Poor Year for Blackberries

Blackberry jelly

The one thing I must put up every summer is blackberry jelly. There's no other jelly for me. There are other jellies that I like, but my favorite must have jelly is blackberry. 

It's a taste that goes back to the breakfast spread on Granny's table and after school snacks of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along with milk and reruns of Tom and Jerry. 

Most summers I'm in blackberry heaven. This year not so much. This has been the poorest blackberry season that I can remember in my area. We've had plenty of rain-maybe we've had too much rain. I really don't know why but the blackberries have been slim pickings this summer. I made one run of jelly over the weekend and I'm worrying it will be my only one. If it is, those jars will be like solid gold for the Blind Pig family. 

Blackberry jelly is one of the easiest things to make-the hard part takes place before you ever make the jelly. First there's fighting the heat, bugs, snakes, bees, and briars for the blackberries. Then there's the juicing of the blackberries.

Some folks prefer jam and if you're one of them your jelly making will be easier. I'm not a fan of seeds so I try my best to get every last one out of my juice.

It takes about 2 and half quarts of blackberries to get the amount of juice needed for a run of jelly. But I don't worry about whether they'll be enough juice for a run I just go ahead and cook them and see what I end up with. If I have a little too much I pop the excess in the freezer for future use.

Blackberry Jelly

  • 3 ¾ cup blackberry juice
  • 4 ½ cup sugar
  • Box of surejell or other pectin
  • jars, lids, rings

 

Place blackberries in a large stock pot and add water until you can just begin to see it come up around the berries. Cook for 20 minutes.

Using a colander ricer in canning and preserving

Granny always used a hand turned foodmill for the first step of juicing the berries and that was what I used before Miss Cindy gifted me with a cone shaped colander ricer. I LOVE MY RICER!

Place blackberries in ricer or foodmill and try to get all the juice out of them. This step also gets most of the seeds out of the juice. 

Blackberry juice how to extract it

To ensure all the seeds are removed I use my small sieve/strainer and a piece of cheese cloth to filter out any seeds which are left. 

If you end up with enough juice for 2 recipes of blackberry jelly-double it! I have with very good luck. If you end up with extra but not enough for another recipe pop it into the freezer until you get more juice. If you end up with almost enough you can add water to increase the juice to the right amount or you could add another type of fruit juice to make up the difference.

How to make blackberry jelly

Place blackberry juice into a large pot; add surejel; stir well.

Cook mixture until it comes to a boil. I'm not sure there's anything that smells as good as blackberry juice when it's cooking.

Add sugar all at once and stir to combine.

Bring mixture back to a full rolling boil and boil one minute.

Sterilizing jars for jelly

While I'm waiting for my blackberry jelly to come to a boil I fix a pot of boiling water to sterilize my jars and rings in. Some folks like to sterilize theirs in the dishwasher or the oven-that works too. 

Once jelly has boiled one minute quickly ladle into hot jars and seal with lids and rings. Set jelly upside for 5 minutes. 

Turn jelly right side up and cover with a towel until sealed. 

Blackberry jelly from appalachia

After jelly has cooled check to make sure all the jars have sealed. If a jar isn't sealed don't worry just put in the refrigerator and use it first. 

There is a whole debate about whether you should water bath your jelly or not. I don't and feel comfortable doing it that way since I always have. If you'd rather water bath yours do so for 5 minutes. 

One recipe made the jars you see in the photo above plus one more that I used immediately to make a jelly sandwich. 

Tipper 

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Berry Picking Tips from Blind Pig Readers

Berry picking tips

Jackie - July 2013 

I have a cure for the snakes in the blackberry patch. Fire up a chain saw and set it on the ground on one side of the patch for 2-3 minutes. You can watch the snakes skedaddle out the other side. The vibrations get them moving. For those with tame and wild blackberries just mix them and you still get good tasting jams and jellies. Our blueberries are almost done. We put about 5 gallons in the freezer. We have 8 bushes about 3-4 years old so they are just getting started. When we operated a food pantry in Utah we recieved 300 lbs of frozen blackberries in 30 lb cases. We knew none of our clients had freezer space for 30 lbs and probably most would not know what to do with them. Since we also held 'life skill' classes I made jam and jelly while my wife explained the process. One client said, "This is just like watching Emril on TV." We let everyone taste the results and constantly heard, "This is much better than that stuff we buy." We gave each family enough berries and sugar to make a run at home. 

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B.Ruth - July 2014

Wild Blackberries can be very invasive, so careful where you plant them. Also Blackberries produce only on the second years growth. Wait til the following year and watch for the blooms. Sometimes bitter berries are due to a dry spell after the bloom drops and while the berry is forming. Of course, those Japanese beetles make them nasty too. I would watch where I picked to avoid a spray over from toxins in the neighborhood or from road crews spraying to kill brush...PS I hate that dead look, but know there is not enough money to clean around ever pole and stop sign. Blackberries need Mother Natures help with a combination of heat and water to make the perfect sweet berry. Now that said, tame berries thorn-less, are not very sweet in my humble opinion. There could be some sweet ones now-a-days. The ones we had growing were not sweet. Soooo, I let my tried and true prickly critter ridden wild ones grow up and fill in the spaces. Birds plant a lot of wild blackberries around here as well as wild raspberries and dewberries. 

