Black Currant Jam

black-currant-jamLast summer at about this time, I drove up to Rhinbeck to hang out with Julia and help her out with a jam demo she was hosting at the weekend farmer’s market. She made a simple black currant jam that day. Simple, in that it consisted of only two ingredients and took about 10 minutes to make; but the flavor? The flavor was anything but. I dream about that jam: rich, complex, layered; sweet, savory, tart, spicy; almost umami in its richness.

Every single person who tasted that jam at the highly-trafficked Rhinebeck market wanted to buy a jar. But Julia couldn’t sell any, as her fledgling jam business was not a registered vendor at the market: all we could do was give away free samples. Yet, here’s the funny thing: our jam demo booth was set up just two stalls away from the farmer selling black currants; the very black currants we were using to make the jam. We kept pointing people to his stall; Julia had even printed out the simple jam recipe on little cards to take away. Nothing doing: people looked at us like we had three heads when we suggested that they make some jam at home. “Jam?! I don’t have that kind of time.” Or, “I’d never be able to do that; I’d screw it up.” Or, “I don’t want to kill my family!

Despite standing there and watching the jam take only 10 minutes to cook, despite having an expert jam maker like Julia offering tips & advice (for free!), despite both of our assurances that you won’t kill your family, that you don’t have to make 62 jars of jam, that you don’t need tons of equipment, you can simply simmer it in a skillet until it looks good to you, then pop a jar in the fridge, and despite dipping into the jam jar again and again for just one more taste: they were having none of it. A-jamming they would not go.

I’ve never quite understood this. I mean, I get that some people simply don’t cook at all: the “I can’t even boil an egg!” people. That I understand. But making jam, especially just  a quick skillet jam, a single jar, is certainly no more difficult than, say, pan-fried chicken or homemade tomato sauce. And quite a bit easier than homemade cake or even cupcakes, in my opinion. But there is this perception that jam is the provenance of elderly grandmothers or tattooed hipsters and everyone else had best stay far, far away lest they wake up one morning to find themselves a Wacky Chicken Lady. Which, I’ll grant you, is a risk (jam being the gateway drug to the world of DIY salsa and pickles, yogurt and cheese, and yes, chickens). But this jam? This jam is worth it.

Inspired by Black Currant Jam by Julia of Half-Pint Preserves.

black-currant-jamBlack Currant Jam

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 lbs (3 pints) black currants, stemmed & rinsed
  • 2 lbs (4 cups) sugar (organic evaporated cane juice)
  • water

METHODS

  1. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
  2. In a large, wide preserving pot, combine currants, sugar, and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan by ¼-inch. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Raise heat to high, bring to a boil and boil hard until jam reaches the set point, 220 degrees F or a dollop wrinkles on a frozen plate, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat and skim any foam.
  3. Ladle hot jam into hot jars to ¼-inch head space. Wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Yields about 6 – 7 cups.

black-currant-jamOPTIONS

  1. Julia may have added a bit of lemon juice and/or zest to her version: I can’t remember. Certainly it wouldn’t go amiss, but I wanted to try it out as simple as possible, just fruit & sugar.
  2. This may be the only non-citrus jam I’ve ever made with a 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar: normally that would be way too sweet for me, but black currants can handle it. The sweetness is a glorious counterpart to the natural complexity of flavor of the black currant and the sugar helps to balance these flavors and bring them out.
  3. Currants are very pectin rich and therefore will set up rather firmly, especially with a 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar. Therefore adding some amount of water is important in this jam: adding a bit more if you want lots of syrup and a looser set, less for a firmer, fruit-packed jam.

STORE

Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year.

SEASON

Summer.

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19 comments

  1. April

    How about a recipe for those biscuits? They look amazing! Perfect timing for this as I have black currants coming tomorrow.

  2. Awesome! I have only made quick skillet jams a few times, sometimes to fill some pastries. I remember making a quick red grape jam once, it was so simple and delicious. Your though, looks amazing and it has been photographed so beautifully… thanks for the post!

  3. I also was admiring those biscuits!! I don’t recall using any lemon for this recipe; the currants were acidic enough on their own. This weekend, I’m going to just direct folks right here for the recipe!

    • Grazia

      Oh man! I wish I saw this sooner. We were there last weekend and missed it :(. I even saw the black currents and did not buy them. Maybe next year.

  4. What a super story. Its lovely to hear about these moments or magic that inspire us to move through life a little more enlightened. Personally I live in the country my self, and try all sorts of recipes just to use up my various attempts at vegetable growing. If you fancy a few of these type of recipes to try out you can collect a free copy of my country note book from my website: http://www.countrygardengifts.co.uk/country-note-book.html

    There is a recipe for nettle beer, scaggy soup, jam making, etc etc etc

    Best Wishes Caroline (new blog countrygardengifts)

  5. Great story and a lovely jam — now if we only had some currents ’round here. (Not that I’m complaining about a lack of fruit, mind you.) :-)

  6. Pingback: Links: Honey Sweetened Preserves, Apricots, and Winners | Food in Jars

  7. Pingback: Reaching for the Sun | Backyard Dispatches

  8. For me, the jam itself is easy–it’s the canning process that feels, well, not overly complicated, but just time-consuming and I could understand hesitation there. But it seems like this recipe could be scaled back to make less jam if you didn’t want to be bothered to can 6-7 cups worth of it, right?

    • Absolutely: this one is especially easy to scale down, as it’s simply a 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar by weight. About a half pound of each should yield less than a pint and will easily store in the fridge for weeks. A smaller amount will also reach gel stage faster, so may take as little as 5 minutes: just keep an eye on it and test early.

  9. Carol Ann

    Maybe it’s a deep seated unconscious fear of goats keeping them from trying to make their own jam. It’s practically common knowledge the afore mentioned DIY leading to chickens can only lead to goats.

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