Lillie O’Brien & The London Borough of Jam
The loganberry jam that Lillie O’Brien and I made will be available exclusively at The Artists of Spitalfields Life opening at Ben Pentreath Ltd tonight.
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 last summer she became captivated by the irresistible notion of loganberry jam.
The loganberries season 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. You can buy your own pot of this rare preserve to enjoy for yourself, exclusively from The Artists of Spitalfields Life at Ben PentreathLtd.
Lillie O’Brien sells her jam at Chatsworth Rd Market. 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.
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