Blackberry-Bourbon Jam


Vanilla beans and lemon zest make their way into most of my berry-based preserves. But last season’s final batch of blackberry jam had to settle for a tablespoon of vanilla extract; I was out of beans and didn’t want to head to the store just for that one item. It was, however, homemade extract that used a bourbon base. And it was good. So good that I made a note about it in my canning log.*

Sunday morning, freshly home from vacation and facing a 2-quart blackberry harvest from the canes out back, I got the bug to put some of those berries up, and so I pulled out my notes from last summer. Huh. Bourbon vanilla extract. What if I put a half a bean in during maceration, but then added a shot of actual Bourbon?

Let’s find out.

Blackberry Jam with Bourbon
A touch of Bourbon gives blackberry jam a whole new feel.
Blackberry-Bourbon Jam

This is a very small batch that cooks quickly. ‘Most all canning sources caution against trying to double a recipe if you want a reliable set, but I used no pectin here and got a very firm jell—plus it’s less than half the fruit you’ll find in most recipes—so I’m confident you could make twice as much just as successfully.

  • 1 pound blackberries, rinsed (about a quart whole or 2-1/2 cups mashed)
  • 12 oz sugar (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 1-1/2 tbsp Bourbon
  • 1/2 vanilla bean

Prepare one pint’s worth of jars for canning (I used a half and two quarters). Put a small plate in the freezer for later.

De-seed (or don’t)

Place a mesh strainer or a chinois over a large, non-reactive (i.e., not aluminum) pot. Using a pestle, wooden spoon, or spatula, press a third to half of the fruit through the mesh to remove the seeds. Be sure to scrape the back side of the strainer to release all the fruit and juice you can.

I strained out the seeds from about half the fruit.

Reserve the seedy pulp for another use—say, added to a smoothie for a jolt of extra flavor and fiber. Obviously, if you don’t mind seed-heavy jam (many people do prefer it) you can skip that whole step—and if you hate seeds, go ahead and strain it all.

If you make smoothies, save the pulp. The seeds’ll get ground up but still will provide a spark of flavor – and fiber.

Add the remaining whole berries to the pot along with the sugar, and mash them gently with a potato masher or a wooden spoon. If your berries are especially fresh and juicy, you may want to set the pot in the sink while you do the smooshing. And you may want to change out of that white shirt.

Smashing blackberries
Mash ’em up.

Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds with the backside of a knife, and add the seeds, the pod, and the lemon juice to the pot.

Heat the mixture gently, just until the sugar incorporates completely. Cover loosely, and let the fruit macerate for at least a few hours and up to overnight.

Cook the fruit

Fish out and discard the vanilla pod. Add the lemon zest and Bourbon.

Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Drop the heat slightly—try to maintain steady bubbling without a lot of foam—and reduce until the preserves pass the plate test. Drop a spoonful of the hot fruit onto the frozen plate. Wait 10 seconds. Tilt the plate. If the fruit doesn’t drip, you’re done. If it does, cook a few minutes longer. For this batch, that took around 15 minutes. I had a very firm set. I probably could’ve stopped at 12 minutes (and yes, I did just write that down in my log).

Plate test
15 minutes or so at a steady boil is all it takes.

Jar it up

Ladle into hot, prepared jars and process in a hot-water canning bath for 10 minutes.

Subtly brambly —and not at all boozy—this is now my favorite jam. Until I make the next one.

I had a few spoonfuls left over to spread on a toasted baguette. The subtle spice of the Bourbon draws out the woodsy bramble of the blackberries without dampening their plush, sweet fruit—and the vanilla peeks through just enough to remind you of cream soda.

This might be my favorite blackberry jam ever.

*Don’t keep a log of your canning adventures? You should. I try to jot down the date, cookbook pages or links that inspired the project, alterations I made to the instructions, processing time, yield, and whether anything failed—or soared—spectacularly.

24 Comments Add yours

  1. Looks amazing – what a delightful balance of flavors.

  2. Susan says:

    Thanks, Dynise. Wish I hadn’t been on vacation last week when most of the berries came ripe; as of this morning, it looks like most of the rest of them are going to the squirrels.

    1. Susan says:

      Thanks, Geraldine!

  3. KK says:

    How long does it last, after canned?

    1. Susan says:


      Unopened, it should last 9-12 months. Once I open a jar, I keep it in the fridge and try to use it up within 2 months. Thanks for reading!

  4. Absolutely the most Devine & richest undertones of flavors, my husband would sit & eat the complete batch of jelly!

    1. Susan says:

      Great to hear, Vickie. Glad it worked out for you, and thanks for stopping by.

  5. Lisa says:

    can you use blueberries?

    1. Susan says:

      It’s worth a try, Lisa. Certainly, you’ll have less seeds to strain. You might have a look at this summer’s Blubarb jam post, and adapt from there. Good luck!

  6. Jenna says:

    Hi! Can I easily use frozen blackberries for fresh?

    1. Susan says:

      Absolutely, Jenna. Your cooking time may vary a bit based on their water content once they thaw, though. Good luck, and thanks for stopping by.

  7. Angie says:

    I made this last week and it is one of my favorite Blackberry jam recipes yet (I’m on my 5th recipe this year already!). The flavors are so robust and complex. I think next time I’ll do less lemon though, I could taste it a little too much for my preference. But overall so good! I seriously contemplated eating this with a spoon (my mom and boyfriend did!)

    1. Susan says:

      Thanks so much, Angie. I’m glad you all enjoyed it. Three years later, and it’s still my favorite, too!

  8. Alesha says:

    Can you do this as a freezer jam instead of water bath canning?

    1. Susan says:

      Great question, Alesha. And one I’m afraid I don’t have a definitive answer for. If you intend to use a freezer-jam pectin, I’d imagine the recipe itself (particularly the ratio of fruit to sugar) would have to change. But if you’re just wanting to make the recipe as spec’d and put the jars in the freezer instead of processing them, I’d say give it a whirl with a small batch and see what happens to the consistency after you thaw one out. Even if it’s looser than you’d like, it’d always be suitable for stirring in yogurt or topping pancakes. If you do try it, please let me know how it works out for you. And thanks for reading!

  9. Lizzy says:

    Umm I just made this and it is divine! Will def be keeping this recipe in my canning journal. Thanks!!

    1. Susan says:

      Thanks, Lizzy. It’s one of my favorites, too.

  10. Allen Paz says:

    I made this for the first time last year and must say it was a huge success. Making another batch today…. Maybe two.

    1. Susan says:

      Glad to hear it worked out for you, Allen. Thanks for reading!

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