The blackberry bushes that proliferate in my side yard like weeds have taught me a lot. I’ve learned that, come July, when the berries are plump and glossy black, I make time to pick every single one, because if I wait (even for a day or two) they start to shrivel and dry. I’ve learned that just when I think I’ve picked every last one, if I squat on my knees and look up underneath their showy canes, hundreds more appear. Most importantly, I have learned to be creative, because these beautiful, black bubbles of perfection are as tart as a salted lemon wedge. Not exactly great eating straight up.
To make use of the sheer mass of sour berries that grow each year, I decided to experiment with making jam. My experience preserving fruit was limited to making Damson plum butter with my grandmother. Her secret weapon was her chinois (sheen-wah), a conical metal strainer that rests on a tripod of legs. Its partner, an old purple-stained wooden pestle rounded on one end, allowed my grandmother to push the pulp through the mesh. Around and around she would press those plums, until only purple skin paste remained within. Sure, making a fruit butter is more work than making jam—passing the fruit through a sieve or chinois takes more effort than simply crushing or mashing it—but the resulting silky, smooth consistency allows each bite to sing.
If the chinois could create magical plum butter, why not blackberry butter? And why not kick it up a notch with some orange zest and, say, a splash of Grand Marnier? Combining my grandmother’s fruit butter technique with some 21st century ingenuity has allowed me to tame my explosion of blackberries and create a signature berry preserve. Having experimented with other fruits and liqueurs, I find the brightness of the orange zest and Grand Marnier to be the perfect companions for the rich notes of the blackberry. I think Grandma would be proud. And don’t worry; you don’t have to be 21 to enjoy it. The alcohol cooks off during the process, leaving the rich flavor behind.
No chinois? Simply crush or lightly process the fruit, and press through a large stainless steel sieve with a spatula until only seeds remain. Or leave the seeds in, if you like.
*Say that three times fast!
Blackberry Grand Marnier Fruit Butter
- blackberries, 3 to 4 quarts (enough to make 5 cups of pulp)
- 4 cups sugar
- zest from two oranges
- 1/2 cup Grand Marnier
- 1 box (pink) Sure Jell pectin
Prepare the pulp by running the berries through a chinois or food mill. (Otherwise, pulse them lightly in a food processor or crush them with a potato masher, and press through a sieve until only the seeds remain.)
Measure 5 cups of pulp and proceed to follow the cooked jam directions in the Sure Jell package, adding the orange zest ad Grand Marnier to the saucepan with the fruit.
by Rachel Vidoni