We couldn’t ignore Ken’s special announcement in the Order of Service at church on Sunday. It said ‘Raspberry Emergency – Help!” The announcement went on to say that Ken had a lot more raspberries than he could possibly pick. Although I wasn’t dressed for raspberry picking, I was willing to help. Charles and I followed the directions, drove up a bumpy country road dappled with sunlight and found Ken’s house.
The enormous, overgrown, raspberry patch was behind an equally large vegetable garden. Raspberries, the fruit of perennial plants whose name comes from a European variety called Rufus ideaus, (which translates as ‘with red fruit”), need lots of sun and water. From the look of his raspberry patch, this hot, Vermont summer has been perfect for the berries. When Ken planted the raspberry bushes 20 years ago, he was told that he had planted them too close together and that they would die. The bushes are now more than five feet tall and loaded with berries as big as the tip of my thumb.
We shouted ‘Hello!” to our fellow emergency raspberry helpers, found a shady, bug-free place to pick and got started. In almost no time, my small basket was filled and I transferred the berries into a large flat box so that the berries on the bottom of the pile wouldn’t get squashed. After half an hour, we had eaten our fill and harvested about eight cups of berries.
I froze all of the berries except for what we planned to eat that evening. I lined two rectangular cake pans with aluminum foil and filled them with a single layer of raspberries. After half an hour in the freezer, the berries were frozen enough to be transferred to a resealable plastic bag. Freezing the berries before packing them in plastic bags makes it easier to use a few berries at a time. It took two batches to freeze all of the berries.
Raspberries, high in vitamin C and a good source of natural fiber and antioxidants, come in many colors: red, black, purple and gold. They are expensive to buy because they are soft, bruise easily, spoil quickly and don’t ship well. It’s much better and more fun to pick your own.
Having ruby red homemade raspberry jam waiting patiently on a shelf in my pantry is like having summer sunshine in a jar. I used a teacup to measure equal quantities, by volume, of sugar and berries. Here’s how I made it:
Sugar dissolves more easily if it is warm, so I began making the jam by putting four cups of sugar into a shallow pan and heated it in a 120°C oven for 15 minutes. While the sugar heated, I removed the seeds from four cups of raspberries by heating the berries. When the fruit and seeds began to separate, I mashed the berries with the back of a spoon and then pushed the fruit through a fine strainer into a bowl and most of the seeds stayed in the strainer.
I put the de-seeded raspberries back into the saucepan, and then added the warm sugar. After about five minutes of boiling, the liquid had reached the gelling point, 105°C, and it was ready to be put into small sterilized jars and sealed following the directions that came with the jars.
I have heard that jam, properly processed, will last for at least a year but it never lasts that long in our house. It is irresistible spread on homemade scones or biscuits, stirred into a bowl of yogurt or as sauce on ice cream. We’ll be lucky if it lasts till Thanksgiving.