I have said my goodbye to fresh sour cherries for this year. I have frozen and made jam with a bucket of them – and of course enjoyed quite a few in cobblers and eaten them “au naturel”. But for the cook with a liking for vermilion sweet/tart fruits, red currants provide even more of a flavor burst. In my Northern Piedmont garden, red currants mature right after the sour cherries – sometimes overlapping them slightly. A red currant bush bears faster than a cherry tree– one can have a nice little harvest three years after rooting cuttings (very easy to do to!), although it’ll start to be respectable in year 4; they are more manageable in a kitchen garden than a cherry tree which takes a bit of room and is more appropriate for the orchard. Surprisingly, the birds seem to leave them alone, and at least for now, the bear also ignores them – unlike the cherries for which he makes special trips down the hill, devouring other things (like bluebird eggs) on his way to his feast.
Currants need a cold dormancy period and don’t enjoy too muggy a summer, so I give them shade in the afternoon. Besides watering well the first year to ensure good root establishment, and pruning the oldest branches (4+ years) occasionally, they are pretty care free. Also self-fertile, but that’s a moot point because one currant bush is simply not enough. Besides, delicious when eaten out of hands, or tossed with a little sugar and let to rest for 1 hour to draw out the juice, currants makes a famously delicious jelly – and a fabulously easy one. Read more for the “Fabulously Easy Red Currant Jelly” recipe.
Fabulously Easy Red Currant Jelly
- Red Currants
- A little water
Pick your currants. It’s Ok if a few are under ripe. Wash to remove debris & insects parts, but there is no need to stem them and a leaf or two is fine (some people use currant leaved for tea, you know…). Put them in a non-reactive deep heavy-bottom pan with a little water (maybe a ¼ cup per pound…). Gently heat up until the berries softened and their juice is bursting 15 to 20 minutes (wear an apron by the way, they do stain). Let cool. If you want the clearest only jelly, then let drip over night through a jelly bag over a large bowl to catch the juice; do not squeeze the fruit mass. This will give you a lot less jelly, but one admittedly very beautiful. If you are somewhat willing to compromise on the jelly’s beauty – and do things a little faster too – then pour (or ladle) the fruit and the juice through a jelly bag, squeezing it as hard as possible to obtain as much juice and pulp as you can. Depending how much currant you have, you may want to do this is several steps. In either case, discard the fruit solids, stems, seeds etc when you are done.
Measure the juice (using cups), and put in into a deep thick-bottom non reactive pan, and heat it up. Measure the same amount of sugar (if you have 2 cups of juice, measure 2 cups of sugar), and add it to the juice, stirring until the sugar dissolve. Bring to boil. Lower the heat somewhat and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the jelly does not attach to the pan. It should gel in about 15 minutes.
Process as you would any jelly (i.e. pour into hot sterilized jar and keep in the fridge for up to a couple of months; or process using a water bath – about 10 minutes per pint – for longer storage)
That’s it! It’s absolutely wonderful on toast in winter when the vermilion jelly will be a sensuous and fragrant reminder of summer.