Saturday, July 7, 2012

Crazy for Currants

Of all the currant varieties—red, white, and black—I love the red the best. And I love that the fruit lady sells them for $1.50 an overflowing half-pint.  Since most people don’t want them (thankfully, most people are fools), she practically gives them away. They are always waiting patiently for someone to, please, take them home.  They are like little orphans who are left behind while all the other kids (the raspberries, in this case) get adopted.

The someone who finally takes them is, of course, me, and my charges are eager to please:  bright, shiny, glistening, and bobbing on their slender stems. When I have enough to make a currant pie, a rare old-fashioned treat, that is what I usually do. This time, however, I had only two generous containers—a healthy pint. I still have some pickled currants from last year, but I was clean out of currant jelly. Currant jelly is a necessity. It is ideal for glazing tarts, for adding fruity richness to sauces, and for spreading on an English muffin. Because of the scarcity of the fruit, it is hard to find it commercially anymore, and when you do, it is pricey and never as fresh-tasting as you would like. So it’s a special product to make at home, and to give as a gift to a fellow baker or heirloom fruit aficionado.

Those of you who have been with me for a long time know that when it comes to preserving, I have strong opinions. I do not use pectin. Currants have natural pectin, lots of it, and when your fruit is perfect, you really don’t need it to obtain a gel.  I happen to like my jams and jellies soft, somewhat fluid. Another reason to eschew pectin, especially for things like strawberry jam where you want the berries suspended in a nice gelatinous pool.  I also use less sugar that is conventional, which allows for a more fruit-forward product as well as contributes to the softer texture. And in this particular case, I use a lazy-woman’s method of my own that is a hybrid of the traditional jam and jelly methods. It works.

Spicy Currant Jelly

For a change of pace, I decided to spice it up with cinnamon and my adored Aleppo pepper (really, I need to do an entire post on the stuff); the jelly has a nice hot edge to it.  The directions are general. Makes about 1 pint.

1 generous pint currants, stems removed
1 ¾ c sugar
Wedge (1/4) lemon
3” fresh cinnamon stick
¼ tea Aleppo pepper

In a 2 qt saucepan, mix the currants, sugar, and pepper. Squeeze the lemon wedge and stir in the juice; drop in the squeezed lemon rind and the cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the currants have broken down into a mush and the liquid coats a spoon, about 5-10 minutes. Place a double thickness of cheesecloth in a strainer and set it over a bowl. Pour the mixture through the strainer; the liquid will collect in the bowl. Press gently on the currants but do not mash or your jelly will be cloudy. Discard the currants. Pour the liquid, which should be setting nicely, into jars and seal. If you want a little stronger gel, return it to the saucepan and boil until it sheets from a spoon. Do not overcook.

You do not need pectin to get a perfect gel!


racheld said...

Another reason I zeroed in on the "LITTLE COMPTON" title so long ago---I've never in my life known anyone who made currant jelly. It's called for in several of the family recipes, for glazing a ham or a fruit pie (I've seen ladies go buy a jar just to make a Fruit Pizza exactly by the recipe),

And I once saw a cook put a spoon-tip between each and every lattice on a pie as it came out of the oven, for the melt and shine.

And the Maine-camp/wet canvas/New England Summer calls through the little gems, but I KNOW I'll never make the jelly. I've STILL got two gallons of whole Scuppernongs in the freezer from LAST year.

Jane said...

Well, yes indeed, it is an old and dying habit to make it, in part for the lack of fruit. Love the idea of putting a bit between the lattices. Did you mean my Fruit Pizza? If so, I'm flattered.

As for your scuppernongs, that is a fruit I never mastered; you may remember my failure, memorialized right here on the blog. But I imagine a real scuppernong jelly is not too different from a currant one.