Wild About - Red Currants

Oh boy, currants! The wild weather this year has brought many disappointments when it comes to both gardening and foraging. However, in all things, there is balance, and I'm happy to be finding some plants which are thriving.

The wetter ground around ditches in steams on the plains can be found populated with golden currants (Ribes aureum), which are almost always purple and grow on spineless stems. Then, when you move up to the higher elevations in the mountains, you begin to see a different currant, one that is red as a jewel, and grow on spineless stems. I grew up calling them wax currants (Ribes cereum), but they also go by the common names, prickly currant and sticky currant. While golden currants always strike me as tasting strongly of citric acid, like vitamin pills, wax currants are sweeter and have a slightly resinous finish.

Here, I wanted to prepare a dish in which they appeared raw. Since the wax currants have a slightly conifer-like aroma, I paired them with toasted pine nuts and lavender flowers, then tossed the mixture with olive oil, a few drops of white wine vinegar, and salt to create a chutney. I served it over a goat cheese log, but it would be excellent served over any meat, particularly game birds or squirrel.

After making the chutney, I had enough red currants left over to preserve. Darn it, I swore I wasn't going to make any more jams and jellies this year. But when I have such beautiful fruit sitting before me, what choice do I have? The reason I don't want to make any more jelly is that it just sits on the shelf; I don't have much of a sweet tooth. But I do enjoy fruit in sauces that pair with meat, so I decided to gear this jelly to be served with meat. After looking around my herb garden, lemon thyme seemed like the best match for the deep fruitiness of the currants.

To make red currant lemon thyme jelly, start by washing the fruit. You can pluck the spent flowers off if you please, but that seems like entirely too much work for me. Put the fruit into a heavy -bottomed pan, and add enough water to reach half the level of the fruit. Since my red currants were extra ripe, I threw in a handful of crab apples to make sure there was enough pectin to set. Boil the fruit over medium-high heat until quite tender, so that it will easily mush with a spoon.

Run the fruit through a food mill. If you'd like a more refined jelly, strain the resulting mixture through cheesecloth. I'm not so refined, so I put the resulting fruit mixture into a pan with a bundle of lemon thyme, the peel of a beet (to enhance the color which is lost when currants are cooked) and 3/4 c. sugar for every cup of juice.

Let the jelly simmer over a low temperature for a few minutes to infuse it with the lemon-thyme flavor, then remove the thyme and beet skin. Turn to heat to medium-high and boil the mixture until it "sheets." You can use a thermometer if you please, but I find the sheeting method works just fine. When you begin boiling the jelly, when you dip a spoon into it, the jelly will fall from the spoon in a stream of drips. As it cooks and thickens, it will reach a point where it falls from the spoon in a sheet. That's when you know it's reached the perfect temperature to set as jelly.

Don't waste any time in pouring it into sterilized jars and water processing for an amount of time appropriate for your altitude. As much as I like to monkey around and break rules in the kitchen, I do think it's very important to follow safety guidelines. Use sterilized equipment, properly process, and always keep wee ones out of the kitchen when canning.



This is one of my entries for Two for Tuesday this week, and well as Foodie Friday, please feel free to click the links and explore.

Comments

  1. Hey! I love learning new things! I did not know that you could use crab apples as a source of pectin! I also adore jelly ONLY as an accompaniment to meats. Jelly on toast ain't my thing! Thanks for sharing another GREAT foraging story and recipe on the two for tuesday recipe blog hop and thanks for hosting as well! :) Alex@amoderatelife

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  2. I love that you threw in the beet peel for color. I would not have thought to do that. The birds got most of my currants but next year I am throwing on the nets. I need to harvest some of these for myself!

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  3. I never tried red currants until last year when my roommate brought them home and I LOVE them...they remind me a lot of cranberries. Between the chutney and the jam...I don't know what to make first!

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  4. Fabulous!!! The chutney is so pretty...and the jam sounds amazing...I am in such awe of all your find growing wild around you!

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  5. Lavender and goat cheese are such natural partners - great idea to add the red currants and the crunch of the pine nuts. :)

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  6. I've always wanted to try red currants, but have never found them anywhere. I love how you combined them with the lavender and served with the goat cheese. Very fun!

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  7. Bonnie- In a former life I would have used a drop of red food coloring to boost the color, but I had farm fresh beets sitting in my fridge, so that seemed like the natural solution. It worked great!

    Alex- Crab apples and tart green apples are a great source of pectin. It's old school, but works like a charm.

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  8. Currants, pinenuts and lavender, what a cool idea! Did your currants have seeds in them? And do you know if you can tell by looking at the fruit from the outside whether it has seeds? (I'm thinking that red currant pie might be good.)

    Many thanks for the description of how to make redcurrant jam/jelly. Now that I am no longer afraid to can, I'm going to have to make some. We LOVE red currant jelly. Is your jelly still quite tart? (Trying to get a handle on how much sugar I can get away with NOT adding. I loathe overly sweet jams and jellies.)

    -Elizabeth

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  9. Hmmm, I'm not sure if there's a way to tell if a fruit has seeds just by looking. I usually use the squish it between my fingers test :) But red currants do have seeds. I don't find them to be a problem, but I could see why you wouldn't want to eat them.

    My jam wasn't very tart because the fruit was so super ripe. If you're sure you've got enough pectin, you could probably cut back on the sugar and add lemon juice to lift the tartness. If you'd like to use pectin, I'd absolutely recommend Pomona's Universal. It doesn't require any sugar (zero, zilch, nada!) to set.

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  10. Well I am in the minority - I love jelly on my toast and don't know if I have ever had it on meat except mint jelly with lamb. But I would love to try it!

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  11. Oh Christy, you'll love it! Try using your favorite jam or jelly as a finishing glaze on a roast. It's very kid-friendly, too!

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  12. Great post, and photos. I like the idea of using the lavendar flowers. Your description on cooking the fruit to make jelly is very helpful. I have switched from buying jarred jam to just cooking it when I want it and fresh fruist jams and jellies are the only way to go!

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  13. Beth - It feels like common sense, doesn't it? Preserving what grows around me feels natural, the way it should be, instead of indulging in the preserves of a fruit grown far away.

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