Looking for a weekend project in the kitchen? The hedgerows are full of blackberries - go on, go pick some and make this old-fashioned jam, as recommended by Darina Allen!
In the book Ballycotton School Memories, Bessie Mullane Walsh wrote about going to school in the 1930s (Bessie walked several miles to school). ‘We would have to be in school at half-nine and then it would be around four o’clock before we got back home – but if the blackberries were out, ‘twould be later!We used to love the blackberries, and our mother would be out looking to see what was keeping us. She used to say, ‘What kept ye this evening?’ and we used to say we were kept in, but she’d say, ‘Ye were not, weren’t ye over there on the road for the last half hour!’
Alice Taylor, in To School through the Fields, also remembers the blackberries. ‘Each blackberry was inspected on picking to see that the stem base was free from small tell-tale holes, the tracks of tiny snails that feasted on the blackberries, especially when the rain brought them forth in great numbers; any blackberries with these signs were returned to mother earth. First we ate what we could contain, developing purple-smudged mouths and fingers; then we filled gallons and buckets to the brim. My mother made large two pound pots of blackberry jam, most of which were consumed at a rapid rate, but some of which were stored to bring the taste of summer to the winter months.’ Two-pound pots of jam were once common, and jam covers came in two sizes for the one-pound and two-pound pots. They have since died out entirely.
‘Blackberries were a great rarity on the Island, there was only one bush growing at the side of the glen beside a field that I had. As soon as the blackberries started to come out on the bush, they were eaten’, writes Seán Pheats Tom Ó Cearnaigh about the Great Blasket Island, in Fiolar an eireabaill bháin (The Whitetailed Eagle). ‘On visits to the mainland, where blackberries were in greater supply, islanders would pick them and bring them back to the Island’. Áine de Blacam also remembers picking blackberries and wild strawberries on Inis Meáin.
As well as blackberry jam, blackberry and apple tart was also made, in the bastible, or in more recent years in the oven.
Rose Hanlon’s recipe scrapbook, which she called The Joy of Good Eating, dates from the late 1940s and early 1950s, and contains cuttings of many of Monica Nevin’s recipes from the Irish Independent. Rose was great at preserving fruit, making jam and bottling, using both the produce of the garden and wild fruit. In an article on windfalls, Monica Nevin gave detailed instructions on preserving and the secrets of potting and storing. She gave a recipe for blackberry jelly, and also a recipe for when blackberries are scarce: ‘If you do not want to go to the trouble of making blackberry jelly and would still like a preserve without seeds, you might like to try the following recipe.’ It is also a useful recipe when blackberries are in short supply.
Makes 4kg (9lb) approximately
900g (2lb) blackberries
2.2kg (5lb) granulated sugar
1.8kg (4lb) cooking apples
Take the stems from the blackberries and lay the berries in a dish. Sprinkle them with one pound of sugar and let them rest overnight. Next day, simmer them gently to extract the juice. Strain the juice. Peel, core and slice the apples and put them in a preserving pan with the blackberry juice and the rest of the sugar. Heat the contents of the pan gently and stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, then bring the jam to the boil rapidly until it sets when tested. This makes about 4kg (9lb) jam.
Recipe and intro taken from Darina Allen’s Irish Traditional Cooking - now available from the Gill Books Bookshop and all good bookstores nationwide.