When the dreaded fire started back in the old apartment the very first thing to go were all the jams, syrups, pickles, and preserves I had made during the Spring and Summer. The fire, starting at the stove in the apartment next door, quickly ate through the kitchen wall and into my kitchen cabinets; right into the four flats of homemade canned goods. They did not survive.
The cabinet was apparently one of the few things that was sturdily built because even though the walls and pipes were consumed by the ravenous flame the cabinet stayed up leaving behind the evidence of what ate through the wall. The jars had literally exploded from the heat, black shrapnel scattered across the cabinet floor and even embedded itself into the walls. The jams had splattered and boiled down to a dull pitch crisp as if every surface has been caked with muddy obsidian.
Ironically, it wasn't supposed to have happened. Almost all of that jam had been destined to be turned into Christmas gifts but I had forgotten them back in Sacramento on my drive to Southern California, only remembering somewhere in the middle of a Central Valley drive-thru. I told my family I would mail the jams off to them when I got back. The fire was kind of the epic head-slap after a "D'oh!" moment in this regard.
So the past few weeks I have been on a jamming spree. I've churned out many batches of my apricot and Riesling jam at this point, a batch of apricot vanilla bean (those little bean specks give me such joy), and some rhubarb preserves. The windows are constantly fogged up from the steam of the cans' water baths creating a Floridian microclimate in my apartment. Still, through all the sweat and haze it's quite worth it. The jam is superb.
This last weekend I was lucky enough to have come across blackberries, bulbous and juicy, concentrated in flavor, for cheap at the Farmer's Market. Six overflowing baskets for $10 is something that demands to be jammed. I paid up and quickly took them home in a rush excited at this unique opportunity. Normally, I jam whatever fruit my friends' trees and gardens simply have an overabundance of, rarely do I buy a ton of fruit just to jam. However, this particular fruit situation demanded proactivity and I had never had the chance to jam berries.
The base recipe I used was Lindsey Shere's boysenberry jam recipe in Chez Pannise Desserts. However, I decided to play with it just a little. Blackberries seem to have two popular pairing as of late that I seem to be seeing everywhere: Bourbon and violet (the latter via actual violets, Creme de Violette, or violet extract). I decided to go with the Bourbon as the Creme de Violette was too delicate in flavor to stand up to these ballsy berries.
I measured out a shot glass of Bourbon and tossed in a bit of homemade vanilla extract into a pot of barely mashed berries and enough sugar to comatose a six year old. About a half hour later I had jam. Amazing jam. The bourbon added a subtle spice behind the fruit, and the vanilla added a slight creaminess. Just... oh lord, the best blackberry jam ever. So good you giggle to yourself when you taste it.
To you jammers and canners out there with access to black or boysenberries be sure to give this a shot. You won't be disappointed.
Blackberry Jam (With a Hint of Bourbon)
2.5 lbs of blackberries
1 lb of sugar
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon of butter (this helps for clarity and prevents foaming)
3 tablespoons of Bourbon (or one shot glass worth)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1. Wash the blackberries and toss them into a stainless steel or copper pot, or a enamel lined dutch oven (not an aluminum pot). Lightly mash the berries with a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Let macerate for about 10 minutes. Place a small plate in the freezer as this will be used for testing later.
2. Turn heat to medium-high. The mixture will bubble and froth vigorously. Skim the foam off the top and discard (or save it and put it on cheese or yogurt; super tasty). The boil will subside to larger bubbles, but still bubble vigorously. Be sure to begin gently stirring the jam frequently to prevent it from sticking to the bottom.
3. After about 25 minutes begin testing the jam by placing a small amount on the cold plate. Allow 30 seconds to pass and then run your finger through it to see what the cooled consistency will be. Boil for a few minutes longer if desired for a thicker jam.
4. Ladle into hot, sterilized canning jars and seal leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe the rims of the jars clean before applying the lids. Screw on the rings to finger-tight. Work quickly. Process in a water bath to ensure a good seal. If you want you can skip the water bath and just screw the lids on tight where the heating-cooling process will create a vacuum seal, but the water bath is a surefire method for a secure seal.
*To sterilize the jars, rinse out clean Mason jars, dry them, and place them, without lids, upright in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes. To sterilize the lids put them in a shallow bowl and pour boiling water over them.