Blackberry Season has Arrived – Recipe for Blackberry Jam

Blackberry season is synonymous with the coming of Autumn.  As the days get shorter and with a chill in the air, comfort food makes a welcome return to the menu and there is no better comforting dessert than homemade blackberry tart (on which a separate post later).  In the midst of the cold, dark, damp mornings a blackberry jam is the perfect accompaniment for toast or, my favourite is to top off homemade rice pudding with a large dollop of blackberry jam.

Of course it’s sacrilege to buy blackberries at this time of the season, particularly, if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by unsprayed hedgerows teaming with the brambles.  The country lanes around Crossfintan Cottage are brimming with these berries at this time of the year. Make a walk enjoyable and go blackberry picking with buckets.  Older children love it, competing to pick the biggest and juiciest berries.  At the end of the day, you’ll be dreaming of blackberries.  It’s what childhood memories are made of and it will make the resulting jam taste even better.

Marylouise O’Brien, chef, specializing in patisserie, (basically all things yummy) has kindly sent me the following recipe for blackberry jam.

Blackberry Jam

Jam is made by boiling the basic ingredients of fruit and sugar together.  The setting ability of the fruit will depend on the quantity present of the naturally occurring jellying agent, pectin. Fruits have different pectin quantities.  Fruits with weaker pectin content such as strawberries are usually cooked with fruits of higher pectin content such as apples or redcurrants.  Sure set or jam sugar- a mix of sugar and pectin is often used today to make jam.  Acid content also affects the setting results, the presence of acid helps strengthen the setting properties of the pectin.  The less ripe the fruit, the higher the acid content.  Sugar content is high to aid setting and preservation.  Too low a sugar content and the jam is more open to attack from wild yeasts, leading to fermentation. The time to reach the setting point will vary.   Depending on the type of fruit, it take be 5-20 minutes.  The setting point can be tested by placing a few drops of the jam mixture onto a cool plate (one from the fridge or freezer).  Once set, the drop of jam should wrinkle if pushed with a finger.

Blackberry and Crab Apple Jam

  • 250g  blackberries
  • 250 g crab apples (or sour cooking apples)
  • 550g  sugar
  • (If the blackberries are very ripe, add 1 tbl spoon of lemon juice to the blackberries at the start of cooking)
  • Wash the fruits.
  • Peel the apples and roughly chop into chunks.
  • Place the apples in large pot
  • Over a low heat, stir gently until the apples start to soften and release some of their juices.  Add the blackberries (and lemon juice if necessary).
  • Add the sugar, and stir to prevent the sugar burning on base of the pot, continue until sugar is dissolved
  • Once all the sugar is dissolved, boil rapidly, skimming the froth from the surface now and again, until the setting point is reached (see above)
  • Skim a final time.
  • Leave the pot sit off the heat for about 20minutes (this will allow the fruit time to become evenly distributed rather than just floating on the top)
  • Ladle or pour into a jug and pour the jam into warm, clean jars.
  • Cover the surface with wax paper and lid.  Label and store.

Tuskar Rock Lighthouse

Tuskar Rock is a treacherous group of rocks surmounted by a lighthouse some 7 miles/ 11.3km off shore of Carne

Harbour.  It is claimed that this area has probably claimed more ships than any other navigational hazard around the Irish coast.  The Lighthouse was designed by George Halpin and first operated mid 1815. In 1993 the lighthouse was converted to automatic operation and the keepers were withdrawn from the station. The lighthouse is still in operation and there are fantastic unobstructed views of the lighthouse from Crossfintan Cottage both from the house itself and the viewing platform outside.  The pitch dark of night is illuminated by the Lighthouse light – 4 blasts every 45 seconds. Indeed, the Tuskar Lighthouse beacon can be seen from neighbouring Wales.

There is an interesting Article in the US Times magazine dated 15 December, 1941; entitled “World War: Mine Attacks Lighthouse”.  The Article tells the tragic story of the three tenders of Tuskar Rock Lighthouse; Patrick Scanlon, William Cahill and Peter Roddy. A mine was carried by the sea waves into the vicinity of the Lighthouse and made its way to the Rock.  The three unfortunate men were stranded on the Rock as the mine gradually approached.  The mine exploded on the Rock and the people ashore saw an enormous flash; they thought that the light’s fuel had exploded.  A lifeboat set out to the Rock.  In the kitchen of Tuskar Lighthouse they found Patrick Scanlon, dying of injuries. William Cahill was discovered under a pile of debris, unhurt. Peter Roddy was found unconscious beside the light.  Despite the explosion, the Light continued to shine.

The origins of the name “Crossfintan”

The origins of the Cottage’s name Crossfintan seems to lie in the small promontory near Churchtown, Carne, which is called Crossfintan Point.  In turn this natural feature presumably acquired its name from Saint Fintan also known as St Munna of Taghmon.  Apparently, there was also a church dedicated to St Fintan at Carne in 1680 (Hore 1921, 60).  Sources suggest that St Fintan/St Munna was a fiery character who was not to be crossed lightly.  So, the name Crossfintan is presumably derived from an amalgam of the holy cross and St. Fintan or perhaps simply a reference to St. Fintan’s fiery reputation!

