Bee suits, bittersweet, brambles and blackberry jam

We are having a wonderful year for wild blackberries. Steve, determined to make the most of it, has been tramping out to a patch every morning for a couple of weeks. It’s a lovely spot, surrounded by sugar maple, tulip poplar and sassafras trees, and Steve doesn’t mind the hike through our (and, to be honest, our absentee neighbors’) overgrown old farm fields to get to them.

He doesn’t mind spending an hour or so shuffling around a tangle of blackberry brambles and bittersweet. He doesn’t mind the poison ivy, the stickers, the slugs or the spiders. Because Steve loves wild blackberries. And because Steve has a bee suit.

We have blackberries because they’re found in fallow fields all over the world. We have a bee suit because, a couple of times, Steve unsuccessfully tried to keep honeybees. We no longer have a hive (though at times Steve imagines they’re just hiding in the woods) but we still have the thick, stinger-resistant suit. Steve uses it as a coverall for unpleasant occasions such as chicken coop cleaning. But, along with a pair of Sorel boots (which he picked up this February during a particularly nasty NYC ice storm), the bee suit has also proven to be an essential part of blackberry picking.

Wild blackberries

Lacking a bee suit herself, Michelle has so far shown little interest in crawling about a blackberry patch with Steve. (Though she is tempted by tales of an apple tree growing up the side of our old tobacco barn.) But she has more than made up for her reticence by banging out batch after batch of blackberry jam.

Wild blackberry jam

The tiny, tart wild berries, cooked down with sugar in the way recommended by John Egerton (as modified by Michelle’s mother), make a terrific topping for tender biscuits. Which is good, because there will most likely never be any Gourmandistan honey.

Biscuit and jam


  • Servings: makes about 2 pints
  • Print

(adapted from John Egerton’s Southern Food)

  • 4 c. wild blackberries
  • 3 c. sugar

Clean slugs, bugs, spiderwebs, leaves and stems from blackberries. Rinse in a colander and let dry.

Place berries in a large cooking pot. This jam boils up a lot, so use a much larger pot than you think you will need. Stir and mash the berries over low heat. (Yes, Ken Rivard, this is yet another great use for a potato masher.)

Add sugar and stir in. When sugar is dissolved, increase heat and bring to a boil.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 18 to as much as 30 minutes. There will be a great deal of foam, which you can skim off and discard.

Judging when the jam is done can be difficult. For some reason, using a candy thermometer really doesn’t work with wild blackberry jam. Taking this jam to the usual 220° F can result in what Steve recently called “blackberry taffy.” In prior years, the jam would often take up to 30 minutes to set. This year, even 20 minutes has been too much. You can test it on a cool plate. When a bit of the jam stays in place and doesn’t run much, it is done. (This is why, if you have the luxury, it’s good to make a number of batches and combine them in a large bowl before putting in jars. If your first batch is too close to “taffy,” make the next one runny, or vice versa. It will work out in the end.)

Place in clean jars. Cool, then freeze.

NOTE: Like all jams, you don’t want to make more than about 4 cups at a time as it will take too long to heat up and flavor will be lost.


  1. Janet Rörschåch

    Hey guys, questions, please. Your photos look so wonderful. What camera are you using? The top four pictures, are they instagram or some other program/app?

    Michelle, have you reviewed Saunder’s The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook?

    Thank you!

    • Yes, the top 4 photos were taken on our prehistoric iPhone 4s and run through Instagram. I stayed away from Instagram for a long time (fearing yet another huge time suck in my life!), but learned that resistance is futile. It can make the crummiest of photos look decent and is loads of fun.

      I have heard good things about that cookbook, but haven’t come upon it yet. Do you like it?

      • Janet Rörschåch

        Oh, thank you for replying, Michelle. I have a 4S too, so maybe I need to succumb to instagram as well. I just feel like I am doing too much of a hit or miss with the iPhone. You know, a heart beat messes up the photo.

        Blue Chair is very good. Probably one of the better ones out there. I like her combos. Another one that I find interesting is The River Cottage Jam book. Different take on the process via Britain.

        • Thanks, Janet, I am definitely going to look for the Blue Chair book. I’ve perused the River Cottage one before and almost bought it many times. I just have to stop myself. We have only so many bookshelves and so many cookbooks… (And do try Instagram. It’s fun!)

  2. A man with a bee suit can walk on the moon. (Great photo.) Boy does this jam look good. Growing up in Michigan, neighbors used to make blackberry jam, but in Boston, we see very few wild blackberries. Have you considered the export market? Ken

    • Aint it the truth? If I weren’t so lazy, and would actually can something instead of freezing for a change, I could join the export market! But I am lazy…

  3. Of course Steve has a bee suit! Using it to pick blackberries is anexcellent way to repurpose it 🙂

    Jam looks amazing. Have always done raspberry, never blackberry. Do blackberries have less pectin? Raspberries seem to set up in minutes!

  4. That is sexy looking stuff….not Steve in his B string, but the jam and scones ( are those biscuits what I would call scones or are they what you would call biscuits?) Wild blackberrying sounds quite rigorous…..I don’t think I’d want jam enough to do it. It’d be nice to be given some, though:)

    • Now, that’s a delightful idea! We’re still in the midst of wild blackberry madness (the best year in, literally, decades). Currently working on blackberry ice cream. Stay tuned!

    • Jam is truly one of mankind’s best inventions. 🙂 And, yes, sometimes I wish I, too, had a bee suit. (But, if I did, I might be expected to clean out the chicken coop.)

  5. Beautiful blackberry jam! And blackberry ice cream! *hoots* I am so excited for blackberry season this year! I picked seven pounds of blueberries on Friday; jam is on the horizon for sure.

  6. jaz

    hi! i just found your blog and i love it! you take some seriously good photographs. i know this because mine suck. but i think you might like some of my recipes. up front though, my blog is pretty unorganized. i blame this on my tech savvy kids that promise to help but never find quite enough time!

  7. Just for the record I think the operator is way more important than the camera. Your photos are superb because you have an eye for light. Gorgeous work. Love the suit. I have bees (again) but no suit and it is almost time to clean out the chook house. i HATE that job but Sheila loves it and have been reminding me that it is time by breaking into the chook house with monotonous regularity. The jam looks wondrous, we used to pick wild blackberries as kids. Dad made us carry sheets of corrugated iron out the the patch so we could lay it across the bushes and scamper over to where the picking was better. As kids we were all scrawny and weighed just about nothing. We would lug bucketfuls up to the house and my mother who was a terrible jam maker would turn it into something dark, toffeeish,and slightly burnt but we ate it on scones anyway. Her scones were good though!! have a lovely day.. celi

  8. Mmmmm…your homemade blackberry jam looks so delicious. Since blackberries are not common in Korea, I just purchase blackberry jam made in foreign countries. I wish i could taste yours. ^^

    • I can’t believe that it is almost August and we still have them. Everything is so late this year. (Not that I’m complaining. We’re having glorious spring-like weather when it is usually sweltering.)

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