Red currant jelly

When I was a little girl, my favorite Christmas cookies were jelly diagonals, made with red currant jelly. My mother made them only once a year, and I always associated the fantastic flavor of red currants with the holidays.

In 2009, I planted a red currant bush in my garden. That year, I had enough red currants to make about 2 tablespoons of jelly. In 2010, I had enough to make 4 ounces of jelly. This year, my harvest tripled, and I had enough to make a whopping 12 ounces of red currant jelly! Imagine what next year will be like…

My source for this delicious concoction is The River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin. Written in the UK, but translated into American, it is a must-have for anyone who wants to preserve the summer’s bounty.

Start by washing your currants carefully. Put them in a preserving pan or any similar wide pan. I have recently learned that this helps to preserve the bright flavor of the fruit, because it allows the cooking to happen more quickly.

Add enough water to cover the currants, and cook them for 45 minutes to allow them to release their juices. Notice that you don’t have to remove the stems.

Meanwhile, get your cheesecloth ready. Boil a pan of water and immerse your cheesecloth in it until you are ready to strain your juice. Scalding the cheesecloth in boiling water kills any germs, which will help ensure that your jelly will keep for a good long time.

Now, get ready to strain your juice. Place a strainer or colander over a deep bowl. Make sure the bowl is deep enough that the colander will remain above the juice after straining. Line the colander with cheesecloth, and pour the currants and their juice in. Allow it to drain for 45 minutes or longer.

Do not be temped to squeeze every last bit of juice out of the fruit pulp. If you do, your jelly may turn out cloudy.

Measure your juice, then pour into a pan. I only had 12 ounces of juice, so I chose a small pan. Next time, I’ll choose a larger pan. Once the sugar is in and the whole thing starts boiling, it will increase dramatically in size. Choose a bigger pan than you think you’ll need. This one was really a bit too small.

Get your jars, lids, and screw caps ready. Since I was making such a small batch, I only needed two jars, but I got three ready, just in case. I put them in a pan, covered them with boiling water, and set them aside before I started boiling my jelly.

Bring the currant juice to a full boil, then add sugar. You’ll need one cup of granulated sugar for every cup of juice.

Boil for 8 minutes, then check to see if the jelly has set. My favorite way to check is the “push test.” Put a small plate in the freezer when you put the juice on to boil. When you’re ready to check for set, pull the plate out of the freezer and drop a small spoonful of the liquid onto the plate. Allow it too cool for a few seconds, then push your finger into the liquid. If the jelly flows back into the empty spot after you remove your finger, your jelly needs to boil a bit longer. If the jelly stays put, as it does in this photo, then it is ready.

Take your jars, lids, and screw caps out of the boiling water and fill. For long-term storage, you should fill them to within 1/2 inch of the top. The jar on the left will be for immediate consumption, since I didn’t have enough to fill it. Somehow, I doubt the other one will be around for very long, either…

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