When days shorten and the season of mellow fruitfulness is upon us, there's a plentiful supply of damsons, sloes, black and other berries. Once back home, they can be turned into a delicious treat for the taste buds or a warming drink as the weather turns cold.
Often ignored, this compact fruit packs quite a punch, and makes the best jam you will ever taste. The one problem is their stones. These can either be extracted from the individual fruits before starting the jam or fished out when the jam is simmering. Both methods are rather painstaking and messy.
Take 6lbs of damsons and simmer them in a steel (not aluminium pot) with a small amount of water until soft. Don't overcook, it's preferable to have little chunks of fruit in the jam, a lot tastier than the over processed supermarket product.
Warm 4lbs of sugar (commercial jam is usually 50/50 fruit and sugar, but I find that too sweet) and add to the fruit. Continue cooking on a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Now turn the heat up to maximum and boil for ten minutes.
Spread a little jam on a cold plate, let it cool and, if a crinkled skin forms, the jam is ready. If not continue to boil for a few minutes and test again. When it's ready, let the jam cool and pour in jars that have been sterilized.
You have to possess some patience with this recipe, it's a slow sloe process.
Beware when you are picking sloes as the blackthorn bush lives up to its name, your hands may resemble pin cushions afterward. The sloes should be ripe not hard and they are ready to harvest in October, perhaps after the first frost that many people believe improves their flavour.
Prick the sloes so that their juices can be released and fill a kilner jar that's been sterilized. Dissolve caster sugar in gin or vodka to the ratio of about 1 to 4 and pour into the jar. Close and shake. Place the jar in a cool cupboard or dark place.
For the first seven days shake the jar daily, then only once a week for a minimum of eight weeks, preferably twelve. When you can't wait any longer strain the liquid through muslin into sterilized bottles.
It will be drinkable but will greatly improve in flavour if left for a few months.
Due to the amount of seeds found in blackberries, jelly can be preferable to jam.
Place about 2lbs of blackberries in a heavy non-aluminium saucepan with a little water and simmer for 25 minutes, mashing the fruit to get all the goodness out. Sieve the mixture through muslin into a bowl, using a wooden spoon to squeeze out all the liquid or, if you want the jelly crystal clear, let it drip through overnight.
For every pint of liquid add ¾lb of sugar (depending on how much of a sweet tooth you have). Simmer while dissolving the sugar, this should take about 15 minutes. Then boil for about 10 minutes, occasionally stirring. Check whether it will set in the same way as jam and bottle in airtight sterilized jars.
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