St. Margaret’s, Lady’s Island

St Margaret’s is listed on the Irish National Inventory of Architectural Heritage as a protected structure.  Sadly, the property is now in ruins but was once an estate of great wealth and importance in the Wexford environs and owned by the Nunn family.  A walk along the beach from Carne harbour to St. Margaret’s take some 15/20 minutes and down the lane the ruins of this once grand house can be seen.

Crossfintan – 1842 Map

Crossfintan 1842 Map

This is a Ordinance Survey Ireland map from 1842 of the townland of Ballask, Carne, Co. Wexford.  Crossfintan Cottage can be clearly seen standing at this time – see within the red lines the house located beside the capital “N” on the map.    There appears to be only  5 or 6 houses standing at this time.  Of these houses, Crossfintan Cottage; Teach Samhran; and Ballask Cottage; and Carnagh Villa can be identified (all of which are still standing today).

In the adjoining townland of Carna, the house Carna House which still stands today, can be seen on this map.  The fact that it is clearly named on the map would indicate its importance.  Indeed, the house was owned by the Howlins who were a family of landowners.  The coastguard station can also be seen near to Carna House.

The Ballask area has certainly changed in some 150 years from the date of this map.  There are many more houses in Ballask now – the number has reached some 20 dwellings at this stage.  This is, of course, a very positive development.  It is good to know that a beautiful area like Ballask and indeed, Carne generally, is enjoyed by locals and holiday makers alike.

Tacumshane Windmill

Tacumshane Windmill

copyright:- R Greenhalgh

Tacumshane windmill was built in 1846, and was used until 1936. It was the last commercially working windmill in Ireland.  It was renovated in the 1950s. The key can be obtained from Meyler’s Millhouse Bar.  It is extremely well preserved and intact.  You can go up the stairs to the top of the windmill and enjoy a beautiful view of the landscape from the little windows.  A visit is highly recommended!

Crossfintan Cottage – An expert’s view

Sandra Sharpe, (B.A. MRUP) an Historic Buildings Conservation Officer, with particular interest in Irish vernacular structures has very kindly sent the following analysis of Crossfintan Cottage to share with readers. Her analysis provides us with a fascinating insight into the Cottage as it was first built.  Thankfully, the Cottage, whilst modernised, retains many of its unique 18th and 19th century features:-

“Crossfintan is a traditional Irish vernacular house. Originally the house was a thatched, single-room deep ‘mansion’ with a customary small projecting entrance or ‘windbreak’, to provide some shelter in inclement weather. The irregularly spaced front windows are typical of vernacular dwellings and reflect the interior plan of the house where the rooms dictated the position of the windows and doors. There would have had been an external ‘fuel feed’ to the rear elevation for the bread oven, which survives in the living room of the house, alongside a nineteenth century cast-iron range.

Vernacular houses were designed from the inside out as efficient and functional structures; they were always orientated towards the sun for maximum solar gain and carefully sited in the landscape to take full advantage of natural tucks and sheltered areas, which gave protection against the worst effects of wind and rain. Walls were traditionally mud or stone (or both) and roofs were often thatched, reflecting the agricultural nature of settlement. From the nineteenth century onwards, slate replaced thatch as the dominant roof material in Ireland and Crossfintan was re-roofed c. 1950.

Irish vernacular houses tended to have two different layouts, either lobby-entry or direct-entry. Generally the position of the chimneystack in relation to the front door will confirm whether the house has a lobby or not. Crossfintan has a lobby-entry layout, with a small lobby formed between the old kitchen hearth and the front entrance of the dwelling. Almost all daily activities were centred around the hearth. The hearth had to be kept in good working order to cook food, clean and dry clothes, and do handwork by firelight.

A screen wall separates the hearth fire from the front door. Traditionally the door would have been left open during the day and a person seated at the hearth fire could see the entrance through what would have been called a ‘spy’ window. The ‘spy’ window would also have provided light to the interior while the screen wall protected the fire from the draughts of the entrance.

The ground floor would have been sparsely furnished; with plain, simple stools, perhaps a settle back chair, which also doubled as a spare bed. These had deep bases with hinged seats for storage and tall backs to keep draughts at bay. Arguably, the most important piece of furniture was the dresser; with shelves to store crockery and pans, slots for spoons and storage space below, which was used more often as not to house hens.

A rare oeuil de beouf window above the front door distinguishes Crossfintan from other vernacular houses. This window is one of only two in the area and is an unusual example of the incorporation of a classical motif in a vernacular façade. When viewed from the inside, the window gives an idea of the thickness of the walls. The bread oven, irregular window rhythm and ‘battered’ or sloping outer thick earth walls suggest an early to mid eighteenth century construction date.”

Notice the thickness of the walls below.

Thank you Sandra, for helping us to further explore the origins of Crossfintan Cottage and shedding light on some of the fascinating traditional features in the Cottage.   In terms of information on traditional 19th century furniture, Johnstown Castle Irish Agricultural Museum is home to many unique pieces such as the dresser to which Sandra referred in her post.  A specific post on Irish 19th century furniture will follow in due course.

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