Friday, July 1, 2011

Preserving Floyd: Red Currant Jelly and Red Currant & Raspberry Jelly

I mostly make jams, butters or fruit cheeses when I preserve fruit spreads but while those were an option, I really wanted to retain the jewel-like glow of the red currants I picked...
...and turn them into a crimson jelly.
Jellies are, well, not exactly finicky, but care must be taken with them when extracting the juice to end up with a beautifully transparent product.
I started out with 5 lbs of red currants which I divided in half to make red currant jelly and red currant-red raspberry jelly.  My friend Katie gave me red raspberries from her bushes last fall and I wanted to use the last of them with the currents.
Red currants are seriously full of pectin.  So full in fact, that the juice I extracted became syrupy upon cooling.  I decided to go without any added pectin in these recipes although that did mean the use of more sugar than I prefer.  However, red currants are extremely tart and a good bit of sugar is needed to tame them.  I looked at a lot of recipes and settled on Darina Allen's proportions of sugar to juice on page 451 of Forgotten Skills of Cooking.  Darina's recipe uses 4 cups of sugar to 2 cups of juice as opposed to the 7 cups of sugar for the same amount of juice in most of  the other recipes.

Drop the currants into a sinkful of water and give them a good rinse.  Let them settle and then lift them into a colander to drain.  Currants grow in little grape-like clusters and you can choose to remove them from their stems or not.
The stems do contain pectin so there is an advantage in not removing them but here's how to do it if you choose to.
Place a fork at the top of the cluster...
...and while pinching the stem, gently pull the tines down the stem.  The berries will fall off into your bowl.
Very easy but somewhat tedious.

Next, put a layer of currants in a non-reactive pot and crush them with a potato masher or other likely tool.  Crush the currants a layer at a time until they're all in there.  Add a cup of water and bring to a boil, stirring if necessary to avoid sticking.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.  If you're doing the currant-raspberry version, add your raspberries in and mash them as well.  Stir together with the currants.

In the meantime, prepare a jelly bag and bowl.  If your lucky you'll have a jelly bag and stand like this one.  I don't.  I make do with a large bowl, a flour sacking towel or several layers of cheesecloth, cotton cord, and the knobs of my upper cabinets.  Wet your towel or cheesecloth and wring it out.  Spread it evenly in the bowl.  Have a good sized piece of cord cut.  When the currants are ready, pour them into the towel-lined bowl.
Gather up the corners and the new corners created by the folds and tie this all tightly with the cord.  Lift the bag while keeping it over the bowl and loop the cord several times around the knobs of the cabinet doors and tie it off securely.  Leave the bag to drip into the bowl for several hours or overnight.  Do not at any time squeeze the bag to express more juice.  This will force through small particles and cloud the jelly.  If you want to go for maximum juice and don't care about clear jelly, squeeze away.
The next day measure the juice and return it to the non-reactive pot.  For every 2 cups of juice add 4 cups of sugar.  If you are a little short on juice fill out the measure with water.  For a deeper color add the sugar to the cold juice.  If you want to speed up the cooking time a little, warm the sugar in the oven on it's lowest setting for 20 minutes and then add it to the heated juice.

Bring the juice and sugar mixture to a rolling boil.  Once you reach that boil back the heat off a little.  The currant jelly with froth but the currant-raspberry mix will froth a lot and threaten to overflow the pot.
In the photo you can see the jelly in the bottom of the pot and the height it reached during cooking.  Be prepared to move the pot off and on the heat to prevent overflow.  Sugar burns are very painful!  Be careful!  Cook the jelly until it reaches 221F or a gel set test shows the gel point has been reached.  Remove the pot from the heat when testing for set.  Darina Allen says that due to the large amount of pectin in currants gel stage will be reached in about 8 minutes irregardless of temperature or test.  I think she's right, with the currant-raspberry taking a little longer.

When the jelly is ready, remove the pot from the heat and allow the jelly to settle.  Skim off any foam.
I skim the foam into a little container and save it in the fridge for later.  There's nothing wrong with it other than it's visually displeasing in the jars.

Ladle the jelly into 4 oz or half pint jars leaving 1/4" head space.  Wipe the jar rims clean, adjust lids, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  That's how many minutes for Floyd?  That's right!  12 minutes at our altitude!  After processing allow the jars to sit undisturbed for 24 hours and then wash, label, date and store them.
Red currant jelly is very useful.  In addition to toast it's a traditional accompaniment to venison, lamb, and ham.  It's great with a cheese plate.  It's the base for Cumberland sauce.  It will give a beautiful shiny, rosy hue when used as a glaze for summer fruit tarts.  And it makes a mighty fine vinaigrette.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this recipe. I just made a jar of red currant, raspberry and red huckleberry jelly and it tastes great!