If you don’t think making blackberry jam from wild blackberries is a “manly” thing to do, just think about the the days of hunter-gatherers. What could be more manly than tromping through the woods like a grizzly bear collecting food from the wild? In this case, however, I was actually walking on a paved road and collecting blackberries from the ditch-line because foraging in our woods right now presents too much of a poison-ivy risk. I also ended up with a Band-Aid® around my finger and spent more time canning in the kitchen than foraging in the great outdoors. Male egos and gender-stereotyping aside, foraging for wild food is good for your body, good for the planet, good for your wallet and, most importantly, good for your taste buds.
Basic instructions for making wild blackberry jam
Please check with your local extension agent for processing times in your area, as these change with altitude.
What you’ll need
a food mill
a large pot
canning jars and lids
a water bath canner
Step #1: Collect the blackberries
Aside from actually eating the blackberries, this is my favorite part of the process. You don’t need to be too picky or worry about stems or bugs. As the saying goes, it will all come out in the wash.
Step#2: Wash the blackberries
Put your pickings in a large bowl filled with water. Stems, bugs, loose seeds and debris will float to the top to be poured out. Drain the berries in a colander and set them aside while you grab a large bowl and a food mill.
Step #3: Run berries through the food mill I use a Foley Food Mill, but any will do. Some people use blenders, which make the process go much faster, but leave seeds behind. I prefer seedless jam … Err, I mean using the hand-cranked food mill gives me a good arm & shoulder workout.
Step #4: Cook down the blackberries & add pectin
Bring the berries to boil on medium to medium-high heat and add one packet of pectin. Much to the dismay of my wife, I’m not big on following recipes. Whether I have two quarts or five quarts of berries doesn’t matter; I always go with one pack of pectin. If the final product ends up too thin, I’ll either boil it down further or we will just have blackberry syrup instead of jam. Either way, it’s delicious!
Step #5: Add sugar to taste
How much sugar you add is completely up to you, but you’ll probably shoot for somewhere between 2 and 7 cups. After adding in the pectin and boiling down the berries for a few minutes, I mix in my sugar and get started on prepping the jars and lids…
Step #6: Wash jars and heat up canning lids
Working with clean jars and new lids, I set up however many I think I’ll need — plus a few extra just in case. The lids are heated on low-to-medium heat for a few minutes in a shallow pan to soften up the rubber and clean them further. The jars are lined up and ready to have the jam funneled in.
Step #7: Pour jam into jars and put on lids
Pour the blackberry jam into your clean jars using a funnel and place the hot lids on top of the jars. Some sort of magnet to lift the lids out of the hot water makes this part much easier. They come standard in most canning kits, along with other helpful tools, such as a jar-lifter/canning tongs, which come in handy for the next two steps. Just tighten on the jar rings and you’re ready to process your jam!
Step #8: Process jars in water bath canner for about 5-to-15 minutes
There are two important things to remember here. First, your processing time depends on your altitude. Here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, we are a little under 3,000 feet above sea level, which means I process my jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. This isn’t very long, but berries are very acidic and require less processing time than other canned foods like green beans or corn, which must also be processed in a pressure canner. The other thing to remember is that the timing doesn’t start until the water is boiling. The jars must be fully immersed in boiling water a few inches above the tops of the jars for the appropriate amount of time.
Step #9: Remove the jars and let cool
Carefully remove each jar and place them on the counter (I put a towel down first) to cool overnight before moving. Usually within a 30 minutes you’ll hear the PING sound of canning lids sealing. You will know they are sealed the next day if you press down on the middle of the lid and it doesn’t pop or give-in. If properly sealed, you can store your wild blackberry jam in the cupboard or root cellar for many months, or even years.
Step #10: Enjoy!
Your only real cost in all of this, aside from the reusable equipment and jars/rings, is energy used to heat the jam and the inexpensive canning jar lids. I find that canned goods make wonderful budget-conscious, thoughtful gifts that give friends and family a taste of summer during the cold holiday season.