We have a small allotment, which was in a bad unkept state when we got it. Brin has been very painstakingly working it into control from weeds. She religiously goes to the allotment hoeing and digging out all the weeds and brought all the land into a cultivable state. Kudos to her. There were a few bushes already established and productive, a large red currant and a gooseberry. The red currants were delicious, together with their translucent red glinting in the light like jewels. Edible rubies are what they are! Together with an army of child labour, bribed with promises of the ultimate jelly, the red currants were picked, gave about 1.2 kg in-spite of the continual tasting by 3 small and 1 large mouths “to see if they are good” and confirm “they are really good” when picking! Though I have watched my mother make tomato jam and tried to recreate it whenever I see “the best” tomatoes as my dad, who was despatched to do the vegetable market shopping used to insist. But it was a hit and miss affair with mostly excellent tasting (according the Brin, who is biased) but sometimes crystallised or was too solid to be spread on bread or just got spoiled soon. Odd, the ones which spoiled was always the ones which turned out to be a very good jam. But all that experimenting, temperature monitoring, jar sterilising etc, and reading about jam making gave a little edge and given the exquisitely delicious brilliant rubies I was faced with, I was determined to get it right. So more research half the night in preparation for the morning. Thanks internet and google …. hmmm they are just facilitators …. thanks to the millions of contributors on the web and books too.
Next day started with awareness that the only red currant jelly I have tasted is the supermarket stuff, so religiously bought each year as “it is delicious with turkey”, opened bottle to some good looking but not very tasty jelly, used a few teaspoons and stays in the fridge for the next year till it gets replace by the new seasonal jar from the supermarket. De ja vu … However the freshly picked and washed red currants glinting in the light was so enticing … I kept tasting and imagining it with boiled sugar, the inner foodie in me could see possibilities.
So I assembled my instruments of jamming, with a large stockpot, my bamboo ladle kept exclusively for sweet things, a not too expensive digital thermometer (bought on a trip to the USA), kitchen scales and a bag of sugar. And not to forget 2 – 3 small plates into the freezer, the quality testing instruments! Red currants, I read during my night time research, have enough pectin in them promised many bloggers and even the USDA, especially if a few of them are under ripe and I did not like the idea of adding commercial pectin, organic or not, anyway. Now how fortunate we did not throw away the half ripe slightly whitish currants that came out along with the tender stalk! We quickly realised when picking, if we picked each berry separately, we were crushing them and we would be there all summer!
So it was the whole bunch of about four to six berries on each stalk complete with the stalk and the all important slightly under ripe currants! And lucky we did not pick or sort the berries after washing, too tired, as it turns out it is not necessary. So in went the glinting red deliciousness into the stock pot and I was immediately aware the berries at the bottom of the pan would burn or scorch before all the berries are cooked even with stirring. So in went about a third of a cup of water, just to cover the bottom of the pot to even out the heat, hoping it would not dilute the juice. With gentle low-medium heat, frequent initially and later occasional stirring, the currants were cooked soft in about 10 minutes.
In the absence of a fine cheese cloth or drip filtering apparatus (which gives clear jelly), the cooked currants went into a fine mesh sieve, gently agitated with a spoon, muscle power provided by my elder son ….. when the sieving was mostly done, we realised there is still a lot more juice in the solids remaining. So a decision was made to accept cloudy jelly instead of wasting it and the best part seems to be that! Good decision. The filtered juice tasted tart and I could imagine … sugar would be the perfect marriage! So in went the juice into the pot over a low medium heat again.
There was 700 gms of juice, and the norm seems to be equal quantity of sugar. But we as a family never the liked the extreme sweetness of commercial jams, even the good ones, so I reduced the sugar by 150 gms. Constant stirring till the sugar dissolves and allowing to boil with occasional stirring for about 5 – 8 minutes, watching the temperature frequently, till the thermometer showed the magic 105 C setting temperature. Being the jamming novice, and perfectionist to boot, put a dollop of jam on the small plate in the freezer and within a minute formed nice but small wrinkles on pushing a side with a finger … the finger was licked again and again by the whole family…. it was unbelievable deliciousness! So this is what all the fuss about red currant jelly is about!!!!
Then there are the goose berries ….