Blackberry Clove Jam

Sometimes Mother Nature does not gift us with what we expect but that is not to say she does not gift us at all; sometimes we just need to look elsewhere. This past year has been a challenging year for most small fruit growers with constant rain and grey skies through the spring and early summer which had a detrimental effect on the bursting fruit blossom, which, in turn, resulted in a very meagre harvest. However Mrs Dirtdigger did what she does exceptionally well and managed to forage many kilos of nature’s wonderful freebies from the hedgerows that border the allotment site, and so much so that by mid September she had harvested well over 5 kilos of blackberries which more than compensated for the gooseberry wipe-out earlier in the summer.
Blackberries are not as pectin heavy as blackcurrants, but the use of an apple to boost the pectin level in the jamming process means there should be no need to use pectin added sugar. This year we put one of the large April Queen apples into the mix; the addition of the apple not only lifts the flavour but helps the final set. A pinch of ground clove adds an autumnal wow! factor, but too much will be overpowering, so no more than a fingers pinch. Alternatively place 3-4 cloves into a little muslin sachet and put into the boiling mix for the duration of the boil and remove before jarring.

Blackberry Jam & Devon Scones

1 kg of fresh picked blackberries, thoroughly washed
1 kg of granulated sugar
1 large Dessert or Bramley apple, peeled, cored and chopped
150mls of water
pinch of ground cloves
knob of butter, salted/unsalted
You will need a large stainless steel saucepan in which to boil the jam; 5-6 sterilized jars with clean lid and wax discs, a couple of saucers for the freezer, a tongs, a ladle, and a spoon or stirrer.

How to Jam it Up…
Prepare all the ingredients and utensils you’ll need before hand; use a stainless steel pot and stainless steel or wooden spoon; have your jam jars washed and pop into the oven at 100 degrees for duration of the jamming process; wash and drain the blackberries; peel, core and chop the apple; pop two saucers into the freezer to have them chilled…
1. Put the blackberries, chopped apple and water into a large pot over a medium heat for 12-15 minutes bringing to a slow boil.
2. Once the fruit in the pot has softened and noticeably reduced turn the heat up full and begin adding the sugar, stirring constantly till the sugar is dissolved; this is where the benefit of a wooden spoon allows you fell what is between the wooden spoon and end of the pot. Once the sugar is dissolved bring the jam to a rapid rolling boil. At this stage add the knob of butter and the pinch of ground cloves, and leave it to boil for at least 7-8 minutes (boil time can vary depending on the actual fruit itself).
3. Remove pot from heat, and using a clean teaspoon pour a little of the jam onto one of the chilled saucers. Leave for 1 minute before running a finger through the blob of jam. If the surface of the blob crinkles your jam has reached setting point and is ready for jarring, if however the jam on the saucer is still too thin, return the pot to the heat and continue to boil for another 5 minutes before repeating the saucer test, and if necessary repeat once more till jam has reached setting point.
4. Once satisfied jam has hit setting point remove from heat. At this point take the jars out of the oven. Leave both jam and jars sit for 5 -8 minutes before carefully ladling the jam into the sterile jars. Fill jars almost to top, leaving 2-3mm at rim. Place a wax disc on top of jar, and screw on clean lid. The hot jam going into reasonably hot sterile jars should be enough to seal completely, but at times we then place the filled jar into a preserving pot of boiling water, completely covering the jars and boiling for 10 minutes to be sure to be sure! Using a tongs lift jars from the water and set aside to cool.
5. If your prep has been thorough and fresh fruit has been used and poured into sterile jars your blackberry jam should store for 6-7 months, of course, it probably won’t last that long at all once you start to dollop it onto fresh Devon scones, with a scoop of double cream perhaps………

“Here”…just a thought by the way

There has always been a garden at the heart of things. 

