Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Treat of High Summer: Blackberry and Red Wine Jam


The hottest temperatures of the summer have finally hit Seattle. High 80's without a cloud in the sky greeted us North-westerners over the weekend. It was hot. To many across the nation, this may seem cool, but we here are not used to these highs. Many scramble through the house trying to find last years sunscreen and sun hats to prepare for the intense sunshine. Shade and water are treated like gold. However, with this intense heat and sunshine, comes also the beginning of the blackberry season. 

I love blackberries. Maybe it is because they bring me back to my childhood memories, picking buckets upon buckets along the Skagit River, to make a years supply of blackberry jam. My father always recruited my brother, my mom, and I to help him pick. The more, the better. The following days would be spent making jam, wafting the aroma of blackberries and lemon throughout the house. We made so much that the surplus became gifts for family friends throughout the holidays. It was a time when us four were all together, happy and healthy.  Even our dog, could not get enough blackberries.


Now in my mid twenties I am reliving this memory. Earlier this week I went to pick my own bowl full at the abundant neighborhood blackberry bushes down the street. Within a quarter hour, I had picked plenty for a little batch of jam, and extra for snacking. The hot rays of the sun had transformed the little firm green berries into plump, sweet, and juicy bits of dark purple goodness. They were delicious. 

Inspired by a glass of good red wine, I got into production mode. How could I make a delicious, unique and healthy jam with these perfectly ripened blackberries? Well, instead of sugar I decided to use dates. They not only sweeten, but also carry along fiber and important vitamins and minerals for the body. A bit of red wine, and some lemon juice to brighten the flavors also made it into the pot. And then I stopped. The flavors complimented each other perfectly.


Everyone always says that berries are good for you, but how? Blackberries contain a whole host of beneficial compounds, including antioxidants. Although the blueberry is the superstar of  antioxidants, the blackberry is not far behind. 1 cup of blackberries has an antioxidant capacity of 7700, compared to 9000 in blueberries. Blackberries still remain in the top 10 highest antioxidant foods. Why are antioxidants so good? They help prevent and repair oxidative stress in the body, which can be a precursor to cancer and other degenerative diseases. In addition, blackberries are great sources of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, and manganese, and also are a source of omega-3. Omega-3 helps to reduce inflammation, vitamin K is used to help clot blood when there is an open wound, manganese helps the body utilize key nutrients such as biotin and choline, while vitamin C acts as an additional antioxidant. Just 1 cup offers so much! And to top it off, in the summer month, blackberries are EVERYWHERE FOR FREE. Just make sure to pick berries aways from high traffic zones, and to rinse them thoroughly prior to use. You can even freeze them for later.

Making jam is great way to preserve these delicious berries and have access to them year round. Also, often store bought jams are made with lots of sugar, especially refined sugars. Therefore, by utilizing the sweet dates, you can enjoy this breakfast staple without a sugar overdose. I hope you like this lightly sweet jam that tastes of high summer.

Blackberry and Red Wine Jam
Makes 4 small mason jars or 2 pint sized mason jars
Ingredients:
6 cups rinsed blackberries
12 medjool dates, pitted and soaked for at least 30 minutes
1/2 cup red wine (I used cabernet sauvignon) 
juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions:
1. Put blackberries and red wine into a large saucepan and heat until boiling. Reduce heat to a steady simmer.
2. With a large wooden spoon crush the blackberries and stir often. Allow the berries to break down completely and the liquid to reduce.
3. Meanwhile, place dates into a food processor, and discard the soaking water. Process until a smooth paste is formed.
4. Add the date paste and lemon juice to the blackberry and wine mixture and stir well. Allow to simmer for about 5 minutes while stirring often. Do not let it burn on the bottom! 
5. Meanwhile bring a large pot with mason jars and a little water to a boil. Place a lid on top to keep steam in. This will sterilize your jars. 
6. Pour the hot jam liquid into sterilized jars and top with clean lids. Place on counter top until the lids "pop" inward. They can now be stored safely for later use.

Side Note: The dates not only sweeten the jam but also help create a spreadable consistency like pectin.

References:
Worlds Healthiest Foods: Vitamin C, Manganese
Nutrition Data: Blackberries


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