blackberry conserves

I’ve been intrigued by Lillet ever since Heidi posted this recipe. I’ve yet to try those buttermilk milkshakes, but did finally buy a bottle of Lillet a few months ago. I tried it both straight up, well-chilled of course, and as a spritzer with a twist of lime and seltzer—my lasting impression being that Lillet was not my thing. That changed last night, along with my mood, which heaven knows needed some tinkering with these last few days. I’ve been feeling “off” lately, like a balloon floating across an open sky, bouncing wherever the wind fancies. Try as I might, nothing seems to shake this constant sadness that tugs at my heart. Actually it wavers between sadness and anxiousness, the kind with which you wait for it all to go wrong, for your inner happiness to disappear at a moment’s notice.

Grief bore down on my heart like a vice grip yesterday, and it ended with me in tears as my eyes scanned the empty dishes at the dinner table. They previously held homemade tortillas, beans cooked from scratch, and guacamole Virginia and I made together. But at that moment, while the girls were upstairs and I sat at the table staring at the extra chair that has sat empty for 13 months, all I could think was “why do I do this”. The “this” being all the food I had just an hour before lovingly prepared.  Or was it really out of necessity and survival? I don’t know— at that moment, all day long in fact, the idea that I’ve used cooking as an escape had been lingering in my mind.

Have I fooled myself into thinking all this cooking from scratch could fill the glaring void in my life? You can imagine the panic that began to set in, especially since I just handed in a manuscript about the very topic. I just wrote a book about cooking from scratch, and now I was questioning its very purpose.

And then the tears came pouring out when I realized that it wasn’t cooking from scratch that I was questioning. There is no doubt that the kitchen has been my salvation. In moments where the whole world is spinning out of control, I can make my ingredients perform as expected. I can’t control if my husband lives or dies when I go out for groceries, but I can make fluffy buttermilk pancakes every time guaranteed.

As I looked amidst the empty dishes at the table,  I began to remember the most important part of cooking, and that is the one ingredient my pantry seems to be running low on right now. When we enter the kitchen, we not only prepare a meal—we set out to nourish our souls and those of the ones we love. I stare at that fourth seat and my heart clings to the hope that it won’t be empty forever. Unfortunately, sometimes that hope drifts into despair, and keeping my faith that this journey will lead me back to happier times is hard to sustain some days. I let my tears serve as dessert, then cleaned the dinner dishes, gave the girls a bath and tucked them in for the evening.

And then I went back into the kitchen.

Life may have handed me lemons, or in this case only half a lemon, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pucker up and go sulk in a corner. I’m not one to be beaten easily, so I decided to make a win-win situation out of that half a lemon I had sitting on the counter and the too-tart blackberries I bought at a roadside farm on my way home from Cape Cod.

The first time I learned about making conserves was in Bon Appetit last year when I read this article by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer. I began making conserves out of any fruit I could get my hands on—raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, even apricots weren’t safe in my presence. I had a nice little stock of jars going and then Mikey died, and my conserve-making came to a screeching halt. I must confess I threw all the jars away when I moved. The strawberries suspended in sweet syrup held no joy for me. They were made during a happier time, and I knew my heart couldn’t survive a taste without wanting more…more of what my life was supposed to have in it.

Last night I decided to conquer conserves again. I was determined to make those blackberries my bitch and turn my mood around in the process. By evening’s end, I found myself giggling softly as I stirred the pot of conserves on the stove, muttering to myself how silly I’d been thinking cooking from scratch was an empty escape. As I swiped my finger across the back of the spoon for a taste, I realized the conserves would be perfect for homemade blackberry soda.

After I made the soda, and poked at the berries in the bottom of my glass, I remembered that bottle of Lillet that was sitting in the fridge these last few months. And so, I went from feeling like all my work was for naught, that none of it mattered in my world, or anyone else’s and emerged with not one, not two, but three recipes to share with you. That leaves the final score for today at Jennie: 3 and Grief: 1.


Blackberry Conserves

makes 2 cups

music pairing: Breathe by Alexi Murdoch

Aside from making homemade soda and cocktails, this fruity syrup is perfect for pouring on pancakes, waffles, or spooning onto a buttered baguette. I also had the thought today to make slushies with it—just add some conserves and ice cubes to a blender. I did this last year with my cherry conserves, which coincidentally is the last recipe I posted before Mikey passed away—perhaps a sign that everything really does come full-circle?

Come to think of it, this could be a great base to add to vanilla ice cream for a homemade blackberry ice cream too. Of course you can just pour it over ice cream and cut to the chase.

1 pint blackberries

1 cup (200 grams) sugar

3-inch by 2-inch piece of lemon rind (with the white pith)

2 sprigs of lemon thyme, leaves only (discard the reedy stems)

Pinch of fleur de sel

Add the blackberries and sugar to a deep bowl. Use the back of a fork to mash the berries—they don’t all have to be completely mashed (I like to mash about half, for a chunky consistency).

Add the lemon rind and lemon thyme. Stir well until everything is combined and you have a juicy-looking syrup. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for about 1 1/2 hours, until it looks slightly thickened and the acid in the lemon rind and berries has mostly dissolved the sugar.

Pour the mixture into a 2-quart pot. Bring it to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer, with bubbles gently popping to the surface. Let it cook for 2 minutes, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Transfer to clean, sterilized glass jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes for long term storage. You can alternately let the conserves cool, and store them in the fridge.

