Sunday, 13 January 2013

Red currant riches ~ jam, ices and ice cream treats for long hot summer days

These jewel-like berries are a fruity delight!  I have the great good fortune to be house-minding a place which has an abundance of berry fruit which I am welcome to harvest as I please.  As well as red currants there are raspberries, gooseberries and mulberries.  Of these the red currant bush was the most bountiful being loaded with its glowing treasure.  

This bush, like other fruiting bushes of its kind, wisely conceals its bounty, but some clusters are easy to see:

Observant readers will notice the rose leaves at the right in the image above.  The scatterbrained person who planted this rampant rose immediately next to the currant bush deserves to be taken severely to task.  Needless to say I gave it a judicious pruning before I got very far with my harvesting - but not before my good friend got torn by unexpected thorns!  So not only were the currants wonderfully concealed but also the rose thorns! 

Lifting back the branches of the currant bush one by one revealed masses of fruit!

Picking and handling currants requires careful, patient work due to the placement of the fruit much of which is in the interior of the bushes, and the brittleness of the branches which break fairly easily.  

I picked and picked, carefully working my way around the bush and was rewarded for my perseverance with a harvest of several kilos!

While I was working away I found myself thinking that it was rather like brushing out the tangled curly hair of a small child: I needed to be firm but careful, and this is how I like to handle all growing things - with a sensitive touch which shows appreciation as well as care and skill.  This way of handling things has becomes a habit and transfers to other things as well: it expresses that I value and respect what I come in contact with - especially living things, but also objects.

Red currant jam: fruit, sugar and water ratios:
Not having tried to make red currant jam before I was keen to have a go, and after due consideration decided that the ratio of fruit to sugar and water that I use most often would do for a trial run: six parts of fruit to five parts of sugar, and half a cup of water per kilo of fruit, which is just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. 

It worked perfectly: the jam set easily and tastes absolutely delicious! 

My other articles which give full details about how to make and bottle jam can be found on this page:

Jam or jelly?
A question I've been asked numbers of times was if I had made jelly.  I don't know why people go to the extra bother of making jelly with this delightful fruit: the only preparation required is to remove it from its stalks, which is as pleasant an occupation as any I can think of; it takes a while but gives one time to take in the beauty of the fruit and its special fragrance.  Some people put the fruit in the freezer to make this part of the job quicker and easier, but I like to handle the ripe fruit just as it comes - and to carefully lift out the little spiders and other creatures that have come along with the fruit and restore them to the garden.  

Currants do have tiny pips in them, but so do raspberries, and I never heard of anyone making raspberry jelly.  So unless one has the challenge of touchy digestion or a dental plate, this fruit 'jammed' is as good as any you'll ever taste and no trouble at all to make.  And I found that the jam turned out to be fairly translucent without being strained through a cloth bag.

Red currant ice: a special treat for long hot summer days!
I have the most palate-tingling recipe for a simple frozen dessert made of gooseberries which I call 'Gooseberry-licious', and decided to try out a red currant version.  I made a gooseberry one at the same time so that I could compare the two - and found that the currant one was even more popular.  They both taste like a sorbet.  The only difference between the two is that I add fresh mint leaves to the gooseberries when stewing them. 

The method is simplicity itself: 
  • Weigh your fruit and write down the amount!  I stared with 400 grams.
  • Calculate what a third of that is, which will be the amount of sugar required.  One third of 400 grams is 133 grams.
  • Stew red currants (or gooseberries) with enough water to cover the bottom of the pot.
  • When cooked, by which time they will have become largely liquid, add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved.
  • Strain through a sieve and allow to cool. 
  • When cool place into a shallow-ish container and put it into the freezer. 
  • When frozen, spoon it out and eat it! 

Red currant or gooseberry fool:
If you like cream with your berry fruit you can use the exact same preparation to make these treats but chill it before adding whipped cream.  Simply fold whipped cream through it and place the mixture back in the fridge to chill further.  I urge caution regarding the amount of cream used as it can easily overwhelm the delicate flavours it should be enhancing, therefore, add the cream to the fruit rather than the other way around!  

Actually I prefer a different version of this, which is to serve the chilled fruit syrup in little crystal glasses with the whipped cream on top.  It looks classy, and one can enjoy the creaminess of the cream alongside the distinctive tang of the fruit from underneath it.  Served for afternoon tea alongside a nice fruit cake or loaf and you will find this a memorable combination. Here is my easy fruit loaf recipe:
Red currant ice cream:
Yes, I made ice cream too!  There again it is simplicity itself!  An extra large bottle of cream bought on special before Christmas was in danger of going to waste, so this was an excellent use for it.  From 2 cups of cream I made more than a litre of delectable ice cream.  You can find my recipe here:
To include the fruit I simply folded in two to three heaped tablespoons of jam to the finished mixture.  Fruit has to be added in syrup or jam form as fresh fruit simply freezes into icy chunks which are not what you want!  The mixture is created by beating, and as I like to maintain some of the fruitiness folding it into the fully prepared mixture is the best time to add it. 

When I made the red currant version described here I didn't change the usual ingredients at all.  Another time I would put in less sugar as the jam is already sweetened.  The recipe says to put half the sugar in with the whites which are beaten stiff and then glossy with the addition of sugar, and the other half goes in with the raw egg yolks, which is the half in which I would greatly reduce the sugar content. 

All this talk about ice cream prompted me to go out into the garden, pick a little of the remaining berry fruit: mulberries and raspberries, and clean out the nearly empty ice cream container:

It was as good as I expected it to be!  

The garden here is small, but packed with good things, especially berry fruit bushes - oh joy!  You don't need much room to grow these - just make sure that you decide beforehand - realistically, that is - how much room they will need and how large you want them to grow - and prune them accordingly.  And for goodness sake, do keep your rose bushes at a safe distance! 

More of my articles about jam and preserves as well as other food articles can be found listed together via the link below:

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