Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Making Home-Made Blackberry Jelly. Mmmmm....Sticky, Good!

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, there are many fruits and vegetables around this place just begging to be put into jars. Today my second born started Kindergarten (wipe an eye), and so it was just the boy and I at home. We thought we would go berry picking. We spent about an hour picking blackberries at a U-Pick berry farm just up the road from us. (Yes, I have my own blackberry bushes planted, but they don't produce enough yet to make jams, jellies or syrups. Just enough for me to snack on while I garden, maybe next year!) So at said U-Pick farm, you bring your own containers, pick until your heart's content, weigh and pay. At $2.00 per pound they are much less expensive than buying at the farmers market. I'm not against a little sweat equity, and in Utah today it was a dry 95 degrees so there was much sweating going on! I was planning on a batch of my favorite blackberry syrup with these berries and had enough to do so until I had a brawl with the food mill, in which I lost! I lost a bit of my juice in said brawl so instead of syrup I only had enough juice for a batch of jelly. Which was okay because jelly was next on the list of things to do with blackberries, so I will just change my order of things. I'm flexible like that. I must say I have not been so tempted to use curse words so many times as in said brawl. (The darn thing, for some reason today didn't want to stay on tight, and I would start to crank and the part where the juice comes out would pop off and juice would go everywhere!) And it is a bit hard to get the thing tightened back down with pulpy, juicy hands, but I eventually got the juice I needed and am glad I have the food mill. Just FYI, check to make sure it is tight before loading/cranking! If you have never made home-made jam or jelly you may wonder....why??? You know you can just save yourself all the trouble and just buy a jar at the grocery store. Yes, I don't live under a rock and I am aware that these things are on the shelf all ready to be spread. However, It just isn't the same! There is just  something to be said about doing it yourself. When I open a jar of sticky, sweet spreadable-ness in the dead of winter, it brings back the memories of when I picked those berries. My 1 year old riding his little Lightening McQueen 4-wheeler down the berry isles as I picked, face covered in purply-berry juice. The fight I had with the food mill in my attempt to get the deliciousness into the bottle and the satisfaction of a job well done. You just can't buy that at the store! So if you have never tried this endeavor...you really should. Just let me give you a few suggestions that I have learned from my experiences in canning.
*Tip 1: Try canning with a friend or loved one who has done this before, you will have many questions your first time. I get lots and lots of phone calls about canning questions.
*Tip 2: Try it on a day when you have nothing else to do, because it's just not as fun if you are stressing to get it done before you need to do something else. Remember this takes time, you don't want to rush it, you want to enjoy the journey. And you make a big mess!
*Tip 3: Start early. Pick your produce to be canned early in the morning before it gets hot, it's much more enjoyable picking and you should can things within 24 hours of picking to ensure freshness.
*Tip 4: Review your recipe before you start. So you know how much to pick (you don't want to get in the middle only to realize you didn't pick enough or that you have way too much and not enough time to process it all.)
*Tip 5: Use a tested recipe. There are lots of tested recipes out there. I use a lot of recipes from the USU Extension Service, also for the jams/jellies I use the recipes included in the boxes of Pectin. Why would I suggest this? Well because I am going through a lot of time and effort and I want to ensure that the recipe has been tested and safe to eat. I realize that back in the "olden days" the recipes probably weren't tested and grandma did it without testing her recipe, however botulism is real people and I don't want you to die, so please use a tested recipe...please!
*Tip 6: Wash jars and lid rings and have them hot and ready for use when your jelly is ready. You want to keep everything hot. If you put hot jelly into cold jars you can cause cracks or breaks. Use the jar washing step to check all rims of the jars for cracks because if you go through all the work of canning only to find you filled a cracked jar and it didn't seal correctly, waste of time! Don't use jars with cracks or breaks, trust me!! Sterilize and keep jar lids warm in hot water before use.
 I took some pics of my berry to jelly adventure today so here goes!

When picking blackberries, choose ones like these beauties, large in size, all black/purple in color (no red, or they aren't ripe), and they should pull off easily. If you are pulling hard...they aren't ripe. Let me give you a few hints on picking. Wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty, the best berries are hanging under the canes and I get on my knees to find them. You will get dirty! Not to mention the juice is dark purple! Also hornets/wasps love ripe berries so shake the canes a little before you dive in to get them out and watch where you put your fingers. I use a gallon ice cream bucket with a handle and tie it around my waist with a belt or other tie so both my hands are free to pick and move the canes. When it feels heavy I put them into another container and continue picking into the ice cream bucket. A milk jug that you cut the top out of works well too. Just cut a big opening in the jug with scissors, but leave the handle so you have something to tie to.

