When I got back to the cabin from trimming one of the trails, I found a note on the table from Jerri that said simply, “11:20 Gone a-berrying.”
Whenever I see that expression I am reminded of Walden. Thoreau wrote in the chapter on “Visitors” that they included “Children come a-berrying.” And in the chapter on “Brute Neighbors” he described an incident when he was a-berrying: “Once, when berrying, I met with a cat with young kittens in the woods, quite wild, and they all, like their mother, had their backs up and were fiercely spitting at me.”
I am not as good a writer or philosopher as Thoreau, but I can top that story. Once when I was a-berrying I came face to face with a black bear who was picking from the same patch as I. He did not, however, spit at me but rather said “Oof” and ran away. At least he was not to be seen when I looked over my shoulder a few minutes later.
Determined that we would make at least one batch of wild raspberry jam this year, Jerri had begun her berrying scarcely two hours after we arrived at the cabin. The next day she persuaded me to help pick for the project, and now she was off again. We ended up with more than enough wild raspberries to make eleven jars of jam.
Wild raspberries are smaller than the tame varieties and do not grow in nice neat rows. The best raspberries at the cabin grow in tangles of dead branches and old tree trunks left by the logger who salvaged logs from the “big blowdown” of 2005. Balancing on piles of tree limbs while holding a plastic container half full of berries can be a nerve-wracking experience. Deer flies can make it even more exciting.
Perhaps the challenge of picking them makes the berries taste more flavorful, but whatever the reason, people tell us that our wild raspberry jam tastes a lot better than the stuff you can buy in the supermarket. For one thing we do not use any high fructose corn syrup or any other artificial ingredients. And for another, every berry is lovingly picked, washed and crushed by people who are going to enjoy some of that jam this winter–namely us.
You can buy some pretty good tasting raspberry jam in specialty stores, but nearly all of it is made with tame raspberries and still costs a fortune. You can make even better jam by spending a few hours enjoying the outdoors in a county or national forest while you harvest those beautiful delicate red berries and end up with jam that costs a lot less. That’s if you do not count your time, gas money, sugar and pectin. But it is more than worth it, and you too might meet a bear.
Making the jam is easy and foolproof if you follow the directions.
4 cups crushed raspberries
6 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. butter
1 pouch CERTO liquid pectin
First, wash and sterilize enough jelly jars to hold eight cups of jam. You can sterilize the washed jars by standing them upside down in a 9 x 13 inch cake pan on the the range. Pour about an inch of hot water into the pan, turn on the heat and bring the water to a boil. Boil for five minutes, then turn off the heat and leave the jars in the water while the jam is coming to a boil.
Put a slab of paraffin into a small sauce pan and set it aside.
Open the Certo pouch and stand it in a cup or glass where you can reach it easily when the time comes to add the pectin.
Be sure that all the berries have been picked over carefully and washed. Crush the raspberries with a potato masher and measure four cups of fruit into a three or four quart heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Measure the sugar into a mixing bowl, then stir the sugar into the crushed berries. Add a half teaspoon of butter to reduce foaming. Turn the heat on low and stir occasionally. As liquid is released, raise the heat to medium high and stir frequently.
When the jam nears a boil, put the sauce pan with the paraffin on a burner under very low heat to begin melting. Be careful not to heat the paraffin more than just to melt it. Using canning tongs or a potholder, lift the jars from the pan of hot water and allow them to drain on a rack.
Keep stirring and bring the jam to a full rolling boil (a boil that keeps bubbling when you stir it). Stir in the pectin and return the jam to a full rolling boil. Boil for one minute, stirring constantly.
Remove the jam from the heat and skim off any foam. A gravy ladle works great for this. Stand the jars upright on waxed paper. Using a dipper and a funnel, fill the hot jars, leaving 1/3 to 1/2 inch head space. If necessary, use a piece of moistened paper towel to remove any dribbled jam from the inside of the tops of the jars.
Using a tablespoon, put a thin layer of melted paraffin on top of the jam in each jar and allow the jam to cool without moving it. You can use a toothpick to pop any bubbles that may form in the wax before it has begun to harden. After the jam is well cooled, add a second thin layer of paraffin. Pour any remaining paraffin into a small plastic container, cover and cool. You can pop it loose and use it for your next batch of jelly or jam.
Let the jam cool thoroughly for several hours. Then cover the tops of the jars with screw caps or plastic wrap tied in place.
NOTES: We use different plastic funnels for filling jars with jams or jellies. For jellies we use an ordinary plastic kitchen funnel with a stem about 1/3 inch inside diameter. For jams we use a funnel with the stem cut off the bottom of the mouth so that the opening is about 3/4 inch.
You can make good raspberry jam with tame raspberries too. A friend let me pick enough from his bushes to make two batches of jam last year. Because tame raspberries are sweeter than the wild ones, I added a tablespoon of lemon juice to each batch and the result was very tasty.