Best Cook: Blackberry Jelly
On a warm August day, Ruth Feeney’s kitchen is fragrant with fresh blackberries. She’s making jelly from the berries she picked this morning over at the old family farm in Bryant Pond, Maine, where she grew up.
The wine-dark juice drips through cheesecloth into the bowl, staining the cloth on its way through. “Making jelly is easy,” she says. “It’s having the berries and getting the juice, and that’s about all there is to it.”
In the homemaking department, there isn’t much that Ruth would consider hard. Ruth can knit a sweater in a couple of days, or sew a quilt in no time at all. The rugs that decorate her floors? She braided them all. Ruth’s eyes sparkle when she talks about the things she loves: the commerce of her kitchen, the bounty of her big garden, her family. What she makes she shares with family, friends, and neighbors. This is her joy.
In a year, Ruth puts by enough to feed an army–jams, jellies, fruits, whatever the summer bounty, she sets it aside for winter keeping. On the counter she keeps a crock of some of the tastiest sour mustard pickles a person could ever wish for–her mother’s recipe. “I just pick the cukes when they’re little and pop them in the crock,” she says. “Pretty soon, they’re pickles.”
Once the berries have drained, Ruth gives the cloth bag a good squeeze. She pours the juice into a pot on the stove and stirs. She adds the pectin. Pectin is what makes jellies jell. “You do have to have pectin for blackberries,” she explains. “With strawberries you can get away without it, but not with blackberries.”
The mixture begins to boil and foam. “My mother used to tell me to add a tablespoon of butter right about now,” Ruth advises. “That way, there’s no foam when you pour it into the jars.” She cuts a pad of butter from the dish, and it vanishes into the roiling mixture.
She turns off the heat. With a ladle, she fills the jars, leaving space for the wax. She uses an old aluminum coffee pot for the paraffin. “It’s good because I use what I want and then set it aside till I need it again,” she notes. “I don’t have to clean the pot, and it’s always handy.” When the wax has melted, she pours it directly on top of the hot jelly, not yet set.
The jars sit on the counter, cooling, prisms through which the jewel-like jelly shines in the sun. The drained berries still hang in the cheesecloth. Ruth squeezes the bag gently. “My mother used to tell me not to squeeze the cheesecloth,” she recalls. “She said it would make the jelly cloudy. But who cares? I’m not going to take these jars to the fair. They won’t last that long.”
Click here for Ruth Feeney’s pickle recipe, plus a link to more than 70 pickles and preserves recipes from Yankee‘s database.