Blackberry picking

I love jam. That may not be a mystery. My friend Hannah can testify. When we lived together I had a collection of seven jams in the fridge. One for each day of the week you could say. Looking back, I admit it was excessive.

Jam on toast, jam on scones, jam on my face, it all sounds good to me. But I have vapidly praised jam quite enough already, and should probably go and cool off anyway (gaahh sugar cravings!). Instead, I’ll talk about blackberries. And apples.

blackberry and apple jam nigellaeatseverything.com

My parents have an enormous apple tree in their garden. It is positively crooked, bent with the weight of hundreds of green, rosy-cheeked apples, some growing to humongous sizes, almost like James and the Giant Peach. I love apples. I would make myself quite at home in a gigantic apple core, although I don’t know how I feel about my fellow squatters. Wasps are always lingering nearby. During these last days of summer, I sit in the garden and every so often there is a gentle rustle and a plop as another apple tumbles to the ground. Some fall already brown and shrivelled, but others are smooth and red, practically blushing their own prettiness. My mum and dad have each had a turn with the rake, lifting it up as high as possible to reach those pristine and unobtainable at the top. We have collected buckets-full, carted them inside to peel, chop and stew, then store in plastic tubs in the freezer. Apples we have pouring out of our ears. Blackberries, however, are another matter.

blackberry and apple jam nigellaeatseverything.com

Blackberries are elusive creatures. Year after year I haven’t had much luck. I miss the deluge, each bush appearing gnarled and dead, and traipse home gently weeping, so this year I was determined to get my fix.

The other evening I went out before dinner. The air was muggy and soupy so I shrugged off my jumper as I walked further and further down the overgrown lane, the late sunshine flashing through the trees. I carried an ice cream tub, and every now and then I would pause at a bush to inspect it before pushing on. Again, as with most events in my life, I was late to the party. Bushes were covered in thorns and leaves, but only wilted fruit. Occasionally, I would spot one among the hedges and would plunge in cursing the nettles. Not a lot stands between me and blackberries.

At last, bedraggled and sweaty, I found a thicket. It was small but dotted with hundreds of little and shiny blackberries. I went for the plump ones first, naturally, then searched under leaves and behind cobwebs for any gems. I walked home with my ice cream tub full and my hands and arms stained with purple, inky splotches.

Apple and blackberries are an excellent pairing. They must be destined to complement as they are both autumn fruits, ideal for stewing, or mixing with spice and vanilla for warmth. I used to think blackberries ruined a good apple crumble. They were too sour, too darkly flavoured for my juvenile palette. Then, thankfully, I grew up. Now, together they slowly dance across the tongue, and are perfect crumble-fodder, especially topped with crushed hazelnuts like in my dad’s crumbles.

blackberry and apple jam nigellaeatseverything.com

Together, they are a beautiful couple. And, to me anyway, what is more beautiful than their jam. This flavour is also known as bramble, which I think is a lovely name, it immediately conjures images of hedgerows, thickets of berries, and I can practically smell the jam bubbling away.

This recipe is adapted from Honey & Co. Apples were peeled and diced, and they and the berries, sugar and lemon all slipped into the saucepan. Over the heat, the blackberries quickly burst their juice staining the apples cherry-red. It bubbled busily, frothing like a mad animal, and by some impulse I dropped in a big bay leaf (it’s probably that word bramble again). My parents’ garden is a home of edible treasures, and there is a huge bay bush, shaped like a rocket. So, all the bramble ingredients in this jam are, in fact, wild. And like apples and blackberries, there is a certain spice to bay leaves that shouts of autumn.

blackberry and apple jam nigellaeatseverything.com

The jam became syrupy and thick and gloopy, the colour darkening to indigo, almost black. I poured it into two little jars, scraping the saucepan with the spoon and licking it clean.

It all goes back to jam.

Blackberry, apple and bay jam – aka Bramble Jam

The Honey & Co recipe I based this on asks for a 1kg berries. I certainly didn’t find that many! These are the quantities I used, if you pick more blackberries then multiply as you wish. I know I am spoilt with this glorious apple tree so if you don’t have one then buy cooking apples as they will soften to a pulp unlike dessert apples.

Apples are full of pectin so this jam sets thickly. After testing its consistency on a cold saucer, take it off the heat when it is still a little runny as it will continue to thicken once cold.

Don’t forget to sterilise your jam jars – I have included the instructions in the recipe. If you need any other jam-making tips I wrote a list here.

  • 250g blackberries
  • 150g cooking apples
  • 175g caster sugar
  • Zest and juice of a lemon
  • 1 bay leaf
  1. Start by sterilising your jars. This recipe produces two small jars, or one medium-sized jar. My favoured method is to wash the jars and lids then pop them all in a large saucepan of cold water. Whack it on the heat and bring to the boil. Once bubbling, set the timer for ten minutes. Afterwards, turn off the heat and scoop out the jars with some clean tongs. Leave them on a clean tea towel to air-dry.
  2. Meanwhile, rinse your blackberries in a couple of changes of cold water to remove any unwanted friends. Peel and dice your apples. Weigh them as you go to make sure you have 150g. Tip the fruits, sugar, lemon zest and juice into a sturdy saucepan or jam pan.
  3. Set the heat to high. The berries will release their juices and the sugar will dissolve. Watch and stir occasionally to prevent the sugar from burning.
  4. It will start to bubble and froth. Scoop away the dusky pink foam with a spoon as it will dull the jam.
  5. Add the bay leaf. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the apples until squidgey-soft and collapsing. This should take 10 minutes. Stir to check that the apples have completely reduced.
  6. Pop a saucer in the freezer. Yes, this is a thing, I’m not crazy.
  7. With a little jug of water at your side, increase the heat. This will be quick so keep the stove clear and utensils at the ready. Keep stirring the jam and add splashes of water if it appears dry. Spoon a blob of jam onto the cold saucer. If it flows around the plate then cook for another few minutes. If it is loose but thick, and you can wipe your finger through without the two sides flowing together then it is ready.
  8. Turn off the heat and remove the bay leaf. Leave to cool slightly then spoon into the jars. Screw on the lid nice and tight, and turn the jar upside down to seal the vacuum.

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