Thursday, July 10, 2008

Currant Jelly

My parents have red currant bushes in the back yard, and for the last two weeks, Thursdays have been jelly making days.

This week I thought to take some pictures and share.

On the left you will see what red currants look like, in case you aren't familiar with them. They are tangy and juicy and sort of resemble other berries that happen to be poisonous, so obviously, don't just assume berries that look like this are red currants.

To make a batch of jelly (that would be 4 8-oz. jars) you need at least 2 1/2 quarts of currants. You gently wash these, and then smash them up with berry masher. This works best if you mash a single layer of berries at a time. Jelly is made with juice only, so mash them up really good to get as much juice as possible. Once all the currants are mashed, you bring them to a boil with 1 cup water and cook them for ten minutes, stirring constantly so they don't stick to the bottom of the kettle and burn.

The next part is a little tricky. Since you only use the juice to make jelly (you use the fruit too when you make jam- that explanation is forthcoming) you need to strain the cooked berry mixture. You can do this with several layers of cheesecloth to form a bag, or you can buy a "jelly bag" and stand like my mom and I did. This was available in the canning section at RKO (that would be Rural King Ohio, it is all right if you laugh at the store's name, I think it is funny too) but I imagine you could probably find such things at hardware stores too since they usually have canning accouterments. Incidentally, that stand we bought for the jelly bag can fit over most standard sized mixing bowls or pans. Like I mentioned, a cheesecloth bag would work too. Apparently my grandma used to use that and hang it up on a hook from the ceiling of the back porch for it to drip into a bowl. The thing that is most important - DO NOT SQUEEZE THE BAG. This will cause the jelly to cloud (which I guess is bad).

Let the juice strain through for 2-3 hours, or longer if you like. To make a batch of jelly there needs to be 4 cups of juice. If there isn't enough, add unsweetened apple or white grape juice, but the flavor will not be as strong. We didn't need to do this with either of the batches we made.

The next part gets a little complicated and works best with two people, but at any rate, you do need some preparation.

We used 8 oz jelly jars, which need to sterilized prior to starting the jelly. It is also helpful to keep the jars in a bowl of hot water since the jelly will be very hot when you fill them and this will greatly reduce the risk of thermal shock. The lids and rings should be treated this way too.

It is also good to start a hot water bath since the jars should be processed right after they are filled. This is not my strength because my mom keeps doing it. She has a small canner (not a pressure canner for this) she keeps simmering. There is a rack in it and she has tongs especially made for picking up the jars. All this would be available in the canning section. She also has a funnel specifically made for filling wide mouth jars. Once everything is set up for canning, the jelly making can begin.

Heat the juice. Add an envelope of fruit pectin and stir. From now on you keep stirring constantly. Once the juice reaches a hard boil that cannot be stirred down, add 2 cups sugar. When the mixture returns to a boil cook for 3 minutes and then immediately remove from heat. We figured out 3 minutes was the right time for our currant jelly, but there is this "metal spoon test" too, and when the juice slides off the spoon in almost a sheet rather than in drops, that is the jellying point.

Then you skim any foam off the top (tip: add 1/2 t butter to the juice when it is boiling to reduce foam) and quickly fill the jars, place the lids, and tightly screw on the rings. (You might want a hot pad for holding the jars.)

The jars go in the hot water bath, increase the heat and bring to a full boil, and process for 5 minutes. Remove jars and place on a wooden surface (to avoid damaging the counter) and let them sit undisturbed for 12 hours.

Oh, and if you have more jelly than fits in the jars (leave head space!) just put it in a bowl and enjoy! Tomorrow I will show you the other berries I've been working with this week.

1 comment:

EGunn said...

I love making jelly! There's something about a line of fresh, new jars that makes it worth the heat. I've never tried currants, though that jelly makes me think I should!