Black Raspberries (Rubus): 2020 Herb of the Year
Plus Black Raspberry Jam and Jelly Recipes
Reading Time: 5 minutes
The 2020 Herb of the Year is Rubus which not only includes black raspberries, but red raspberries, blackberries, and dewberries, too. I am going to specifically talk about black raspberries and how to grow, harvest, and store them.
Black caps, black raspberry, thimbleberry. Do any of these names sound familiar? If so, then you’re familiar with black raspberries. I call black raspberries “berried treasure”.
When we moved to the country years ago, the land was abundant with wild fruits, including black raspberries. I have many fond memories of my mom and my children foraging with me for black raspberries in the woods and along our property line.
Today the berries I gather are cultivated berries from my patch — wild ones are few and far between. Black raspberries are expensive to buy, if you can find them. That’s why black raspberry jelly and jam is such a special treat and appreciated gift from the kitchen.
To get an abundant harvest, you have to know how to grow these dark-hued beauties.
Growing Black Raspberries
Black raspberries, like all raspberries, thrive in a fertile, well-drained location that gets at least six hours of sun during the growing season. Raspberry plants are rhizomes and send up new canes directly from the roots.
Plant in spring after the last frost. Spacing should be three to five feet apart and about eight feet or so between rows.
Bare Root vs Established Plants
Soak bare root plants before planting to keep them from drying out.
For both bare root and established plants, dig hole deep and wide enough to give the root system room to grow. Spread roots out.
Put soil evenly around plants, tamping down as you go to prevent air pockets. Water well and as needed during growing season.
I add a little well-rotted chicken manure to my berries in the spring. That seems to do it for me. Contact your local extension agency for instructions on soil sampling and testing.
Unless we have a really dry spell, Mother Nature takes care of watering.
Here’s how you can tell if plants are water stressed: if berries are over-watered, leaves will be pale green to yellow and will drop pretty quickly. Under-watering makes the leaves look discolored, sort of yellowish and dry. The whole plant may look wilted.
When I first grew black raspberries, I didn’t prune much since my only experience was picking wild berries, which, of course, don’t get pruned manually. Because of improper pruning, my harvest of berries was never abundant. I now follow the guidelines set by my local extension agency for pruning. They recommend three times a year: in spring, summer, and after fruiting. Pruning stops vertical growth. This results in side, lateral branching where the berries develop.
Keeping berries healthy
Check with your local extension agency for disease and environmental controls as they can differ depending upon the climate.
I live in Ohio, zone 6, so my black raspberries start to ripen in mid-July. I pick every two days.
I don’t wash my berries prior to refrigerating or freezing. Berries keep several days in the refrigerator. They keep up to a year when properly frozen. I freeze my berries in a single layer, uncovered, until frozen hard. Then I simply pour them in freezer containers where they stay nicely separated.
To use refrigerated or frozen berries, a quick rinse in a colander is all that’s needed.
Okay, now that I’ve given you tips on how to grow beautiful black raspberries, I want to share my heirloom recipes for black raspberry jelly and jam.
BLACK RASPBERRY JELLY
Summer in a jar!
3 heaping quarts black raspberries (about 14 cups) enough to make 4-1/2 cups prepared juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 box dry pectin, 1.75 oz.
6-1/2 cups sugar
7 jars, 8 oz., each, sterilized and kept hot
7 two-piece lids, kept in hot, not boiling, water
Prepare lids and jars.
Place berries in large pot and add just enough water to keep them from sticking.
Bring only to a simmer and mash berries down to start releasing juices.
Place in three layers of cheesecloth or jelly bag in large bowl and tie.
Hang and let drip into bowl until dripping stops. Press gently to release all juice.
Measure 4-1/2 cups juice in large pot, stir in lemon juice and pectin.
Bring to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.
Add sugar all at once and return to a full rolling boil and boil exactly one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off any foam.
Ladle quickly into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8” top inside rim.
Wipe jar rims and threads with clean, wet cloth. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly.
Process filled jars five minutes in boiling water bath. Remove and let cool at room temperature.
Place jars upright and let stand at room temperature 24 hours.
If a jar does not seal (press down in the center with your finger. If the lid springs up when you release your finger, the jar did not seal), store in the refrigerator up to one month.
Store sealed jars in cool, dry dark place up to one year.
Refrigerate opened jellies.
BLACK RASPBERRY JAM
The ingredients and prep for homemade jam are a bit different from the jelly, but the instructions for cooking, sealing, and storing are the same.
2 heaping quarts black raspberries, enough to make 5 cups crushed berries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 box powdered pectin, 1.75 oz.
6-1/2 cups sugar
8 jars, 8 oz., each, sterilized and kept hot
8 two-piece lids, kept in hot, not boiling, water
Crush raw black raspberries.
Sieve 1/2 of the pulp to remove some seeds if you like.
Cook the jam using the same instructions as cooking jelly.
Don’t try and double a batch of jelly or jam. That won’t work. We’re talking food chemistry here. Ingredients have to be measured exactly so that sugar, fruit, pectin, and acid work together to make a perfect jell.
I don’t have enough juice/pulp for jelly or jam:
- Add up to one cup water.
- Augment with other berries for a double berry jelly or jam.
Is it a blackberry or black raspberry?
Pick a blackberry, the whole fruit pulls away from the stem and leaves a flat looking place.
Pick a black raspberry and you’ll see a little cone-shaped knob that stays on the stem.
Creative ways to use black raspberry jelly/jam:
Filling for jelly rolls and cookies.
Add some to your homemade vinaigrette for a fruity flavor.
Stir into muffin batter.
What are your favorite berries to grow and your favorite ways to use them? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Originally published in Countryside January/February 2020 and regularly vetted for accuracy.