“Follow the black dots,” he said. Into the woods and the bramble patch where a tremendous harvest of wild black raspberries lay before us. We were outfitted in long pants and long sleeves to avoid the poison ivy, which runs rampant among the arcing canes of red and black fruit. The berries on higher, drier ground along the Millstone River have ripened first but as the land slopes down and the river bends, there are many that are still green and hard as rocks. This adventure could go on for weeks.
The berries seemed rather dry and sturdy compared to the red raspberries that we will harvest at the CSA farm or the tasteless blowsy sort that the grocer stocks in plastic containers, “fresh” from thousands of miles away. The wild berries are small and seedy of course but contain taste bombs that explode in your mouth with a lingering wine-like flavor.
With the berries, we made summer cake and pancakes, tossed them with the first melons of summer and the last lettuce, have plans for ice cream and sorbet, and of course, we made jam. Just like the winter’s pomegranate experiment, this jam needs to be treated gently so as not to overcook it and make it tough. I say tough because I left the seeds in and they provide a kind of structure to the jam, which is nicely offset by jelly that’s not too firm.
I made a second version, with apples and lemon, so that I can develop natural pectin to avoid overcooking and add less sugar, so long as the overall preservative content makes the jam safe over time. The recipe needs tweaking but the approach works.
Wild Black Raspberry Jam
2 qt wild black raspberries, lightly rinsed and drained
Sugar (about 2-3 c)
Juice of 1 lemon, seeds and peel reserved
Mash the black raspberries and add half the volume of sugar (if you have 4 c of mashed berries, add 2 c sugar). Juice the lemon and add the juice to the berry mixture. Tie the lemon seeds and a bit of the peel in a muslin sack and submerge it into the berries. Let the mixture sit for several hours or overnight until the juice renders.
Place the berry mixture in a large heavy pan with a wide bottom and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove and cool. Cover with crumpled parchment paper and set aside for several hours or overnight (refrigerated).
Prepare jars for water bath canning and keep them hot. Place a saucer in the freezer to test the gel.
Remove the lemon sack and bring the berry mixture to a boil over medium high heat and cook, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching, until the jam test for gel, about 7 minutes (but check earlier if large bubbles form). A drop placed on a frozen saucer should crinkle when touched.
Ladle the hot jam into the prepared jars, wipe the rims and close with two-part lids. Process in a water bath for ten minutes after the water boils. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let sit for five minutes before removing to a counter to sit, undisturbed, until cool.
Make 4 eight-ounce jars or 8 four-ounce jars.