Monday, July 20, 2009

Blood, sweat and jam

Sick of hearing about jam yet? Too bad!

Two old geezers came into the park last week and told me the black raspberries were ripe. Not just two ordinary old geezers, but two very particular old geezers -- known locally as 'the jelly guys.' These two old guys devote most of their free time in the summer to making jelly. They know the local hot spots, checking them throughout the season for readiness. They aren't in it for the money; they don't sell any of it. They give it away. The first year I met them they gave me a jar of chokecherry jelly. That was some dang good stuff.

So when these two old geezers told me the black raspberries were ripe, I knew I had to act fast. I had a pretty good idea of where to find them in the park, thanks to a trail-building excursion a few years ago. I've never picked them before, mainly because whenever I've thought of it, it was either too early or too late in the season. Raspberries don't last long, at least not out here.

So Sunday afternoon after work, I took a hike through the woods with a bucket in my hands. I found the raspberry patch, and lo and behind, the old geezers were right. The black raspberries were ripe. I started picking, carefully winding my way through the bramble patch, my clothes and hair catching on the thorns, my hands and arms getting scratched to pieces. When I looked at my forearms I couldn't tell the difference between squished berry bits and coagulated blood. I'd scratch at the dark red blob, and if it came off easy it was berry juice. If not, it was blood.

It was muggy out in the bramble patch. Hardly a breath of wind. Temps in the low eighties, mosquitoes in the low thousands. Sweat trickled down my back. The only sounds I heard were the buzz of mosquitoes and the distant roar of a power boat cruising down the lake. After two hours of picking I had about two quarts of berries. Not a lot, but enough for a batch of jam.

Sunday night I made five half-pints of black raspberry jam, and six half-pints of blueberry jam from blueberries I bought at the farmers market. The black raspberry jam turned out wonderful, with a strong berry flavor. The blueberry jam was much more bland, with hardly any taste of blueberry in it. Just a mundane berriness about it, unidentifiable and nondescript.

I guess that's the difference between wild and cultivated berries. Wild berries are much more flavorful than their domesticated, pampered cousins. Or maybe I just think the wild berries taste better, since I work a lot harder for them. Two hours picking berries on a hot afternoon, vs. one minute buying berries at the market. Blood and sweat add something to the flavor, in my mind if not on my tongue. Food is more than just taste on the tongue, though. Food is an experience -- the growing of it, the harvesting, the preparing and the eating.

I want to label my jam accordingly. I want to write out 'Farmers Market Blueberry Jam,' and also 'Black Raspberries picked on a muggy afternoon in the woods surrounded by sun and mosquitoes and bramble thorns Jam.' Food is always better when it tells a story.


Erin said...

I have been following your blog and had to post! My experience was similar with our blackberries here in VA...mosquitoes and all! While our blackberries at the farm here are very tart and tasty, the blueberries is where I notice the difference! The blueberries we pick at the farms here are huge and too sweet for my taste (as are many things in the south, like iced tea, lol) - I really miss the wild ones picked up north in MN. Things like this always make me homesick for "up north"! And - I actually did label my jam batches according to what farm picked and how tasty they are instead of "batch numbers", lol! Thanks for an enjoyable blog!

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

Hey Jo,

Always picked these whenever I have had the time. I leave a small patch of them in the yard just for the handful of fresh eating ones we get to ahead of the birds. Yeah they always seem to ripen in early July. I almost wonder if mosquitoes know that a sweaty animal will come to the berries and they just hang out and wait for the prey to come to them. Also it just isn't black raspberry picking until a bead of sweat rolls into a fresh cut.

Jo said...

Hi Erin! Thanks for sharing your blackberry experiences. I'd love to have blackberries out here, I guess our summers are too short. Maybe we can do a swap -- northern MN blueberries for Virginia blackberries?

I've tasted southern style iced tea too, on a road trip through Missouri -- very sweet! Now I'll have to read your blog and find out how a native Minnesotan ended up in Virginia.

Howdy Rick! Last time you asked about propagating mulberries -- now I will ask you about propagating raspberries. Ever done it before? I'm tempted to 'steal' some from the park. I have another question for you about green walnuts, but I will post that to your blog. Good hearing from you.

Redeeming Restorations said...


Try adding a little extra lemon, plus a 1/4 tsp of allspice to the blueberry jam. Turns out wonderful then.


Karen said...

You reminded me of the last time I had blackberries! It was just a week ago on horseback (now, aren't you finally jealous of me?!!). I was riding Willow, one of Jill and Peter's (Alec's Dad and stepmom) horses with Jill and a friend of hers. We were riding through Lake Elmo Park and came upon bushes and bushes of blackberries - ripe for the pickin'!! We hopped off and stuffed our faces with them!!! I'll bet we consumed gallons (probably not really!) before finally climbing back on the horses! I"m sure we were wayyy heavier after that and the horses suffered! It was a hot, muggy day then too! I'm going to have to get really chummy with those guys in order to provide me with a regular ride!!

Jo said...

Karen -- You went horseback riding? I am jealous! You should go back and pick a bunch of berries for me, so I can make more .... jam! Hahaha!

Thanks for the tip, Calypso. I did add lemon juice to the batch, but not spices. I need to experiment more with my recipes.

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

Hey Jo,

Sorry it took so long to get back to you on this. You can feel free to stop by and dig up some here next time you come down this away. I know they propagate by runners so you may just need a bit of root from one to grow your own. I also think you can cut new woody growth and apply rooting hormone and keep it in damp soil until it roots.

The birds brought mine.
Feed some to your chickens and let them play under some trees?

Good luck.