Homemade Blackberry Soda

serves one

3 ice cubes

3 tablespoons (55 grams) blackberry conserves

6 ounces (125 ml) of seltzer or sparkling water, from a freshly opened bottle

Add the ice cubes to an 8-ounce glass. Pour in the seltzer. Using a long iced tea spoon, stir in the blackberry conserves. Serve immediately, and with the spoon so you can scoop up the bits of fruit at the bottom.

Blackberry Lillet Sangria

serves one

Ice cubes

3 tablespoons (55 grams) blackberry conserves

4 ounces (125 ml) selzter or sparkling water, from a freshly opened bottle

2 ounces (62 ml) well-chilled Lillet

Fill an 8-ounce glass with ice cubes. Add the seltzer and Lillet. Stir in the blackberry conserves. Serve immediately.


  • Peggy

    just what i needed… now to look back at other conserve recipes to help me out of this my self induced canning funk. Thank you!

  • Leire

    you are a winner, you did it that last evening.
    there is plenty of time to feel bad, so if anything makes us feel just slightly better, I am sure it’s meant to be so.
    painful reality strikes too often, but don’t let it also ruin your comforting reality.

  • Practical Parsimony

    May I suggest you sit in his chair at the table so that you don’t have to look at his chair and be sad–same for his side of the bed.
    Now, I was blacberry conserve! I think they are out of season here.

  • lori

    Jennie you are amazing. You are able to dole out cooking advice and pinpoint a feeling with equal clarity that seeps under the skin. Keep writing and cooking.

  • JulieD

    Looks & sounds beautiful, Jennie!
    Thanks for always sharing with us. You’re amazing and I do agree with you with why we cook…we show our love through our cooking. None of knows what the future holds for all of us but I do know a lot of us will be there cheering you on. Love you & can’t wait to see your book released. xoxo

  • Sarah Fox

    Hi Jennie,
    I lost my person very suddenly on Saturday. I remembered your blog this morning and hoped your words would help, even though obviously nothing helps. I feel suspended in time and space, full of holes like swiss cheese where things we shared fulfilled me. I hope I can find something like cooking that can help fill the holes like you have started to. Thank you for articulating your process.
    JP’s note: Sarah, I wish I could offer more than “I’m sorry” to hear your news. I know too well how empty these words seem when your whole world is shattered. Please do feel free to email me at any time—
    Sending you hugs and love—Jennie.

  • Plaingrrl

    jennie – you are a constant inspiration. i read your words and feel like i’m right there with you through every emotion. my heart hurts. i know your other readers feel the same. and i know i speak for so many of us when i say thank you for being so genuine and vulnerable in a world where people constantly front. i wish you nothing but the best. i wish you peace for your soul and lots of love. you truly deserve it. – melissa

  • Katie

    I always drink Lillet in a small glass with lots of ice and a fat orange wheel that I mash around (with whatever handy tool) as I sip. I don’t like it without the orange, but it’s one of my favorite drinks with it.
    I’m glad to read that you’ve chosen to keep living so passionately, even if it means tears and giggles in the same day.

  • Tracey Alvernaz

    Hey Cutie Patootie,
    I must say you run the gamut of feelings…I can relate to it,you know!Sheesh you bring tears and laughter, a trait that few can do at the same time.Keep up the work—the good feelings, the bad feelings and the in between feelings.Love it, hate it and all of it!
    Sunshine, rainbows and all of the wishes my heart can send you.

  • Leire

    to Sarah Fox
    lots of love and prayer support from a complete stranger who can only tell you ‘sorry you have to bear this pain’

  • April

    I just wanted to say thank you for being so available and letting us share your journey, no matter how painful or how joyful it is. You are very brave to share your story with us and you allow us to catch a little glimpse of understanding into your world. I am so glad that you were able to turn your turmoil into something useful in the end.

  • Chris

    Jennie, I just spent the last hour reading through several of your posts (I am so behind!). What a lovely writer you are! Cooking really nourishes the soul, doesn’t it? I find so much peace in the kitchen.
    You continue to be such an inspiration to me. That fourth chair will be filled when you are ready. I know that for certain.

  • RobynB

    Writing through my tears – you take my breath away, every time, with your honesty and your bravery. So many of us are praying for you and the girls, you keep us caring about you with all you share with us. Thank you for opening your soul to your readers and allowing us to learn from you.

  • Judy

    Just spent the morning and most of yesterday afternoon reading through your blog posts from the time Mikey died. I wanted you to know that it made me appreciate what I have so much more. My husband and I went through a very rough patch a couple of years ago. In all honestly things started out rough and just got worse from there. But the last couple of years have been the happiest we’ve had. Lately things have been in a funk again, not as bad but not as good, either. Life just comes and intervenes- work is long and tiring, kids have activities that intrude (they only have one each but when they’re all at the same time…) and we are only human. But we are together and we still have today. And hopefully many more tomorrows. I sent him an email thanking him for all he does for us. Now I feel inspired to go clean the house and do all the laundry and figure out something nice to make for dinner. (I know, I’m Wonder Woman. What can I say?) I’m sorry that you are having to go through this, but know that you are inspiring people along your way. (Also you’re making me want cookies, but that’s a story for another day.)

  • Teresa K.

    the giggle – jennie – I know that feeling – not from the depths of your pain, but the comfort of preparing and feeding and therefore nourishing. Thank you.

  • Lisa @The Cookie Jar

    Don’t forget, Jennie, that your cooking is also providing a sense of great comfort and normalcy for your girls. Never question the reason that you are following your heart. It is all part of the puzzle.

  • Dee

    That looks so amazing and delicious. This will actually make my long hours of bloody blackberry picking through torn bushes well worth it once the master piece is done. My ultimate favorite berry, the black berry. Thanks!