Long before Biddulph Grange and Sissinghurst; long before Chelsea and Kew and Mount Usher, and long long before Bronte’s Eden-like orchard and the locked gates at Austen’s Mansfield Park there was a garden. Before the Yahwist and the Davidic court scribes conceived their enclosures of creation; and long before the Phoenician, Assyrian and  Guxianghun  traditions there was a garden.    

long before Skara Brae and the Céide Fields someone, somewhere honed their own personal space from the virgin landscape, and over time we’ve come to know this space as garden. In the Levant perhaps, along the banks of the Omo or the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers; or out on the fertile flood plains of the Nile or Danube, someone looked out from a particular view point at a particular time in history and thought, “Here”, and thus the history of the garden and gardening began.
Originally some easily accessed patch of ground, close to a water source and most likely with its own natural boundaries in which to build a shelter, tether an animal and in which to scatter grass grain and reap the rewards of the effort expended. Some patch of ground to claim and call their own;  some small safe place to allow them provide for their cares while at the same time negating the need to constantly migrate from here to elsewhere, allowing them settle for a while, and in that settlement learning to forego the constant need to hunt and forage.
Perhaps it was a sole single-minded individual along the banks of the Tigris, or a small weary group tired of perpetually wandering up and down the Euphrates that decided “Here, here is where we stop”, and in that stopping set the whole concept of fixed cultivation in motion.

Of course, learning from each other being one of the great human attributes it was not too long before others made gardens of their own, and doing so in close proximity created the first expansive human communities. As life in settled places progressed, these early gardens provided a semblance of security and protection for those early communities. The activity in these early gardens had another added benefit, it helped improve mortality rates; not by much, but life expectancy in these new founded communities was most definitely extended. Of course longer lives meant bigger communities, and with this came the need to meet the demands of those growing communities.  And so the gardens needed to get bigger and bigger, and in this expansion those early gardeners begat bigger households and communities, thus the tribe and the clan, thus territories, thus nations and kingdoms and empires; and somewhere  in the midst of all this pioneering development and enlargement that other human attribute avarice, decided it wanted what everyone else had created, including their gardens, and thus their kingdoms and their empires, and the rest as they say, is a history of sorts.
Gardens, as anyone who ever laboured in one will tell you, are damned hard work. There is always something that needs doing in a garden: there’s always a bed to weed out or a sod to turn; always spent blooms that need deadheading and fallen leaves to rake up, not forgetting the need to clip and prune and plant and stake, plus the tying up and layering down, and the bulbs, and the seeds and the seasonal bedding etc.etc. There is always something to do in a garden. No matter where in the world you may live, whether in northern or southern hemisphere and despite long held time hounoured and foundational views on seasonal constraints, our experience here on The Monster In The Corner is that the gardening year begins on January 1st and ends on the last day of December. And whilst the recorded history of human development in all things social, cultural and philosophical is quite often placed in a garden or outdoor enclosure setting, there can be no denying that the history writer’s imagined theatre in which to set stage for the sinister goings-on of their cast of characters, is no match for the everyday reality that allows every gardener get his or her hands dirty in the actual cultivation of personal hopes and dreams…
The first empires can trace their origins back to those original small-holdings and gardens established many millennia ago by our foraging and wandering ancestors, those small bracts of soil and turf in far-flung fields that were cultivated to meet the immediate need of small groups of our forebears who were willing to get their hands dirty.
Today’s suburban gardens and allotment plots still offer a very small peek back into the world of those very first gardeners and in many ways things have not changed as much as we may think, even for us in our 21st century city dwellings.
Beyond the environmental and the sustainable and the eco-friendly; beyond the need to go Green and to buy local and to eliminate food miles; beyond the need to reduce, reuse and recycle, and way beyond the ever increasing carbon footprint and rising greenhouse gas levels there exist small lots and patches of land, little plots and allotment gardens tirelessly tended by gardeners who dedicate themselves to cultivating fresh dreams in our modern and ever sprawling urban expanses, and who, perhaps, in constancy with their gardens are unwittingly establishing new micro empires on which our ever expanding and concrete constrained communities may, someday, ultimately depend.

Just a thought by the way…just a thought.

Halloween 2016 The Monster's Display... compliments @janpaulkelly
Halloween 2016
The Monster’s Display…
compliments @janpaulkelly