Enough berries picked for a batch of jelly. Picked through to remove any spider webs, leaves or other undesirables. Rinsed lightly with cool water.

Heat berries on low heat in heavy bottomed sauce pan to warm them so they will release their lovely juices. (Keeping in mind I am making jelly, not jam. I prefer no seeds so I make jelly, if you prefer bit/chunks of fruit or seeds make jam and skip the removing the seeds part.)

Here is a pic of assembled food mill of which I had said brawl with today. This is what it looked like before, I did not take pic of the aftermath...it was ugly!! Even though I had said brawl, I still count this as a must in the "makes canning easier products list." The other option besides a food mill like this one is to use the old-fashioned method of heating berries as above and then smashing with something like a potato masher and running through cheesecloth to remove seeds.

This is what the juice looks like when it comes out of the food mill. You put the warmed berries into the hopper at the top, start to turn the hand crank and it separates the seeds and pulp from the juice so you have only juice to use for syrup or jelly.

And this is what the pulp/seeds looks like when all the juice is extracted, yep...kind of gross, but that's what it looks like. The pulp/seeds come out the clear plastic spout end opposite the hand crank. This purple gross-ness makes a yummy treat for my chickens. They will love me for it!!

Chickens enjoying the gross-ness left over! Loving me!! "You're Welcome guys!" (I hate to throw away even the gross-ness.)

Once I extracted all the juice from the blackberries I followed the recipe for jelly enclosed in the box of Sure-Jell pectin I used. I followed the instructions for my altitude, always check for altitude changes on the recipe. As I live about 4700 ft. above sea level, that means I need to add 10 minutes to the normal 5 minute processing time, making it 15 min. total in the water bath canning method.

This is what the jelly looks like after following all the pectin recipe instructions. Notice the "scum" on top, this is what I call it. It is the jelly, but it has air bubbles in it and is frothy. I let it sit for a minute to let it rise to the top, then I skim it off with a spoon. It tastes good, it just isn't pretty. if you don't skim it off it will look like this at the top of your jars.

After skimming off "scum", ladle hot jelly liquid into clean, sterilized (If your processing time is less than 10 min. you need to pre-sterilize your jars, this means to put them into boiling water for at least 10 min. and increase sterilization time by one min. for every 1,000 ft you live above sea level.) If your process time is 15 min, like mine, you won't need to pre-sterilize the jars, just have clean hot jars. Wipe rims of jars with clean dishrag to remove any spilled so you will get a good seal. (If you skip this step you may find that the jar doesn't seal because a drop of jelly was in the way.) I hold the bottom of the hot jar with a towel as shown so I don't get burned as I tighten the lid firmly.

This is what my water bath canner looks like.

This is what the jars look like after they were lowered into the boiling water inside the rack. You should start your water on to boil so it is ready when your jelly is ready so hot jars go into boiling water canner. This takes a little thinking ahead so you aren't sitting waiting for your water to boil while your jars are ready. You should make sure that your jars are covered by at least 1" of the boiling water. And that the water continues to boil the entire recommended process time.

I use this nifty jar lifter hold onto hot jars as I lift them up out of the rack. And set them out to cool. As they cool you will hear a "POP" that is the vacuum telling you your jars have sealed. You want to hear this noise! You should not move or touch the jars now for 24 hours. Allow them to sit and seal. Check them for seals in 24 hours, if they haven't sealed, re-process, if they are sealed the lid will have sucked down to concave. If not sealed you can push the top and it flexes. You want to avoid sitting them to cool where they are subject to drafts. Cool drafts on hot jars can cause the jars to crack. I actually process my jars on my Camp Chef stove in my garage. Might sound dirty or gross, but it isn't because all the cooking and filling of jars happens in my clean kitchen and the processing of closed jars happens in the slightly less clean garage. But it is not air-conditioned and I can control the draft, it doesn't heat up the house and it keeps my electric bill down as my regular stove runs on electricity and I learned the first year I canned without the Camp Chef that it is not cost effective to use electricity for canning! I can fill my propane tank for about $15 once a year, that is doable!

I couldn't wait! I had to have a taste! Mmmmm!!!

And the last thing I will suggest on this episode of canning with Kacey, (sorry, I couldn't resist, it went together!) Is I always use a Sharpie to write on the lid, things I include are: Date, (because you shouldn't store these items longer than a year, so eat it up!), what is actually in the jar, (because from the outside syrup and jelly can look the same), and I also include batch number, (B1 means batch # 1, I do this just in case something went wrong with a batch and you felt like you needed to discard the whole thing, well at least just that batch and not all 90 jars, because you made 12 batches!)


  1. Looks so delicious! Reminds me of days in my Gma's kitchen making grape jelly.

    1. That is so awesome that you have those special memories of your Grandma!