Tuesday 24 August 2010

Blackberries – Or how to maim yourself making jam

A somewhat melodramatic title you may be thinking?

Not if you were a fly on the wall last Sunday in the Bristol kitchen I share with 'E'. You would have observed us ducking and dodging spitting globules of bubbling, scalding hot sugary jam erupting volcanically from swirling purple depths of death. Meanwhile, if this didn't present quite enough danger, we heroically manhandled a ridiculousy oversized, steaming hot cauldron of water, attempting to sterilise the Kilner jars. Frankly I'm amazed neither of us suffered life threatening burns.

Our thoughts on jam making, after surviving this trial?
“Holy shit, how do little old ladies manage it?”

Thinking about it whilst nursing frazzled nerves and singed fingers, the whole process from start to finish was fraught with danger. It being the season, we foraged our blackberries from a winding, inner city footpath often frequented by some of the less savoury characters of Bristol society – yes you unwashed, baggy hole ridden jumpered, dreadlocked eco-warriors, I'm looking in your direction. The utter bastards had been there already and picked over the brambles, leaving us with no option but to take ever increasing risks to procure the really juicy berries. This involved variously; amateur acrobatics, rock climbing railway arches, stretching through impossibly tiny gaps in railings and pulled muscles all round. Add to this numerous scratches from brambles, stings from nettles and screams (from me) as I avoided countless whopping spiders and you might say a fun afternoon was had by all.

Yes, the risks and associated dangers are huge – but dear readers, so are the rewards. The satisfaction you get from making a huge pot of tasty jam, made almost entirely from gratis ingredients is enough to make a grown man blubber with pride. That's not to mention the blackberry and ginger puddings and 'E's' incredibly good blackberry crumble cake.

Altogether, after three hours of foraging we amassed just over a kilo of berries (our foraging careers will not make us millionaires). We set aside the majority for our jam making exercise, a handful for the steamed puddings and the rest for the cake.

First the jam. I've already mentioned the sheer health and safety nightmare involved in its making, so I won't go into too much detail except to say that we used the Ballymaloe recipe using apples to boost the pectin levels (blackberries are notoriously low in pectin and therefore difficult to make set successfully – check out my mungus jam making brain).

The jam we produced was pretty damn good for a first attempt, and just over half a kilo and one apple made enough so that we'll be eating it for months (if we managed to sterilise the jar correctly and it doesn't go mouldy).

The baked blackberry and stem ginger puddings are a Skye Gyngell recipe from the rather excellent 'A year in my kitchen' and only require three or four blackberries per person, so therefore perfect for the less successful and committed foragers out there.

The recipe is quick to make and absolutely cracking,

Baked blackberry and stem ginger pudding

Serves 4

You'll need:-

100g unsalted butter, softened. Plus extra to grease
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
100g self raising flour
finely grated zest of two lemons
4 knobs of preserved stem ginger in syrup, drained and finely chopped
Pinch of salt
4 Tbsp golden syrup
12 blackberries

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Butter four individual pudding basins and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift in the flour, and fold in gently. Add the lemon zest, stem ginger and a restrained pinch of salt. Fold in until evenly mixed.

Put 1 Tbsp of golden syrup and 3 blackberries into each pudding mould and spoon the sponge mixture on top. Cover each mould loosely with a piece of buttered foil and stand the moulds on a backing tray.
Bake for 30 mins until well risen and cooked through.
Run a knife around each pudding and turn out onto a warmed plate.

The following evening and not sick of foraged berries yet, with the remaining haul, I helped 'E' bake a frigging superb crumble cake, using her own recipe.

'E's' blackberry crumble cake

Serves 6

You'll need:-

140g self raising flour
½ Tsp ground ginger
50g caster sugar
1 egg
4 Tbsp milk
85g salted butter, melted.
250-300g blackberries

For the topping:-

25g plain flour
¼ Tsp ground ginger
25g caster sugar
25g cold butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 180C
Butter a 7” cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.
Sift flour, ginger and sugar together.
Into a well in the centre, pour the egg, milk and melted butter. Mix well and pour into the tin.
Smooth surface and scatter the blackberries over evenly.

