Blackberries photo

When selecting blackberries for preparation and cooking, look for plump, fresh fruit that is uniform in color.

Few fruits signify summer in Kentucky more than fresh blackberries. From mid-June through September you can find different varieties of blackberries at farmers markets, roadside stands, “you pick” farms and growing wild.

When selecting blackberries for preparation and cooking, look for plump, fresh fruit that is uniform in color. Choose shiny blackberries with no bruising or leaking. Berries should be free of stems and leaves. Handle all berries gently.

Blackberries will always be most flavorful and cost less when they are in season. Once purchased or harvested, blackberries require special care to maintain their freshness. Place berries in a shallow container no more than three berries deep, and cool to 33 degrees F as quickly as possible. Wash just before using or eating; never soak blackberries. Fruit properly harvested and held at this temperature can maintain fresh quality for three to seven days. If the fruit is to be made into jam or jelly, process it immediately or freeze until ready to use.

Blackberries are packed full of nutrition, including antioxidants that help your body fight off cancer. One cup of blackberries contain 62 calories, 30 mg of vitamin C and 8 grams of fiber. Blackberries are also a good source of potassium, calcium and iron.

Many people like to make jam and jelly from their blackberries so they can enjoy them all through the year. All soft spreads like jams, jellies and preserves contain four main ingredients: fruit, sugar, pectin, and acid. The types of spreads only differ in their consistency.

The formation of a gel depends on the right amount of each of the main ingredients. Jams are made by cooking crushed or chopped fruits with sugar until the mixture will round up on a spoon. Jams do not hold their shape and are spreadable. Correctly following a good recipe can ensure you have the taste of summer all year round and give you a unique gift to share with family and friends.

The role of pectin is many times misunderstood in the process of making jams and jellies. All fruits contain some natural pectin, but some have more than others. Tart apples, sour blackberries, cranberries, currants, gooseberries, Concord grapes, soft plums and quinces work well in recipes without added pectin. Other fruits, such as apricots, blueberries, cherries, peaches, pineapple, rhubarb and strawberries are low in pectin. The latter will require the addition of commercial pectin products to be successful.

There are two types of commercial pectin ― liquid and dry. Check the use-by date to make sure your pectin is fresh. Powdered and liquid pectin are not interchangeable. There are also low-methoxyl pectins that allow you to use less sugar, but the result will not be quite as thick or glossy. The acidity level is also important to jelling. The gel will not set if there is too little acid. Too much acid will cause the gel to lose liquid or weep. For fruits low in acid, add lemon juice or another acid source as instructed in your recipe. Sugar is needed for the gel to form. It also acts as a preserving agent and contributes flavor. Do not attempt to reduce the amount of sugar in regular jam and jelly recipes as a syrupy gel will form.

BLACKBERRY JAM

6 cups crushed blackberries (about 3 quart boxes)

1 package powdered pectin

8 ½ cups sugar

Sterilize canning jars and prepare two-piece canning lids according to manufacturer’s directions.

To prepare fruit, sort and wash fully ripe berries; remove any stems or caps. Crush berries. If they are seedy, put part or all of them through a sieve or food mill. To make jam, pour crushed berries into a large pot. Add pectin and stir well. Place on high heat and, stirring constantly, bring quickly to a full boil with bubbles over the entire surface. Add sugar, continue stirring and heat again to a full boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim. Pour hot jam immediately into hot, sterile jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids.

Process in a boiling water canner — half-pint or pint jars for 10 minutes. Remove jars from the canner, keeping them upright. Carefully place them onto a towel, leaving a one-inch space between the jars for proper cooling. After 12 to 24 hours, test seals and remove bands. Wash jars and lid surfaces, if needed. Label and store sealed jars in a cool, dark, dry place.

Yield: 11 or 12 half-pints.

Editor’s note: The source of information for this article was Sandra Bastin, University of Kentucky Extension professor. The Trigg County Extension Office will gladly provide you with the publication The Science of Jams and Jelly Making or Home Canning Jams, Jellies, and Other Soft Spreads. The recipe is compliments of the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Reach Cecelia Hostilo, Trigg County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences, at P. O. Box 271 (2657 Old Hopkinsville Road), Cadiz, KY 42211, by phone at 270-522-3269, fax at 270-522-9192 or email cecelia.hostilo@uky.edu.

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