Making Blackberry Jelly

Guest Post by Clara Lee Sharrard; Photos by Jim Sharrard

Blackberries are ripe!  Thanks to a very wet spring and summer, we have a bumper crop of blackberries this year.  Thus far we’ve had them with ice cream and made into sorbet.  I have been picking about 2 quarts per day from my “bramble” that is growing between our driveway and our neighbor’s fence.  Picking them is a lot of work since the thorns are plentiful and very sharp.  The berries do a great job of hiding under leaves.  Every time I think I have picked all of the ripe berries in one spot, I move slightly or disturb a leaf and discover another bunch ripe for the picking.

Picking berries is much different in the city that it was in the country where I grew up.  The thorns are the same, but at least I don’t have to worry about my sandal-clad toes sharing space with a snake hiding under the bushes!

I have decided to use a large portion of this year’s berries for jelly.  Homemade jelly takes a while to make but it is well worth the final effort.  You need a ratio of about three-fourths well ripened to one-fourth slightly under ripe berries.  The reason for this is that the less ripened fruit contains more pectin, which is essential for the jelly to be firm.

It takes about 4-5 quarts of berries to yield 4 cups of juice, which will make about 4 jars of jelly (6 ounces each).  If you happen to find a mother lode of berries and are wondering what to do with them, I definitely recommend trying the jelly.  We have so many berries that many of the folks on my gift list will probably be receiving blackberry jelly this Christmas.  I just hope they will appreciate the amount of work that went into producing such a heavenly product.

To extract the juice to make the jelly, put about 10 cups of berries in a large flat-bottomed heavy pan, mash them slightly, and add about ¾ cup of water.  Bring them to a boil, reduce the heat, and allow them to simmer for about 10 minutes and then extract the juice.

To extract the juice, I line a large colander with several layers of cheesecloth, place it over a large pan, and ladle in the hot berries to allow the juice to drip through.  The dripping process takes several hours to complete.  You can squeeze the cheesecloth slightly, but you don’t want to force the pulp through or your jelly will be cloudy.

Once the juice has finished dripping, you can either refrigerate it for use later or make the jelly immediately.  The juice can also be frozen to make jelly during the winter when a little extra heat in the kitchen is appreciated.

At this point, the jelly maker has a decision to make.  Jelly can be made either with added pectin (Certo or Sure-jell), or it can be made with just juice and sugar.  Using added pectin gives you a greater volume of jelly because it doesn’t have to cook down as much.  Also, it is almost a no-brainer because the jelly always jells and the cook can be sure of having a quality product.  However, you sacrifice some of the flavor using this method.

The longer cooking method of using just juice and sugar gives you a smaller volume of jelly with a much more concentrated flavor.  The past several times I’ve gone for the larger volume, but this time I’m going to make less jelly and savor the flavor.

It is important to cook only a small amount of jelly at a time because it boils up and if you use a pan that is too small or try to cook too much juice at a time, it will boil over.  Most recipes I’ve found suggest 4-6 cups of juice depending on the size of the pan.  You add ¾ cup of sugar per cup of juice.

After mixing the juice and sugar in a large pan, bring it to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat enough so that the jelly continues to boil rapidly, but don’t have it so high that it will burn.  The jelly needs to be cooked to 8 degrees F above the boiling point of water.  If you are using a candy/deep fry thermometer, you should first check the boiling point of water so you will know exactly what temperature is 8 degrees hotter.  This is important because not all thermometers are calibrated as well as they should be, and also because the boiling point of water will be different if you are at a higher altitude.

You can also test for doneness using the spoon test.  To do this, dip a cold metal spoon in the hot mixture and hold it at least a foot above the boiling pot, tilting it to the side so the mixture runs off the side.  Jelly is done when two drops of the mixture (usually the last 2 drops) run together and “sheet” off the spoon as one.  I normally use a thermometer and double check it with the spoon test.

Another helpful hint is to make jelly on a dry day.  If the weather is too humid, the sugar will absorb moisture from the air and it will be more difficult to get it to jell.

Once the jelly is ready, it must be poured immediately into clean, hot jars.  Most experts agree that washing the jars in the dishwasher will leave them clean enough without the need to sterilize them.  Jelly jars come in 2 varieties, either with screw rings that use regular canning jar lids or with plastic covers that require the jelly be covered with paraffin (wax) to protect it during storage.  I didn’t want to buy new jars so I used the only ones I had that require paraffin.

If you are using paraffin, you must melt it while the jelly is cooking.  I place a wide-mouthed glass jar in a pot of boiling water and melt the paraffin in the jar.  You have to pour on the paraffin as soon as the jelly is in the jar so you will get a good seal.  It has to set for several hours to firm up.

I had forgotten how absolutely delicious and flavorful blackberry jelly made without added pectin is.  We had some for breakfast this morning and in my estimation, there is no comparison between jelly made the old-fashioned way and jelly made with added pectin.  The flavor is extremely concentrated so there is no mistaking the fact that you are eating blackberry jelly.

The difference in flavor is easily explained.  With added pectin, you would use much more sugar and boil it less.  The addition of pectin causes it to jell at lower concentration, which means that while still good, jelly with pectin does not have as compact of a flavor.  But, then again, the method I used requires more berries per jar of jelly yield, and I’m lucky to have so many berries that I have the luxury of making my jelly this way.  It has been many years since I have done so.

4 Responses to “Making Blackberry Jelly”

  1. Laurie Says:

    Your site was been very helpful … I too have a bumper crop of blackberries and decided just exactly like you to use it for jelly and for christmas and when I found your site I was happy … but I have never made jelly only jam … so here goes nothing. Your tips sure will make this an easier process.

  2. Laurie Says:

    I made the blackberry jelly and for some reason it didn’t jell … I am quite sure I did everything according to the recipe … but I guess I didn’t do it all right cuz it didn’t jell. Anny thoughts?

  3. michelle ward Says:

    thank you for cooking at our school today.
    it was really good!
    I’m about to make wat u made today at school for my full family!

    Thank you!

    -Michelle Ward

  4. Corduroy Orange Says:

    Dumbleton Quotes…

    I found a great……

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