Surely it’s too early for blackberries; it’s not even mid-August and blackberries line the hedgerows, and creep onto our streets from straggling bushes. Traditionally an autumnal fruit, blackberries herald the beginnings of crumbles and pies, but it seems a shame to stand on ceremony, leaving them until the ‘correct’ picking time – a time which will in fact be far too late, a time by which the berries will have withered or been picked off by savvy birds.
Until last year, I’d somehow missed out on the joys of blackberry picking, but now I’m a convert with evangelical vigour. This year, the moment the tiny nascent fruits started appearing greenly along my walks, I was ready to go. I’d like to say that I exercised something approaching self-restraint until they were ready to be picked, but the truth is I picked handfuls of the fruit, only to find them gaspingly, cheek-suckingly sour. But now, the berries are begging to be picked, swollen and heavy, staining fingers inky blue and purple. I have filled countless Tupperwares and old margarine boxes with glossy, inviting fruits.
If you’ve ever doubted the power of a bay leaf, or questioned its purpose in a stew or casserole, this jam will convince you otherwise. Adding bay to blackberries transforms the fruit, taking the deep, tart juice of the blackberries and bringing out the natural spice and aromatics. After a little simmering, the medicinal green flavours of the bay subside into gentler floral notes, almost tea-like flavours.
I use this jam with everything: in toast and on porridge, sandwiched in cakes and injected into doughnuts. It’s a complex, grown-up tasting jam, sweet and perfumed, and compulsively delicious.
It goes like this:
1 kilo blackberries
1 kilo jam sugar
1 lemon, juiced
4 bay leaves
Takes: 20-30 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
1.Place the blackberries and jam sugar in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and add a splash of water to stop the blackberries sticking to the bottom of the pan. Place a couple of small saucers in the freezer.
2. Heat the pan on a relatively low heat until the blackberries give out enough of their juice to dissolve the jam sugar, stirring gently occasionally.
3. When the sugar has dissolved, add the juice of a lemon and the bay leaves, and turn up the heat until the jam reaches a rolling boil. Cook the jam at this temperature, stirring all the time, for about ten minutes. If you have a sugar thermometer, take the temperature of the jam, moving the thermometer around to make sure you’re not just testing a hotspot, or touching the bottom of the pan; when the jam reaches 105°C, remove from the heat. Don’t worry if you don’t have a sugar thermometer: take one of the saucers from the freezer, and spoon a dribble of jam onto it. Leave for just a moment, and then nudge with your fingernail; if the jam wrinkles, it has reached setting point; if not, return to the heat and cook for another few minutes before testing again.
4. Once off the heat, leave the jam to settle for fifteen minutes, before carefully spooning the jam into sterilised jars, and sealing. Don’t worry if it still looks terribly runny – just close the lid and leave it to cool completely; if you’ve reached setting point, it will set.