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