What’s Jamming?

Hi readers, I don’t think I’ve posted in here before- I was invited by Shelly, Akhi, Sara, Sabeen, and Mariel to contribute despite the fact that I don’t cook or bake very often. I generally blog at Dorothy Ann Writes, and I’m currently an Americorps Intern through the Student Conservation Association (aka a professional tree hugger) in the Hudson Valley, New York, USA. Hopefully in the future I’ll get into some fun Polish family recipes, but an odyssey into the forest is still an odyssey, right? This recipe is going to be less of a recipe and more of a story of my experience making jam for the first time, from foraged berries. So let’s take a hike!

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Oh, what’s this I’ve found in the forest? Could it be wineberries?

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Wineberries (sometimes called Wine Raspberries or Japanese Raspberries) are a variety of raspberry that were brought to Europe and the Americas (they’re native to Japan, China and Korea) to make hybrids with other types of raspberries. They’re a bit more bitter than regular raspberries, but still very tasty! Somewhere along the line they escaped farms, and now line roadsides and meadows in the Northeast. Now, invasive species are  generally considered to be bad- they change up food chains and choke out native plants. Wineberries also have thorns and spread rapidly, making them kind of a nuisance for land owners. So, I feel pretty good about picking lots and lots of wineberries- I’m preventing the spread of invasive species! By making them into a spread for toast!20150719_125054

This is about 1/3 of the wineberries I picked for this endeavor. As you can see, they resemble raspberries. Make sure to only pick berries that you can identify (though wineberries are pretty easy to identify, Wikipedia says they’re “one of the most easily identified wild edible plants, with no poisonous look-a-likes in North America”,) pick berries only with land-owners’ permission, and remember to leave some for fellow foragers including animals!20150719_131153

When I got home, I washed the berries. This is important because unlike some other berries, wineberries excrete a sticky outer layer. Biologists investigated this sticky fluid, thinking perhaps the plant is carnivorous and gets nutrients from bugs, but they concluded it is not. (For those of you interested in this kind of thing, an article is here! If the link doesn’t take you directly to the wineberry part, you may have to click ‘week 5’ under June.) Anyways, this sticky layer tends to trip leaf litter and bugs, so wash them well.20150719_131730

I laid them out to dry. This may not have been entirely necessary since I was about to add more liquid… this is the part where I admit that I didn’t exactly follow a recipe. I had read a few different recipes for wineberry and raspberry jam, but I had a weird amount of wineberries and didn’t feel like calculating fractions on the hottest day of the year so far, so I decided to wing it and go by taste and texture.

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There are the main ingredients and tools. From left to right: a large bowl, a strainer (that conveniently hooked over the edge of the bowl,) cane sugar, pectin (if I was doing this again I’d probably pick the low-sugar pectin,) a potato masher, wineberries, and a big pot. Not shown are the jars I put the jam in! The jars should be very clean- most recipes recommend sterilizing them in a boiling water bath or dishwasher.

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What’s going on here!? Well, wineberries are just FULL of seeds. Unless I wanted my jam to be super chunky, I’d have to fix that fact. I simmered the berries (this was about six cups of berries by the way) with a bit of water and attacked with the potato masher. Did I mention this was the hottest day of the year so far? Probably not a great day to stand over a hot stove.

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Once the berries were mushy, I mushed them some more… into a strainer. From six cups of berries I got about…

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One SOLID cup of seeds/pulp and three cups of juice. And lots of drips on the counter. If you’re making jam I highly advise putting down paper towels.

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I wanted the jam to have some texture so I put about half the seeds back in. In the center of the above picture you can see the sugar and pectin mixture- about a cup of sugar and half a packet of pectin. I boiled everything together for a few minutes until I noticed it thickening- something I read about online was the ‘cold spoon test,’ if you dip a cold spoon in the mixture at the beginning, it will be very runny and drippy, about the viscosity of water or maybe apple juice. As you continue, it will get a bit thicker (I used a few spoons) and end up more like corn syrup- slowly dropping off the spoon in larger drops, not just running off. I scooped the berry mixture into jars and quickly washed my big pot because…. planning failure!

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To make the jars seal properly, the water level should be 1-2 inches above the lids. You boil them vigorously for 10 minutes or more and the lids pop and seal…. unfortunately, my pot wasn’t big enough. It’s not the end of the world because I only ended up making three and a half jars of jam and my appetite is big enough to finish them in the 6-8 weeks they’ll survive in the fridge! If you decide to make jam that will survive un-refrigerated, borrow a VERY BIG pot from a friend, check thrift stores, or perhaps get smaller jars? If prepared and sealed properly, homemade jam can last months!

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My jam turned out to have a beautiful color and (in my opinion) just the right amount of seeds suspended in it.

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Of course I had to try it immediately and made myself a PB&J! For my first attempt at making jam, I think it turned out just fine!

Here are a couple of the recipes I consulted/ was inspired by:
Absolute Ambrosia Wineberry Jam Recipe (Even if you’re not making jam, check this out! The pictures are much more professional than mine!)
Mother Earth News Picking and Preserving the Wineberry (This one suggests growing your own bushes if you’re not in an area that wineberry has already colonized… I do not recommend this, I work with way too many Natural Resources professionals who would never forgive me! There are plenty of delicious berries out there that don’t involve helping invasives spread.)
Epicurious Old-Fashioned Raspberry Jam (This recommends a 1:1 ratio of sugar to berries!! And wineberries are known for being more tart than raspberries- this must be a very sweet jam! I do love their advice to warm the sugar beforehand, I think it would add a very tasteful touch.)

Thanks for coming on my berry-picking, jam-making adventure with me! As I mentioned before, I generally blog about SCA/Americorps adventures at Dorothy Ann Writes, but I hope to come back here at some point- I do love cooking and baking, I just don’t get very many chances to do it!

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