Make the topping by rubbing all of the ingredients together with your fingertips to make a crumble mixture.
Scatter the topping over the blackberries and bake for 35-45 mins until the cake is firm and the surface is golden.

It tastes great warm, straight from the oven but keeps well, covered, for at least a couple of days.

So, there's still loads of blackberries out there on the bushes, just waiting for you to rip your hands to bits on the thorns or give yourself a hernia reaching for that really elusive plump specimen, so get out there and try not to hospitalise yourselves too much.


Anonymous said...

Oooh, I am loving the blackberry crumble cake. Me and my brood have been out 3 times to pick now and I have more than enough jam so tomorrow I shall be making this! Thanks!!

My blackberry story is here:

Dan said...

Christine Mosler - 3 times and enough homemade jam? I salute you! I'd love to know how you get on with the cake, and thanks for the link.

Gloria said...

Love the look of that crumble cake. I've pureed a few kilos of blackberries, currently frozen waiting to be made into jam, and want to bottle some more. Hope the weather allows this as it is best to pick them on dry sunny days then they are less likely to go mouldy. Who couldn't be inspired by your recipes?

William Leigh said...

looks lush. how come you didn't just sterilise them in the oven or is that a silly question?

And tbh - i hardly ever sterilise them anymore, wash in hot soapy water, then in hot water they seem fine - not had a moldy one yet :)

Kavey said...

My big tip would be to sterilise your jars in the oven instead... Soooo much easier. I put my open jars onto a large baking tray, put into a cold oven and set to 100 degrees, and leave for about half an hour. If your oven is slow to heat, leave for 20 minutes after the light comes on to tell you it's reached temperature. That just leaves the lids to boil in a small saucepan and air dry on a clean teatowel.
When the jam is ready, I take the jars out and spoon the jam in directly into the hot, sterilised jars.
Use an oven glove to get the lid on fast to get a seal whilst it's hot.

(Got really into jamming last year, a bit obsessed if truth be told)

George@CulinaryTravels said...

I love jam making and make several lots a year. Like Kavey I have taken to sterilising my jars in the oven.

Love the look of the crumble cake - I'll be trying it soon.

Anonymous said...

I reckon the trick is to continually have a small ladder strapped to your back at this time of year. Your eco-warriors never think of that, do they?
Fab looking recipe from E. Shall try that.

eat pictures said...

All looks delicious
And well worth the danger

But if you want to play safe with the cooking
Stay completely cool with blackberry cupcakes

Graphic Foodie said...

Wow. The crumble cake looks amazing. No pain no gain!

PDH said...

I know the pain of Blackberry picking all to well, as a kid we'd go off on long walks to find them for puddings and stuff. I know now that we were only took along as our small stature and little hands could get the really ripe ones that my Dad was too big to get. Traumatised I am!

Unknown said...

Great work Dan you have inspired me - but am I willing to risk life and limb for jam I wonder?

Dan said...

Gloria - Thanks for the comment!

Will - Thanks mate. Well, short answer is we started making the jam before realising we hadn't sterilised the jars. Quickest way seemed to be boil 10 mins, and then 10 mins drying in the oven. Seemed like a good idea at the time! Interesting that the hot wash in hot soapy water and then in hot water works fine, all of the recipes I've read seem so strict on it. Perhaps we were being too cautious.

Kavey - Great tips, thanks. You're obviously a much more veteran jam maker than me!!

George - Thanks very much.

lialeendertz - I did comment at the time upon our lack of a small ladder, next time we will be more prepared!

Eat Pictures - Blackberry cupcakes look cracking, and signifigantly less dangerous to make than jam.

Fran - Thanks, E makes cracking cakes and agreed - no pain, no gain....grrrrrrr

Pavel - I'm now traumatised too from reading your account, but bet it feels good to let the pain out....weight lifted from your shoulders mate?

GC - Glad to have inspired you :) - always worth risking life and limb for jam, makes it taste better.

PDH said...

Sometimes it's just good to share :^D

gastrogeek said...

That cake looks lush!! And good question, how DO those dear old biddies manage it?!

Dan said...

Pavel - Indeed :)

Gastrogeek - Ta very much Rej - Elly is a wicked cake maker. I know, honestly making jam is probably the most dangerous kitchen exercise known to man. I need to shadow an OAP jam-maker and see what the secret is.