Sunday, 18 August 2013

18th - 19th century Red Currant Jelly

I'd done some reading up on early Currant jelly recipes.   Several different books have almost the exact same recipe and the others are very similar. 

The exact recipe I used came from The Frugal Housewife or Complete Woman Cook.  This edition is dated 1796 out of Philadelphia.  I've also seen an edition dated 1803.

It takes a little bit of interpretation to read this volume as it uses two different letters for S, in 3 different places.   If it's an S at the end of a word, it's written as an S as we know it today.  If it is at the beginning or in the middle of a word, then it's written as an f.  This works well, except of course when f at the beginning of a word is actually an f.  Then you have to read it to be certain of the meaning.  Thus stript (stripped) is written ftript., stalks is ftalks, stone is ftone, skim is fkim, fast is faft and fine is fine.  Once you get the the rhythm going, it becomes fairly easy to read.

  Having finally decided on a game plan, I took out the frozen currants and stuck them in a stock pot.   The original recipes call for putting the currants in a stone jar and setting that in a pot of water in order to cook the currants to make the juice which is needed for the jelly process.   However not having a stone jar, crock or even a glass jar which would work for the amount of currants and because they were frozen into 4 separate solid masses I chose to dump them unceremoniously into my stock pot and cook them directly over the heat.   I added 1 cup of water to the pot in order to help keep them from burning as they thawed out.   I put the stove on very low heat and watched carefully.   Because the heat was so low, it took a long time to thaw but I didn't have any issues with burning the currants.

I have 2 jelly bags which I purchased for this purpose.  I'd looked for cheesecloth but couldn't find any until after I'd already bought these.  Even so, it wasn't really fine or sturdy cheesecloth, which I wasn't sure would work, so I just used the commercial bags.  I put the currants into the bag and then hung them up from the cupboards since I hadn't a bowl narrow nor deep enough to hold the bag.   There are warnings in several recipes, both historical and modern about not squeezing the bag or getting cloudy juice.  However after letting the bags drip on their own, I had only a smallish amount of clear juice in the silver bowl.  In the larger batter bowl, I had a little less, but it was cloudy do to some unintentional mashing of berries with a potato masher.  I untied the jelly bags and squeezed the rest of the juice out into the cloudy juice.    Tossing the currants, still full of juice, was just too wasteful to think of, just because the jelly wouldn't be sparkly clear. 

Cloudy currant juice due to squeezing the jelly bags
I did make two batches of jelly though, one with the clear juice and one with the cloudy juice.  My son snorted and told me that I'd be the only person to be able to tell the difference between the two.

The recipe calls for 1 lb of sugar to each pint of juice.  A pint is 2 cups and I had exactly 2 cups of clear juice, which I put in my stock pot.  I weighed out and added 1 lb of sugar, turned the stove on low and started stirring.  Once the sugar was dissolved, I turned the heat up to medium high and kept stirring.   I just kept stirring and stirring until the liquid was at a good boil.  Then I took a few minutes to grab a bowl full of ice and a small metal measuring cup.  This should have been prepped before I started for testing the set of the jelly, but had forgotten to do so.    The first time I checked by scooping out a teaspoon or so of the jelly mixture and setting the metal cup on the ice to quickly cool, the juice wasn't thick at all.   Fairly quickly, after only about 10 or 15 minutes of boiling, the consistency of the bubbles started to change.   If you've ever made soap, it was like they were at the trace stage, when you could run a spoon through them and leave a trail.  They also became like clear red bubbles rather than pinkish foamy bubbles.   When I next checked, there was definitely jelly happening.   It went pretty quickly from then and just a few minutes later, the jelly was thick.  

The first batch made less than 2 cups of jelly which I packaged in 125 ml (half cup) jars.   I'd started up the water bath canner earlier, so it was full of hot water.  Because my jar rack was too large for these tiny jars, I put a dish cloth in the bottom of the pan and the jars on top, to try to keep them from bumping together.  I processed them for about 12 minutes, dragged them out and luckily the lids all did that lovely vacuum pop to announce that they'd sealed.

I can't actually tell which jars were the cloudy juice and which were the clear.  The open jar has the leftovers of both batches and the only way you can tell the difference of which layer was which is because there is a line where the first batch had cooled before I topped it off with the second.

This jam is incredibly delicious.  It's sweet enough but still with the tartness of the currants.  I hesitate to say that it might even be better than the Apricot jam.   The only thing I would recommend is that if you're going to listen to music while making this, don't presume that one CD will be long enough, because it won't be, not even the second time you try with the next batch.

1 comment:

Woolly Bits said...

hm, nice - I never have enough red currants to make jelly, because the blackbirds always invite their friends as soon as the first pink blush is visible:( but I bought a batch of nectarines and mangoes on offer and just made the jam an hour ago - yummeh:) and for jelly (blackberries look to be plentiful this year) I use my juice steam pot, which saves me from jelly bags and such.... takes up space, but makes lovely juice!
enjoy your jelly - I wouldn't care much about cloudy or not either, as long as it tastes good:)
(and the funny "s" reminds me of suetterlin script..... the bane of my school days:)