For the last several weeks, no weekend has been complete without a trip to the Jacobs Family Berry Farm. Their berries—a large variety of red and black raspberries and blackberries—are in the prime of season and harvested daily. Each crate of picture perfect and most flavorful berries reveals a story of a mindful farmer who grows his plants sustainably, handpicks his produce scientifically, and sorts through it artfully.
You just know when things are made with devotion.
Coming to Diana and Jack’s farm is a delight. I love roaming around their historic property in awe of the splendor of the century-old apple trees and the rose-hugged entrance to the old white farmhouse. The original barn, chicken coop, creamery, and the blacksmith shop, along with the antiqued farming equipment, are left intact or restored to their starting condition.
You just know when things are cared for.
Last weekend I left there with a dozen one-pint crates of red raspberries that were fully ripe and ready to be used immediately. It suited my plan perfectly as I was going to make some jam.
“Mom, look at all these raspberries!” I exclaimed as soon as Kevin and I were back home from the farm. “They’ll yield enough jam to last us through the winter!”
Mom smiled at my enthusiasm.
A jar or two of homemade raspberry jam are a staple in the pantry of practically every Russian family. There, raspberries—especially the wild ones that grow in North Russia’s damp forests—are reverent for their strong medicinal properties. They are believed to act as a fever reducer and commonly given to a sick person as jam to go with tea before bedtime.
“Mom, these are local berries! Fresh picked! Pesticide and herbicide free! And sooo sweet! Try one!” I went on with even greater enthusiasm.
“We’ll probably get more of their goodness if we eat them as they are, honey,” Kevin chimed in.
What he said made me think for a moment. No, I wouldn’t go back on my plan. I just wouldn’t make as much jam and would try to figure out a way to retain the wholesomeness of the fruit.
Indeed, we ate a lot of berries raw. Some with a pinch of vanilla sugar and freshly whipped cream. I also folded a bunch into a couple custards.
When time came to make jam, I went against most traditional Russian jam-making recipes and reversed the ratio of sugar to fruit—which is a draw in most recipes—to that in favor of fruit. And I subbed white sugar for natural cane one. It is creamy in color and yields a beautiful caramelization when exposed to heat.
If you cook with berries a lot, you know how delicate they are. High heat, frequent and vigorous stirring as well as simple mishandling could bruise and tear them apart.
But Mom seemed to know just what to do about it.
“We are not going to boil the jam.”
“What?” I stopped what I was doing and looked surprised at her.
“We are going to bring it to a boil,” she said with confidence and rolled up her sleeves.
And so we used about 2 kilograms (4 lb 6 oz) of raspberries, 1 ½ kilograms (3 lbs 5 oz) of natural cane sugar, and two vanilla beans. And the technique is as follows: In a large stainless steel pot, combine berries and sugar and let macerate at least 3 hours or as long as overnight until berries release juice.
With a paring knife, split open vanilla beans and scrape out tiny seeds. Add seeds and pods to jam and place it over low heat. Stir frequently and carefully until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium-low and bring jam to a full rolling boil, skimming off foam as necessary. Do not boil jam. As soon as it comes to a boil, remove from heat and let cool completely. Once cool, reheat jam over medium-low heat until it comes to a boil once again. Turn off heat and let cool completely. Repeat one more time.
After jam cools down the third time, fish out vanilla pods, ladle into sterilized jars and seal.
Also, don’t discard the vanilla pods. I cut them in half and stuck into some of the jars and then sealed.
My jam has the consistency of a sauce rather than jam as you know it. However, the nutrients are preserved, most of the berries are still intact, and their rich flavor takes me right back to the Jacobs Family Berry Farm where I picked them on a beautiful late summer day.
You just know when things are delicious.