry whiskey concoction. It seems the list of things to do with blackberries is endless!
Finally, last weekend, I could wait no more. Truth be told…I nearly crashed my car last Thursday for looking at the berries ripening in the summer sun. I invited my friend Susan and her daughter Ellen to join my younger daughter and me for a morning of picking wild blackberries. It may not be true, but I have in my mind that it’s best to pick fruit and vegetables in the morning, when the energy of the earth is surging through a plant. So, with our bowls in hand, we four girls headed down the road to a hedgerow that was bursting with berries. When we’d picked it clean, we spotted more in a nearby field and, with the farmer’s permission, we hopped the gate and picked until our hearts’ were content. (My daughter did keep saying, “Mom we have to leave some for the birds!”)
Wild blackberries have been eaten in Ireland since Neolithic times. They come in many forms, possibly even several hundreds of micro species. Some are small and mean-looking, others fat and plump. None resemble the large, mostly tasteless, perfect triangle-shaped berries found in the supermarket. Packed with fibre and antioxidants, blackberries are a rich source of vitamin C and, best of all, when picked at their peak of ripeness, wild Irish blackberries are gorgeously delicious.
In no time at all, we girls were scraped and prickled by the thorny bushes and our fingers were stained red-pink from the sweet berry juice. We didn’t mind, however, as we were happy to have our bowls filled to the brim with nature’s bounty and countless ideas for what to do with them running through our heads.
Picking blackberries is a rite of passage in Ireland and I’m so glad to be able to share in this tradition with my daughters and our friends. I hope you and yours find time to enjoy a blackberry picking expedition of your own this year too!
Classic Irish Blackberry Jam
Makes 4 x 250ml jars
1kg/2 lbs Sugar
1kg/2 lbs Blackberries
Juice and zest of one lemon
1. Place a salad plate in your freezer. This will be used to test whether or not your jam is ready later.
2. Place sugar, blackberries and juice and zest of one lemon in a large pot.
3. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring until all the sugar dissolves.
4. If you like whole berries in your jam, stir occasionally and cook for approximately 15 minutes. If you like your jam with the berries crushed, use a potato masher to crush the berries and continue cooking as previously directed.
5. While the berries are cooking, put clean glass jars and lids into a large pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer the jars and lids to sterilize.
5. When the 15 minutes are up, take the plate out of your freezer and drop a dollop of hot jam onto it. Let the jam cool for a few minutes on the plate and then, with your finger, push a bit of the jam up towards the middle to see if it “crinkles”. If it does, the jam has set and you are ready to bottle it. If not, continue to boil for another 5 minutes, then test again.
6. Remove from the heat and carefully transfer to hot, dry, sterilized jars. Fill them as near to the top as possible. Cover each with a disc of wax paper and seal tightly with a lid. Keep in a cool dark place for up to 12 months.
* If the jam doesn’t set after cooling and potting, tip it all back into the pan and boil again, adding the juice of a small lemon.
* If mould develops on the surface of the jam in a jar, remove it with a spoon, along with about half an inch (1 cm) of the jam underneath…rest assured, the rest of the jam will not be affected…and place a waxed disc dipped in brandy on top.
Irish Blackberry Ripple Ice Cream over at Irish Food Guide blog.
If you’re musically inclined, visit 8Notes.com to hear The Blackberry Blossom song, an Irish folk song.
The golden rules for picking blackberries can be found here at Good Food Ireland’s website.
For a wee bit of folklore regarding Irish blackberries visit the Irish Cultures & Customs website.
Seamus Heaney, Irish poet, playwright, lecturer, and recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote a poignant poem about blackberries…you can read it here.
It may be called “English’s Fruit Nursery Ltd“, but you can buy blackberry plants from this company in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford!
Check-out these gorgeous looking Blackberry and Custard Doughnuts over at Donal Skeehan’s website…I may just have to try these and report back!!
Visit here for a video on how to test jam from BBC Good Food.