Blackberry Jelly & Syrup

When we pick berries, Jerri freezes the ones we don’t use right away. Frozen berries don’t have the texture of fresh fruit, but they work fine for pies, cobblers, crisps and jellies. One big advantage of frozen berries is that they keep a long time. We just made two batches of Blackberry Jelly and two bottles of blackberry syrup with three bags of frozen berries we picked last summer and one from two years ago. Both the Jelly and syrup turned out great.

My mother made blackberry jam rather than jelly because she made plenty of jelly from pin cherries, plums, crabapples and chokecherries. We made Wild Blackberry Jam two years ago when there were lots of berries for the picking at the cabin. You’ll find our recipe for it here. Scheduling problems meant that we didn’t get many blackberries this year, though we did get enough for a delicious cobbler at the cabin crafted by Jerri and garnished with ice cream from the local market.

However, we felt that the berries in the freezer would be better used for jelly, so we boiled them with water, strained the juice and ended up with some delicious jelly and syrup. After making two batches of jelly, we had nearly two cups of juice that I turned into syrup. Very little goes to waste in the Rang household!

Here is how to make some delicious blackberry jelly.

INGREDIENTS:

Blackberries
Water
Cloth to strain the berries
1 packet Sure-jell pectin
4 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. Butter
Paraffin or caps and rings to seal the jars

PROCEDURE:

Wash and remove any stems or leaves from the berries. Put them into a six quart pan or Dutch oven. Mash them a bit and add the water to barely cover the berries. Set the pot over moderate heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.

While the berries are simmering, measure four and one-half cups of sugar into a bowl and prepare the jars. Wash enough jars to hold seven cups of jelly and place them upside down in a baking pan over burners on the range. Add about an inch of water and bring the pan to a boil. After the pan has boiled for one or two minutes, turn off the heat and allow the jars to sit in the water for three or four minutes. Transfer them upside down on a rack and allow them to drain while you collect the juice.

Line a colander with three layers of damp cheesecloth or a towel and strain the juice from the berries. This can take a half hour or more. Do not squeeze the cloth if you want clear jelly.

Measure three and three-quarter cups of the juice into a six quart pan or Dutch oven and stir in the pectin. If you don’t have enough juice, you can add a little water. Add the butter to the juice while it is heating.

Melt the paraffin over low heat while the juice is coming to a boil.

When the juice reaches a rolling boil (one that you can not stir down), stir in the sugar and keep stirring until you have another rolling boil. If necessary, reduce the heat a little, but keep stirring the rolling boil for one minute. Remove the pan from the heat and skim any foam.

Turn the jars upright on wax paper. Use a funnel and ladle to fill the jars to within three-eighths of an inch from the top of each jar. If necessary, wipe the tops carefully and seal the jars with a thin coat of paraffin or lids and rings.

If you are using lids and rings, process the jars in a hot water canner for five minutes. If you choose to use paraffin, add a second thin layer of paraffin to the first after the jars are completely cool, and cover the jars with lids, plastic film or paper fastened to protect against dust.

If you have juice left over from making the jelly, you can easily turn it into syrup. Measure the amount of juice you have, stir in a little lemon juice and twice as much sugar plus a little more, and bring the mixture to a boil over moderate heat. Stirring constantly, boil for two or three minutes and pour the syrup into a bottle or jar.

NOTES: Here are the proportions I use to make syrup. For each cup of juice, add one teaspoon of lemon juice and two cups plus one tablespoon of sugar.

Sour Cherry Jam

One bright summer morning a few years ago when I was shopping at the Farmers Market in Cable, Wisconsin, a small carton of bright red cherries caught my eye.

“Pie cherries?” I asked.

“You bet,” said the young woman sitting behind her table, “I have one tree, but it gave us a lot of cherries this year.”

“How much for the carton?”

She looked a little uncomfortable as she answered, “Three dollars.”

She relaxed when I asked whether she had any more. I already had thoughts of a cherry pie like my mother used to make.

