We’d both noticed that the brambly hedgerows near us were heaving with blackberries almost ready to be picked, and so yesterday evening we walked over to The Mystery to pick some, not sure if there’d be enough of them ready for jam yet. Fifteen hours later the Mystery Jam was being poured into its waiting jars, ready for labelling.
In the meantime I’d put some photographs of all this happening on Twitter. To considerable interest and some curiosity, this still being a quiet sort of time in all of our lives. Some of the enquirers wondered why we were calling the obvious blackberry jam any sort of mystery? And there was even one enquiry about whether ‘Mystery Jam’ might be a product they could buy?
Well The Mystery, to explain the name, is the park nearest to where we live in Wavertree, here in Liverpool. And no, you can’t buy any of the five jars of jam our blackberry harvest got turned into. But you could make your own, for free. And since I only helped in the picking, photography, washing up, test-tasting and eventually spreading of the jam on bread, here’s Sarah to explain how to make her ‘Mystery Jam.’
I’ve come to preserve making late in life, as I always thought it was, frankly, a bit of a faff. However, I was given a copy of Pam Corbin’s Preserves Handbook which made me think differently. I like this book because the recipes are in measurements of ‘cups’ rather than ounces or grams, which makes things simpler, in my opinion. Also, Pam, or ‘Pam the Jam’ as she’s known, presents everything about preserve making in a very straightforward way.
So, when we returned home yesterday with our two bags of blackberries I looked up a recipe for blackberry jam in Pam’s book, only to find there wasn’t one.
But after a search around on the internet and a quick look at different approaches to blackberry jam making I’ve created this recipe which is a combination of two from:
BBC Good Food and Practical Self Reliance‘s low sugar recipe.
I generally find that most jam is too sweet as standard recipes for jam usually have equal amounts of fruit to sugar. So I was pleased to find guidance in the second of these recipes for making a delicious jam with less sugar.
So here is my ‘Mystery Jam’ recipe.
Half the amount of sugar as your blackberries
For sugar you can use ‘jam sugar’ if you have it, or are able to buy it. It’s ordinary sugar that contains pectin, which is the ingredient that makes jam set. Pectin is also a naturally occurring substance found in many fruits and in citrus fruits. So, for blackberry jam you can use ordinary sugar but if you do you’ll need to add lemon juice, which contains the pectin you’ll need.
First then put your blackberries in the largest pan you’ve got – a preserving pan if you have one. Pick out any bits of leaf or insects, if you wish you can wash your fruit, but I don’t bother.
Add the sugar to the pan and mix together. Cover with a lid or tea towel. Leave overnight.
The next morning, remove the lid or tea towel, and your fruit will have started to become juicier. Then simply heat up the pan and boil up the mixture, uncovered. It will foam up and so you’ll see why a large pan is necessary. Stir it all just enough to stop the mixture sticking. (If you’re using lemon juice add that in now, most recipes use anything between the juice of half or one lemon – I threw in the juice of half a lemon for good measure even though I was using jam sugar.)
When everything is boiling let it boil for five minutes – time it. You then need to check for a set, which sounds a bit technical (and probably is the most technical bit of jam making). Turn off the heat and put one teaspoon of the jam mixture on a small plate or saucer, then put it in the fridge for one minute – again time this. Has the jam ‘set’? You check by pushing the edge of the dollop of jammy juice with your finger, does the top layer ‘crinkle’? If it does then it will set. If not, then boil a bit longer. For my jam I boiled again for three minutes, and tested again. I did this two further times, so my jam needed 14 minutes boiling in all – so not very long.
When you have a ‘set’ you are ready to put the jam in jars, after letting it cool slightly.
I will have prepared my jars and lids before I make the jam – using Pam’s method, which is this. I wash the jars and rinse them in hot water, dry them upside down on a clean tea towel and then put them on a baking tray in a low heat oven, to sterilise them. I put the lids in a small pan of boiling water and boil them for 10 minutes, drain them and let them dry on the clean tea towel.
Then use a ladle to put the hot jam into the jars, put the lids straight on. And that’s it!
Sarah Horton’s Mystery Jam recipe
Once you get the hang of this, you can make a small batch of jam in under an hour.
When the jars are cool put a label on. For small batches of jam I selfishly don’t give any away as I know Ronnie and I will start eating the jam immediately!
Of course, jam isn’t the only delicious thing you can make – blackberries make lovely compote, which is a poncy word for a mush of fruit that’s delicious with yoghurt for breakfast; or coulis, which is another poncy word for a thick fruit sauce without pips that’s delicious on ice cream. Both are super easy to make and can also be frozen, so you can enjoy ‘fresh blackberries’ when they are no longer abundant in the Mystery.
Here’s the jam making in pictures then. Fifteen hours from picking the fruit on Friday evening, to sitting down to eat the jam on Saturday morning.
So thank you Sarah, and now it’s over to you to maybe go and find some blackberries near where you are and make your own jam?
If you’re near to The Mystery here’s where they’re growing.
Over by the edge of the park nearest to Wavertree High Street is the best place in the park at the moment. The bramble bushes here are south facing, get the direct high summer sunlight and so have the most ripened of the Mystery’s fruit right now. People other than us have been picking them too, but there are plenty left and plenty more not quite ripe yet that you’ll be able to come and gather over the next few days.
The rest of the blackberries are over on the long border near the railway line. They’re not getting so much direct sunlight so the berries are smaller, but still plenty of them and plenty still ripening. And in the part of the border behind the tennis courts you’ll be sharing your harvesting with a flock of noisy starlings, high up in the branches you can’t reach.
Even where the Mystery border goes into shade behind the bowling greens there are brambles and the beginnings of berries. But getting so little direct light in here they’re unlikely to ripen, Sarah thinks.
And of course you don’t have to come to The Mystery at all as there will definitely be brambles and blackberries growing somewhere near where you are. Growing free, for all of us.
And the jam was gorgeous by the way. Had straight away on some fresh bread from the Asda round the corner. Then later with some cheese and oatcakes. Not too sweet and tasting deeply and satisfyingly of here.
Finally, we’d recommend you wear long sleeves and have your legs and feet covered for the brambling. The fruit may be delicate, but the brambles are tough and will scratch!