Turning blackberries into preserves without added pectin

It’s that time of the year when blackberries ripen in abundance. They grow nearly everywhere, are free, and packed full of vitamin C. Blackberries are also particularly high in other antioxidants, due to their dense content of polyphenolic compounds, and are one of the “classics” at the top of the list of fruits able to absorb harmful free oxygen radicals -they are in fact a “superfruit”, but this marketing slogan is not associated with blackberries because they are readily available and so not very interesting from a commercial point of view.

Blackberries in abundance!

I like to eat the very first and sweetest blackberries fresh, but it is best to preserve them considering the sheer amount of blackberries you can collect. Later in the season ripening blackberries become smaller, contain less sugar and are best processed with sugar in pies, preserves etc. Blackberries (technically not a berry but an aggregate fruit), like most fruits naturally contain pectin which is the key ingredient added during processing of making preserves to aid gelling. There is a misconseption that added pectin is always required for jam-making, but pectin is already present in most fruits. It just needs to be released from their cell-membranes by prolonged cooking and is more abundant in under-ripe fruit. That’s why I always add a few slightly under-ripe blackberries during jam-making as this increases the pectin content and speeds up the gelling process. I also pre-chill about 4 saucers to test for gelling during cooking. Here is how I processed about 600 grams of blackberries I picked when  walking the dogs the other day, and turned them into a quality preserve without adding any pectin. First, add an equal amount of sugar to balckberries by weight (so in this case about 600g) and then boil them in a saucepan with just a little splash of water for ~30 minutes (this is where you need to test for gelling every 10 minutes using saucers). Note that all cooking equipment needs to be perfectly clean and containers & lids sterilized using boiling water before the piping hot  jam is poured into these. Be careful when pouring, it’s about the temperature of volcanic lava!!

Adding an equal amount of sugar and a small amount of water (50ml) to the blackberries

A lot of water is driven off at the initial stages by the vigorous boiling. Excessive foaming can be controlled by adding a couple of drops of vegetable oil

After 10 minutes the boiling calms down. Continue to boil for ~20 minutes before testing

Test a small amount of jam for gelling on pre-cooled plates every 10 minutes. The jam is ready after a 5 minute rest , if the plate is held vertical and jam stays firm.

Filling pots with hot backberry jam and cooling upside-down. This helps to keep the jam sterile so that it will store well.

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August 2010
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