The cherry vendor retrieved two more cartons from below the table. One was only half full. “I’ll take them all. How much do I owe you.”

“Would seven dollars be okay?” Soon I was on my way back to the cabin with my treasure.

A day later and home in New Richmond, I called our friend Rich to ask if I could borrow the cherry pitter that he and his wife Audrey had bought on one of their many visits to Door County, the cherry district of Wisconsin. Rich had loaned it to me a few years earlier when we brought back cherries from Michigan.

The cherry pitter worked great, but pitting nearly three pounds of cherries convinced me that it was too hot to bake a pie. Thus came the inspiration to make a sour cherry jam that would taste like the best part of a cherry pie—the cherries.

Mom called them “pie cherries.” She bought a large tin can of frozen pie cherries every year from a man with a refrigerator truck who stopped at our house. He was from Door County, which is probably why I used to think that Wisconsin was a leading state for sour cherry production. However, though Wisconsin does grow a lot of sour cherries, we rank far behind Michigan and even behind Utah, Washington and New York.

We didn’t have a big chest freezer when I was growing up, so we had a flurry of cherry pies after the cherry man had left. Mom did keep some in jars in the refrigerator freezer, and although I don’t remember it, she may have made cherry jam. The recipe below is not from my mother, but I am sure she would approve of it.

As with all jams and jellies, preparing the fruit is the hard part. Once that is done, it takes only a few minutes to make the finished product. Here is the way to do it.

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups pitted and chopped sour cherries
4 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. butter
6 oz. Sure-Jell fruit pectin
1/4 -1/2 tsp. almond extract

DIRECTIONS:

Wash and sterilize enough jars and lids to hold at least seven cups. This recipe makes about six cups of jam, but it is wise to have that extra jar in case you have a tablespoon or two of jam left over after filling six jars.

Sterilize the jars by washing them thoroughly and inverting them in a nine by thirteen-inch baking pan that has about an inch of water in it. Set the pan on the range, bring the water to boiling and simmer the pan for a few minutes, tipping the jars slightly to allow the hot air to escape. Turn off the heat and transfer the jars to drain on a cooling rack a few minutes before the jam is done.

Wash, stem, and pit the cherries. Chop them into small pieces, an eighth to a third of an inch dice.

Measure the sugar into a bowl and set it aside. Have the bottle of almond extract ready for use.

Put the cherries, pectin and a half teaspoon of butter into a Dutch oven or soup pot over moderate heat. Stir the mixture almost continuously until it comes to a rolling boil. A rolling boil is one that keeps bubbling when you stir it.

While the chopped cherries are heating, put a small saucepan with enough paraffin in it to make two thin layers of paraffin on the jars on a burner over very low heat. Be careful not to heat the paraffin more than just to melt it.

When the cherries have come to a rolling boil, stir in the sugar, bring the mixture back to a rolling boil and boil for one minute, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from the heat, add the almond extract and stir for a minute or so. If necessary, skim off any foam. There is seldom much foam on this jam.

Using a dipper and a funnel, fill the hot jars, leaving one-third to one-half-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.

Use a tablespoon to put a thin layer of melted paraffin on top of the jam in each jar and allow the jars to cool without moving them. After the jam is completely cooled, add a second thin layer of paraffin.

NOTE: This year, someone beat me to the cherry lady’s table at the Farmers Market, so I had to make do with unsweetened frozen sour cherries from the supermarket. They worked fine and were already pitted, so making the jam was a snap. However, after I chopped and measured the fruit, there were a few cherries still left in the package.

Since I didn’t want to waste those beautiful cherries, I just risked it and added the two extra tablespoons of chopped fruit to the mixture. I added another tablespoon of sugar and two tablespoons of cold water that I used to rinse some pieces of cherry out of the measuring cup. All went well because cherries have a lot of natural pectin, but be careful not to overdo this.

It is important to measure things exactly for most jam and jelly recipes to ensure the proper proportions needed for jelling. In particular, do not try changing the proportions of ingredients for chokecherry jelly or orange marmalade. I speak from experience.