The shortbread tasting was a success. Now I needed jam for the tea party shower I was throwing for my pregnant friend. Tasty strawberry jams I had covered, but I wanted to find a fruity blackberry jam to spread over the crumpets. My husband Patrick agreed to assist at the tasting, as did my mother. With his delicate palate and my mother's jam knowledge accrued over years of having "foursies" -- tea and toast at four -- I knew we would come up with a winner. The jam hunt had an ominous beginning. Trader Joe's had none on their shelves, nor did Henry's. I was beginning to wonder if we'd have enough variety to compare. But after trudging through a few more stores, I came away with a wide selection.
We popped open the lid of the Smucker's Seedless Blackberry Jam ( $3.88 for 18 oz. at Vons). "Oozes in the mouth," I muttered. "Tastes like jelly. I would have thought it was grape jelly if I didn't know better," Patrick added.
Smucker's Simply 100% Fruit Spreadable Fruit ( $3.51 for 10 oz. at Vons) suffered from too much sweetness. "This is deceptive," said Patrick, "you would think from the name that this jar would be full of chunks of fruit, but it's not."
"Too syrupy, not enough berries," added Mom.
The last Smucker's jar fared no better. Sugar Free Seedless Blackberry Jam ( $4.05 for 12.75 oz. at Vons), though it hit the tongue with a strong blackberry tang, was quickly followed by a lingering NutraSweet aftertaste.
Knott's Berry Farm's Pure Seedless Jam ( $4.13 for 16 oz. at Vons) had the consistency of rice pudding and the taste was syrup sweet. "I'm beginning to wonder if the jams that have corn syrup don't all tend to have a uniform sweetness that is not the sweetness that comes with a berry off the vine," questioned Patrick. "Corn syrup makes jam taste like Dr. Pepper."
Vons Seedless Blackberry Preserves ( $3.35 for 18 oz. at Vons) was another loser, overly sweet with only a faint echo of blackberry. "Another jar suffering from a grape jelly identity crisis," noticed Patrick.
We had begun to give up hope in finding a keeper until we tasted Safeway Select Blackberry Jam ( $2.74 for 11.5 oz. at Vons). It was the first jar that was made from seeded blackberries. "The crunch and bitterness of the seeds combined with the sweet tang of the blackberry make for a sweet-and-sour effect that I just love," opined Patrick.
Organics Blackberry Preserve ( $2.79 for 11 oz. at Vons) was another favorite for the group. Popping open the jar, the jam looked reddish. "Looking at it, I would think it was a raspberry jam," noticed Mom. "Bigger seeds than the last one, and a strong fruit taste," added Patrick. Another keeper.
Cascadian Farm Blackberry Fruit Spread ( $2.99 for 10 oz. at Whole Foods) was another jar for the loser group. "A runny jam, and I taste lemon," said Mom. "I got a whole blackberry, which was delicious," added Patrick, "but between the fruit is a liquid jelly that tastes like syrup." Mom dug into the jar searching for another blackberry but came up short. "You found the only whole fruit in the jar," she said. "If you have to search in the jar for a piece of fruit, that's no good," laughed Patrick.
Blackberry Fruit Spread by 365 ( $1.59 for 10 oz. at Whole Foods) melted away on the tongue. "I want more blackberry," said Mom, "and I'm only tasting grape."
"It seems that with some of these jams," noticed Patrick, "like the Organics jam, the sweetness in the jam brings out the flavor of the fruit; it doesn't overpower the fruit flavor. But a lot of these brands, like this 365 jar, the sweet fights against the fruit and you're left with no fruit, just sweet."
Another winner was the Whole Foods Blackberry Jam ( $2.69 for 12 oz. at Whole Foods). In the thick consistency of the jam, you could see pieces of berries. It was odd how few jars that could be said for. "Just the look of it reminds me of picking berries," reminisced Mom. The tart of the blackberry was strong, held up with a subtle backing of sugar. We wondered, however, about one of its ingredients, lemon juice. Some of the jams that contained it tasted too lemony, but this jar you couldn't taste lemon. "I guess it's like the lemon in guacamole," said Patrick. "It should bring out the flavor of the main ingredient, not overpower it." We set it aside as a definite keeper.
We set the Hero Blackberry jam ( $3.29 for 12 oz. at Whole Foods) with the collection of too-sweet jams and did the same for the next jar of Hartley's Best Blackberry Jam ( $4.99 for 340g at All Things Bright and British).
The last two tastings were recommendations from storeowners. The saleslady at the British tea shop had suggested I try the Robertson's Bramble Jelly ($4.99 for 340g). "Bramble jelly is quite similar to the blackberry jelly," she explained.
"After tasting chunky jams, it is hard to go to jellies; they suffer by comparison," said Patrick. "But as jellies go, this is passable."
"I'm not tasting much fruit at all in this," I added, setting it aside.
Last, we dug into The Irish Shop
recommendation, Chivers Blackcurrant Jam ( $6.50 for 454g). Each of us had a different reaction. Patrick, the opinionated one of the bunch, had the first word. "I like the resistance you get when you dig your spoon into the jam, but I don't like all the chewy bits I have to work through in my mouth."
"That's what I love about it," I disagreed. "I want to chew a bit with jam. And the black currant has a strong fruit flavor." Mom liked the consistency but not the flavor. We set that one aside as a draw and settled down to some tea to wash the sweetness off of our palates.