The laptop surprise was a helpful reminder of two things: first, that I need to really, really budget carefully, to make sure that all The Child’s school costs are covered, and second, that there are a lot of ways to cut costs, if you take the time to look for them.
Which brings me to the blackberries. Last year, I picked and froze several pounds of blackberries, which lasted through spring. I baked a couple of coffee cakes with them, and then The Child found the bags and I would discover her nibbling on bowls of thawed berries, so I left them for her to finish. They were gone in late spring, but it was only a couple of months until they were back in season.
This time of year, all I have to do is bring a bag with me when I walk the Red Dog, and I come home with blackberries. On the weekend, when we have time for a long walk, I can come home with a pound or more of fresh berries.
The Red Dog loves his walks, barking joyfully when I attach his leash, then dancing wildly until the door is opened, then trying to stand still while I untangle him so that we can, finally, go out. We wander through the college together, and he stays patiently by my side, watching as I use sticks to pull branches to that I can reach a cluster of berries without getting pricked by sharp thorns. I struggle a bit with the leash, at times, because holding it prevents me from reaching as far as I need to, so I finally let go of it.
He walks a few steps away, and sits down, quietly watching. Content.
When it is time for me to move on, I say his name, and he follows, and sits near the new spot, and after a couple of moves, I don’t say his name anymore. He’s just there, wherever I am.
We come home one Saturday with two pounds of berries, and after my success with Rhubarb-Strawberry Jam, I decide to try my hand at another jam, and finally settled on this spiced blackberry jam by Gloria Nichol, from her book 100 Jams, Jellies, Preserves and Pickles. (The book also has a recipe for a variation, which includes nectarines.)
This jam was decidedly trickier to make, since I did not want the seeds and centers that can make blackberries unpleasant, so I ran the jam through a food mill. It’s an optional step, but I wouldn’t skip it: it’s worth the time for the resulting smooth berry jam.
The spices give a subtle layer of flavor, a taste that will warm you up when spread on hot toast on a chilly autumn day. It’s also not for everyone, because the star anise gives a hint of licorice, which I love, but others might not. It is complex and thoroughly unexpected and comforting all at once.
I had no trouble processing the jam and getting a seal; the recipe makes a bit less than four cups – which means three jars for later, and almost a full jar to enjoy right now.
- 2 lbs blackberries
- 1 star anise
- 3 cloves
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1 lb 9 oz sugar
- Place the blackberries and spices in a sauce pan with about 2 tablespoons of water (just enough to prevent fruit from sticking). Bring to a simmer, cooking until the berries are tender and juicy, mashing with the back of a spoon or potato masher.
- Run the berries through a food mill.
- Return the berries to a pan and add the lemon juice; heat through, stirring often.
- Add sugar, stirring until dissolved.
- Turn up the heat and boil rapidly until the jam has reached the setting point (holds its shape when a spoonful is put on a chilled plate).
- Pour hot jam into sterilized jars, leaving ¼″ headspace, cover with sterilized lids and rings.
- Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
- Remove from water bath and let jars cool on a kitchen towel. If lids snap, jars are sealed; if they don't snap, refrigerate the jar.