In my opinion, making jam is most rewarding, emotionally and financially, when you are able to source the ingredients either for free, or dirt-cheap. Fortunately, It’s exactly these kinds of ingredients that often make the best jams. While fruits like peaches and apricots often make a rather bland jam, tasting mostly of the sugar you put in, the robust flavours of wild blackberries, damsons and elderberries stand up well to jam making, and best of all, can be found growing in hedgerows and wasteland everywhere.
My daughter eats blackberries by the handful, staining her little hands and face deep purple as she tugs on the prickly stems, eating the fruit like candy. For most of us however, blackberries are still too bolshy in their intense acidity to be enjoyed raw. Elderberries and crabapples even more so, as uncooked, they are inedible. You often find old apple trees, abandoned on farmland, unpruned and unloved, their tiny thick-skinned fruit hardly worth the picking. Chopped roughly and thrown into jam, they mellow and soften, and bulk out your hard-won berries.
This recipe follows much the same principles as the redcurrant jelly I posted a few weeks ago, but is designed to be made with whatever types, and whatever quantity of fruit you are able to find in early-autumn hedgerows. Other foragers got all the blackberries? Add some more apples. You can use whatever fruit you have, and this method spares you most of the laborious prep work. Because wild fruits are naturally high in pectin, this jelly is pretty much guaranteed to set, so no need for a special thermometer.
Hedgerow fruit, for example, blackberries, crabapples, apples, elderberries, rosehips or damsons
- Pick over your fruit, removing any leaves or large twigs. Cut the larger fruit into chunks, although there is no need to peel the apples or stone the damsons or wild plums.
- Put all the fruit into a large pan, and add enough water to just cover the base of the pan. Simmer gently for about twenty minutes, or until the apples can be crushed easily with the back of a wooden spoon.
- Press the cooked fruit through a sieve or a mouli to extract as much juice as possible. Here you have three options:
- Pass quickly through a wide meshed sieve for a quick and easy jam with a few pips and seeds
- Choose a fine meshed sieve for a smooth but cloudy jam
- Hang in a jelly bag overnight. This method will give you a jewel-clear jam if you resist the temptation to squeeze the bag.
- Now weigh the juice. This is how much sugar you will need.
- Warm up sterilised jam jars.
- Return the juice to the pan and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve. When the sugar is dissolved, bring the jam to a rolling boil, and maintain the heat for six minutes.
- Pot into the warm jars and seal. Will keep for a year or more.