I suddenly realised the other Thursday that while I had organised my daughter’s 11th birthday sleepover treat in my head for that Saturday, I hadn’t actually shared the details with the two girls that were invited. Or indeed their mothers. And when I looked at the calendar it was the only weekend that was going to work until November. Slight panic ensued which was alleviated by the news that both girls were free and we could have the birthday sleepover. Phew. Only to be replaced by the realisation that I had absolutely nothing planned for them to do, complicated by the fact that my son was invited to a football party at a friend’s house on the Saturday afternoon. What to do?
Luckily it was forecast to be a beautiful day so I thought we could make a trip to the park for the couple of hours that the party was on and have an ice cream. Never one to miss an opportunity, I thought maybe we could pick some blackberries at the same time. The girls were keen and so we set off with a tub each. They had a great time finding the best berries, comparing hoards and trying not to tumble headfirst in to the brambles. They even managed to not eat the lot.
When I asked them if they wanted me to make a pie or a crumble with the blackberries, they all replied “Jam!”. We had picked over a kilo which was a great haul; even the girls were impressed with the pan full of blackberries and were surprisingly keen to know how I was going to make the jam. Even though they were watching a film while I was making it, at each stage I had to call them, they would put the film on pause and rush back in to the kitchen. Even my 7 year old son was fascinated by jam making! And at the end of the process they each had their own pot of jam. My daughter made some pretty homemade labels and hey presto, a going home present too; something else I had completely forgotten to organise. They had (my) blackberry jam on their toast for breakfast and loved it.
As low key birthday sleepovers go I struck really lucky with the weather but I was beyond surprised by what a success something as simple as blackberry picking and jam making could be: it’s great to know that life in the slow lane still appeals to kids every now and then!
Equal weights of blackberries and granulated sugar
Heat the blackberries over a low heat in large pan so that they soften and release their juice. This may take some time but the amount you cook them will depend on how you like your jam: once you add the sugar they will not soften any further. If you don’t cook them for long enough you will find that the blackberries roll off your toast in the morning. When the fruit is ready turn the heat up to high and slowly add the sugar, stirring to make sure it dissolves. Bring the jam to a rapid boil and after a few minutes start testing it for a set. You can put a drop onto a cold saucer (stick one in the fridge when you start cooking) and if the jam forms a skin and when tilted forms a drop, it is starting to set. When it is ready, turn off the heat and leave it for a few minutes. You can skim off any scum at this point.
You can either buy jam jars or just save up all the glass jars you use – they need to be properly clean and put into the oven at about 180°C while you are preparing the jam so that they are sterile and so that the hot jam does not crack them. Take them out a little before you are ready to fill them as if they are too hot when you put the jam in it can boil up.
You can fill the jars using a pyrex jug or pour the jam using a jam funnel. The hot sugar is obviously very dangerous so be careful not to splash yourself. Put the lids on tight and leave to cool. Enjoy with toast, pancakes, or great as a filling for chocolate sponge cake.
With my 1.1kg of blackberries I made four and a bit largeish jam jars of blackberry jam.