This guest post is by my mother, Julie Fizell.

I thought it would be so fun to walk in Megan’s shoes for a while, and she agreed to a guest post.  Her father Ed and I quickly decided to make blackberry jelly.  We had made strawberry jam several times together and managed to stay married, so we thought we were up for the challenge.  The difference between jelly and jam is that jelly does not contain seeds.  No big deal, right?

We picked our blackberries along a secret dirt road in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  I’d tell you where the secret road is but I wasn’t paying attention as we bounced along.  We wore jeans and heavy shirts despite the hot weather – protection from the vicious thorns attached to blackberry brambles.  The blackberries in Raphaelle Peale’s still life look misleadingly innocent draped over the silver platter, so unlike their counterparts in the wild.  We were scratched, poked, and tripped by thorny stalks that attacked us as we waded through the thicket.  But we were successful!  After nearly an hour, Ed and I picked about three cups of luscious berries.   One cup I devoured immediately; the last two made it into our bucket.

Raphaelle Peale, Blackberries, c.1813
oil on wood panel, 18.4 x 26 cm, de Young Fine Art Museum

We needed 12 cups of blackberries to make our jelly.  Thank goodness my brother Bruce donated a gallon ice cream tub full of berries that he had picked.  What can I say – my berry-picking skills had gotten rusty.  Ed had never picked blackberries before, and his first handful of berries was full of red clusters.  I explained that the pure black ones were sweeter, and then noticed that he was wearing his sunglasses!  His berry picking skills improved significantly without his tinted Ray-Bans.

To make our jelly, Ed and I pureed and strained twelve cups of berries into 3 ½ cups of juice.  It was hard work, and I managed to drop seeds into our juice on more than one occasion.  After a second straining, Ed was happy with the product, but by then we were no longer speaking and communicated via hand gestures.  Once we actually started cooking the jelly, though, we were back on good terms.  The secret ingredients Ed added smelled so good that we were all smiling and inhaling deeply – and I’m not ashamed to admit that.

{Wild Blackberry Jelly}

12 cups blackberries, juiced then strained to make 3 ½ cups juice
1/3 cup triple sec
¾ cup water
½ lemon, juiced
1 pkg. No Sugar Sure Jell (pectin)
3 cups sugar

Prepare jelly jars and screw bands of 2-part lids by washing them in hot, soapy water.  Let dry.  Prepare flat lids (with rubber seal) by placing them in very hot (not boiling) water.  We used 1-12 oz. jar and 3-8 oz. jars.

Rinse berries in cold water.  We used a blender to puree our berries in small batches.  Strain pureed berries to remove all the seeds and pulp.  Pour blackberry juice, triple sec, lemon juice, and water into large pot.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes.  Mix ¼ cup sugar in a small bowl with the pectin.  Stir sugar-pectin mixture into the juice.  Bring mixture to a full roiling boil on high heat.  Stir constantly.  Add remaining sugar and stir.  Return to a full roiling bowl and boil for exactly one minute, again stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and skim off foam.

Ladle into jars at once, before jelly sets up.  Fill to within 1/8 inch of jar top.  Clean jar edges, then cover with 2-part lids, screwing bands tightly.  Turn jars upside-down on a heat-resistant surface for 5 minutes.  Invert jars; as they cool they will seal and give off a distinctive ping.

To determine if jelly has cooked long enough, pour a small amount onto a spoon that has been in the freezer.  If the jelly solidifies on the spoon, it is ready to be ladled into jars.  If it does not solidify, add more pectin and boil for another minute or two.  Repeat test.

This is the second part in a two part series featuring wild blackberries and Raphaelle Peale.