Jane Clark

Growing up in the country offers many opportunities to create family traditions.  One of my favorites is picking blackberries and making jelly. I have fond childhood memories of going with my mother to gather wild blackberries along our country road and helping her make delicious blackberry jelly.

My children also remember helping me pick blackberries every summer while they were growing up in the 1970s. We picked wild blackberries around the forty-acre field behind our country home near Salem, Indiana.

Early in the morning while the dew still covered the grass and bushes, we would put on old blue jeans, long sleeve shirts, straw hats, and boots, which were standard garb for gathering blackberries. The boots offered protection from snakes, and the long sleeves prevented the thorns from tearing at our arms. It was time consuming and required a lot of walking and fighting the briars for the tasty morsels, but it was worth all the hard work to have blackberry jelly for the months ahead. In 1989 I planted a row of thornless blackberry canes which produce larger berries that are easier to pick. Since that time we have had a plentiful supply of blackberries, so I no longer gather the wild variety.

The process for making jelly hasn’t changed since I helped my mother in the 1950s. After washing the berries, I cook them in a stainless steel kettle for about five minutes, then strain the dark, luscious juice into a bowl. I wash and sterilize several jars; pints for our own use and half pints for Christmas gifts. I assemble the ingredients, and as the juice bubbles and rolls in a big kettle, the aroma of blackberries fills the air. At the end of the required time, I skim off the foam along with a couple of teaspoon of jelly which will cool quickly to offer a sampling of warm jelly on bread. When the jars are all filled and the lids screwed on tight, it’s time for the jelly to cool, and I listen for the familiar snap that signals the jars have sealed properly.

Every year I make several batches of jelly and jam until my pantry is well-stocked with a variety to choose from: blackberry, grape, strawberry, and peach. For the last several years, I’ve entered some of it in our county fair.  Sometimes it is rewarding to receive a ribbon for my efforts.

 I was pleased when my daughter’s youngest son wanted to help me make jelly a few years ago. My son and his wife live in the country and gather wild blackberries that grow on their property. They also enjoy making blackberry jelly—it’s a country tradition.

Jane Clark is Co-Director of Writers Bloc, a group that meets twice monthly at the Salem Public Library. Members share their interest in writing including childhood memories, poems, short stories, and novels.


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