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Julie - July 2014

This makes me think of my Granny. She had a blackberry patch across the road by the pond. She would pick them until they were all gone. She always carried a hoe in case of copperheads. She would make jelly, jam, and blackberry dumplin's. They are still my favorite. You roll out dough like you were making dumplin's. Instead of dusting with flour you dust with sugar. Drop those babies in hot boiling blackberries and sugar and what a meal!! I liked mine hot with vanilla ice cream over the top. When I was lived in Seattle the blackberries grew wild everywhere. I mentioned at work were they sprayed or could we use them for pies. They looked at me like I was nuts. They told me those were considered trash berries and were saved for the birds to eat. Needless to say, for the four years I lived there the birds didn't get as many berries!! They made the best pies and cobblers. The people at work could not believe I was using them. Their loss.

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Junebug Skeert - July 2014

There is nothing like being out of a mornin' or late evenin' pickin' blackberries! A jug of ice water nearby, your bucket and your own thoughts. As you clomp along shaking the ground somewhat to hopefully ward off that sneaky snake ahead of your tramped down path your making. Right in the middle of more unpicked briars, those loaded branches hanging up over your head you reach to grab the biggest ones you think you've seen all day. You are thinking, boy oh boy it won't take many of these to make pie, cobbler and enough to make several runs of jelly. Then it happens, a head of June bugs make the loudest buzz you ever did hear and fly off the berries you were reaching for. It scares you til you almost pee in your pants and want to leave. You scream...the better half yells from down the way from where you are picking, "Is it a snake?" "Nope," I yell back, my heart still beating hard, "just June bugs!" It takes a few minutes to gather your thoughts, and go back to picking and relax in the solitude of thoughts as you pick those berries! I think that is why I love sitting on the porch breaking beans, peeling apples or going fishing. You're getting something done while your mind just wanders around pondering this and that. More people need to relax and do this type of work. I have heard men say they go hunting just to relax and think awhile waiting on that critter to show up!

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Janet Smart - July 2014

My blackberries here in WV aren't ripe yet. I've picked them since I was a kid. We always worried about ticks and snakes when we picked. We always wore boots, long pants and long sleeves when we went picking. When we had way too many, we walked down the road with a water bucket full and sold them. I think $2 for a water bucket was the going rate back then.

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TimMc - July 2014

That is some of the best memories as a child when my Mom and I would go blackberry picking. We always wore long sleeves with coal-oil (kerosene) rags around our wrist and ankles. We'd carry a hoe so we could pull the ones you couldn't reach toward you,, and to help chop a path or a defense if you ran into old no shoulders, (snakes). Mom always put up quite a few jars of jelly and jam, because my brother and I would fight over who got more jelly than the other.

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I was hoping to pick blackberries this weekend, but so far the rain has put a real damper on my plans. 

Tipper

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Wild Berries in Appalachia

Wild berries in western nc

This time of the year, I start checking on the blackberries that grow wild around my house. The berries are just now beginning to ripen. A recent email from a Blind Pig reader got me to thinking about the other wild berries that grow here.

Dewberry 

Dewberries are similar to blackberries in appearance and in taste. Dewberry brambles are smaller than their cousin the blackberry. Dewberries also have more of a twining vine look to them. 

Around my house dewberries grow in the same areas blackberries do, as in across the road from each other. Although dewberries are just as tasty as blackberries they don't usually bear the same quantity of fruit that blackberries do.

Wild blueberries 

Of all the berries blueberries are hands down my favorite. If nothing happens the ones I have planted in my yard look to hold the biggest harvest I've ever gotten. I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed the birds don't find them.

Lucky for me wild blueberries also grow around my mountain holler and they're already ripe. I found the little patch above growing along the bank of Steve's (my brother) driveway. Kinda selfish, but I haven't told anyone else because I'm eating them all by myself. And I'm hoping by next year the wild blueberry bushes will multiply...then maybe I'll share my secret.

Huckleberries

Huckleberries are similar in taste to blueberries, but they are much smaller and don't get ripe till later in the season. Huckleberries grow all around my holler, but especially up on the ridge behind my house. The little patch in the photo is growing along the trail leading from Pap and Granny's house to ours. When Chitter and Chatter were younger I used to watch for them when it was time for the school bus. They had a pretty far piece to walk. During the first weeks of school I knew they'd make pit stops at the huckleberry bushes that grow along the trail-eating their way home.

Another common berry around my house are gooseberries or at least they used to be common. I went to the bush I remembered being near Pap's garage to get a picture, but it's no where to be seen. I believe the last time the EMC trimmed they must have gotten it. Gooseberries are a greenish color and are shaped like blueberries. They have a sweet taste, but not as sweet as blueberries.

The season for wild strawberries has passed. Unfortunately I've never found many growing around our place or Pap and Granny's. There used to be a wild raspberry down below Pap's but it's been gone for years, mowed down for new driveways and homes. 

Lot's of folks gather elderberries, but I wouldn't know one if I seen one! I do wonder if they grow close by. Pap told me he was sure I could find some along the creek between here and the folk school, but I've never looked. 

Hope you'll leave me a comment and tell me about the wild berries around your place. Oh and be sure to drop back by in a few days for some berry picking tips from Blind Pig readers.

Tipper

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