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Lillie O’Brien’s Quest For Loganberry Jam

July 13, 2012
by the gentle author

Lillie O’Brien among the loganberries

As you can see, Lillie O’Brien sole trader of the London Borough of Jam has a passion for loganberries, that curious nineteenth century hybrid of the raspberry and the blackberry which possesses its own piquant flavour quite distinct from its cultivars – tart and pungent and tangy. Lillie has devoted herself to earning a living by making jam in small batches from fresh fruit as it comes into season and recently she has become captivated by the irresistible notion of loganberry jam.

Now is the season for loganberries but it only lasts two weeks and, when Lillie contacted Covent Garden Market, she discovered that none were to be found. There is no demand for loganberries, she was told. Yet the scarcity only sharpened Lillie’s resolve, recognising that if she found some, she could corner the market in loganberry jam for the whole of London. Many phone calls later, Lillie spoke with a fruit farmer in Kent who had just one line of loganberry plants, ready to pick. Having located the elusive berries, Lillie just needed some assistance with the picking, which was how I became her accomplice in the quest for this rare fruit.

After a week of floods, we expected the weather to be against us but yesterday morning dawned dry and sunny after the night of heavy rain, filling us with hope as we set out from East London towards Kent with buckets and pots in hand. Trudging through fields of strawberries, passing raspberries and blackberries, we came to the loganberries trained upon wires – since, in its trailing form, the plant bears a closer resemblance to the blackberry, even if the individual fruits look like extended raspberries. Once we arrived, Lillie clasped her hands and gasped in delight to set her eyes upon the object of her quest. We were not disappointed.

In fact, we found ourselves doubly the beneficiaries of this respite in the weather, because no-one else had been there to pick for several days and the plants were heavy with fruit, many turning the deep pink with a tinge of blue that is the sign of the ripe loganberry. Working on either side of the line, Lillie and I picked our way along systematically, working without a break and gathering over twenty kilos in just a few hours, stripping the plants of ripe fruit. The berries were sweet and aromatic, and soon our fingers were stained purple. For a couple of hours, we had the privilege to enjoy a blue sky and racing clouds for our loganberry picking, which could not have happened if the fruit were wet.

Yet by the time we reached London in the early afternoon, the clouds had already covered the sky again and the first raindrops were falling, which served to emphasise how lucky we were to have gathered our precious haul. As soon as we had carried the fruit into Lillie’s kitchen in Hackney, she filled her copper jam pan with two kilogrammes of loganberries and set straight to work, making jam to capture the flavour of the fruit within hours of picking it in the field. Once the berries in the pan upon the stove had broken down, Lillie added the sugar and tested the syrupy mixture constantly with her wooden spoon, to ensure that the consistency of the jam was satisfactory and avoid any overcooking of the fruit which would impair the flavour.

Within an hour, we had eight jars of loganberry jam, glowing a rich pink upon the table. It marked the proud achievement of our quest. Afterwards, I walked back through the driving rain in the premature dusk to Spitalfields and, once I arrived home, I took a spoon and sat alone in my living room with my jar of jam. Already it had set to a gelatinous consistency, and I ate a spoonful direct from the pot. At once, I was transported back to my few hours in the sun picking berries. There was a delicate natural sweetness to this jam that was not at all sugary, an intense fruit flavour with a flowery perfume and a delicious tang of citrus. Let me confess, I ate another spoonful of jam, and then, in the half light, I sat and contemplated the aftertaste of loganberries.

I had left Lillie completely absorbed in her task of making jam from all the loganberries we had picked. It may take her all day on Friday to complete the estimated batch of eighty jars of jam that our crop of berries should produce. Quite possibly, it will be the only loganberry jam for sale in London this summer, and you can buy your own pot of this rare preserve to enjoy for yourself from Lillie at Chatworth Rd Market in Hackney this Sunday.

A limited number of pots of loganberry jam will be for sale direct from Lillie O’Brien at Chatsworth Rd Market this Sunday. London Borough of Jam preserves are also available from A. Gold in Spitalfields, Leila’s Shop in Shoreditch and the E15 Bakery in London Fields.

You may also like to read about

The London Borough Of Jam

Blackberry Time In The East East

11 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    July 13, 2012

    enchanting, the pic of miss lillie dangling a loganberry with stained fingers! and stirring the pot with crossed ankles and grimalkin at rest nearby. ah to be in spitalfields now the loganberries are here.

  2. July 13, 2012

    Oooh, I do miss loganberry jam! You don’t mention the spines though, which were such a painful feature of the ones I had on my allotment. Or, of course, the dubious pleasures of pruning away all the old (spiney) growth, and tying in the new year’s (spinier) growth. I hope Leila makes this jam every year now she’s discovered her source of raw materials.

  3. Annie permalink
    July 13, 2012

    What a gorgeous piece of writing – and wonderful photos. I showed my class of 10 year olds the John Claridge and the Thames entry and they loved it, especially the photos. I use your writing to demonstrate how to carefully construct narrative. I’ll use today’s as well. You may be thrilled to know that state school kids are being inspired by your work, Gentle Author.

  4. July 13, 2012

    oh! I am salivating just looking at those photos….. yum!
    and happy to see lillie has feline helping making her lovely jams
    I’ve been very slack with my jam making the last few seasons, I must get back to it this year

  5. July 13, 2012

    I just found your lovely blog via Bookeywookey in NYC who is highly recommending your book. The making of jam is such a time-honored practice and you have done it justice here with words and pictures. Our berry time in California is just over, and it always amazes me that, at the hottest time of the year, we gather in the kitchen to cook up berry goo and boil pots of water to hold our jars. What will we do to enjoy the fruits all year long.

    I look forward to reading more from your side of the pond!

  6. Cherub permalink
    July 13, 2012

    Jam making is a lovely way to spend a rainy afternoon. I have loads of rhubarb in my garden and have been busy making rhubarb and vanilla, for winter it will be rhubarb and ginger. I am near the sea and there are loads of blackberries just waiting to be picked for free in the late summer. People look at me as if I’m mad but I don’t care. It is amazing what you will find in urban areas – until about 8 years ago I lived out at Upminster and used to find loads of windfall damsons.

    Best of all, people love it if you give them a jar or 2 to enjoy!

  7. Chris F permalink
    July 13, 2012

    Jam making has to be one of the great pleasures in life… Mrs F and I have spent many happy hours blackberry picking. It is amazing how much fruit goes to waste in our cities. We have a friend who has several apple trees in her garden. She doesn’t bother with them, prefering to buy from the supermarket!! I don’t think that we are going to get a good crop of anything this year ‘possibly due to the cold and wet’. All of the trees and bushes that we normally pick from are sadly lacking in fruit. However, we still have some of last years bounty in the freezer, so all is not lost. I usually make spiced pickled pears around this time so that they are ready for eating at Christmas with strong cheese. I think I might go and make myself a jam sandwich…

  8. July 14, 2012

    gentle author , ……did you put the same spoon back in the pot again after licking it ,if my mother saw you !
    hee hee !!…….., jam ,a glorious confection , bravo lillie and your london borough of jam.

  9. Jane permalink
    July 16, 2012

    Wonderful post. I just love the second photo in particular.

  10. July 17, 2012

    salivating – just love all that fresh berry fruit

  11. Sue McAlpine permalink*
    July 20, 2012

    Tried the raspberry and licquorice jam absolutely delicious and I’m not a jam person. I’ve put the empty jar and the label in Hackney Museum as a part of a collection of things made in Hackney.

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