July and August are wonderful months when real harvesting starts from your allotment or your productive garden. I really look forward to my Blackcurrants and Redcurrants, which are the first of my fruits to be ready. I have an abundant quantity and each year I have to decide what to do with them.
This year I have been pressed for time, so instead of bottling them with alcohol to make a silky Cassis for later in the year, I have gone for cordial and jelly which are quick and easy. Blackcurrant Cordial is so fruity and full of vitamin C. It’s very different from shop-bought cordial. Serve it in iced water, carbonated water or Prosecco, as the fancy takes!
Blackcurrant Jelly is a family favourite and just so delicious. It’s wonderful on fresh bread and toast or as part of a dessert with ice cream and shortbread. I’m sure everyone has their favourite – sometimes even a spoon is the only thing you need!
Redcurrants are much tarter and go well with red meat or a roast. You can even stir a teaspoon of jelly into your gravy to give it a sweeter fruity taste.
To make jellies and cordials, the starting preparation is always the same. I put my currants into a colander and put the colander into a large pan which I fill with water. That way any leaves and detritus will float to the surface and you can skim it off. I don’t de-stalk the berries – that’s too much work! Once you are happy that they are well rinsed, you can drain them, put them in a large pan and add just enough water to cover them.
Bring to the boil and gently cook them for about 20 minutes or until the berries are soft. Then you need a muslin jelly bag or a large square of muslin that you can place into a sieve. Place this over another pan and strain the berries through the bag to obtain the deep red juices. Let it drip overnight to get as much juice out of the berries as possible. If you don’t have a bag you can tie the corners of your muslin square and hang that over the pan by whatever means you can invent in your kitchen. I don’t squeeze the bag as this makes the jelly cloudy. Instead, I take the strained berries, put them back into another pan and repeat the process to get a ‘second boiling’.
Take your strained juices and measure the quantity. Then put them into the pan with 300g of granulated sugar for each 500ml of juice and gently dissolve the sugar over a low heat. Take it off the heat and stir in a teaspoon of citric acid then pour into swing-stoppered sterilised bottles and seal them.
Again, measure your quantity of juice and then put it into a large heavy pan with the sugar. I use Cups as a measure for both in this recipe, so add 2.5 cups of sugar for every 2 cups of juice. Slowly dissolve the sugar over a low heat, then bring to the boil for around 5 minutes.
Have a cold plate to hand and you can check whether you have a set by dropping a little jelly onto the cold plate. After a few seconds to let it cool, use your nail to push it over the plate and if it ‘wrinkles’ you have a set and you can scrape off any scum and carefully bottle the jelly into sterilised jars and seal them.
Blackcurrants at the beginning of the season are full of pectin and you will not need to add anything to the jelly to make it set. Very ripe blackcurrants have less pectin, and you should use jam sugar in order to ensure a set.