A friend of a friend hooked me up last week and I got to pick just a little over 3 pounds of currants! And I suddenly had all sorts of plans for currant projects at my fingertips! The first use was scones, which got snapped up so fast I didn’t get a picture (sorry!).
The second project was currant jelly! I’ve never made jelly before (jam, yes, but that’s different!) so this was a little new. I used the recipe from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook (lovely recipes, and the few I’ve made turn out so well!) for this batch. Reading through the steps, it became immediately apparent that I would need to rig up some sort of jelly-straining apparatus…I had to get jars anyhow, so I thought I’d check out the hardware store’s options for this (there is apparently a proper “jelly strainer” setup available for purchase)…however, the hardware store wanted $13 dollars (thirteen!) for what was essentially a hemmed bit of cheesecloth and a rickety wire stand with hooks for holding the cheesecloth in the center (ostensibly then the juices would drip into a bowl below). I foresaw it becoming a very messy cat toy and said nothankyou.
So I rigged up my own (much sturdier) setup…a big piece of cheesecloth tied into a bundle of hot juicy fruit (doesn’t that sound fun!) suspended from a 20 pound magnetic hook with a bowl in the sink below to catch the drips. Can I just say, I love my metal cabinets?
But before I got to the straining/hanging point, I had to boil down my fruit with a little water and let it cook for 45 minutes to extract the juices. Once I had the pulp in the strainer, it dripped for about 3 hours, which netted me almost 3 cups of juice. To that juice, I added a bit of sugar and proceeded to boil it down (or up…turns out when you boil jellly, it foams and climbs the sides of the pan a LOT!). So glad I had opted to use my giant roaster pan for this!
From here, I checked to see if the jelly had “gelled” by dribbling a bit on a cold saucer and seeing if it acted, well, gel-y. I wasn’t satisfied the first time I checked, so I cooked it for another couple minutes and checked again, and I’m afraid it got very gel-y. Oh well. Better than ending up with syrup, right?
I poured the jelly into jars and discovered a downside of cooking it a bit more than specified…I got 2.5 pints instead of 4. Oopsies! And here, too, I got a bit confused. The recipe simply said to “seal and store” the jars, and the book’s instructions for “sealing” jars consisted of pouring hot stuff into hot jars and slapping a lid on it asap. No mention of wax or water bath or pressure canner…so I stuck the jars in my water canner for 10 minutes to seal (following sealing instructions from a jelly recipe in a different book). I hope that works…I think we’ll open one this fall to check. I also wonder if those ten minutes in the canner will make my jelly even more gel-y? One way to find out, I guess!
But, even with the ambiguous sealing instructions, I’m really happy with how it all turned out. Such pretty jars! I was surprised it was so dark, though…the pictures I always see are a bright happy red!
So jelly was use #2, and use #3 is a shrub! A recipe that is also from the River Cottage book, this time it’s a currant/brandy concoction. I took the pulp that remained after the juice dripped through and wrung it out into a separate bowl. I got just over a cup (which couldn’t be used for jelly or the jelly would be cloudy, apparently, from stuff getting forced thru the cheesecloth with the wringing). But with my second-wrung juice, I had just enough to make the shrub. I combined the juice with some nutmeg and the zest of a lemon and a whole (175ml) bottle of Calvados apple brandy. Right now it is hanging out in a cool, dark place, percolating. I promise to show pictures once it’s done (right now it’s just a quart jar full of goopy pink liquid since I still need to add the sugar and some heat to finish it in about a week!)