Last 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.
- 2 lbs (3 pints) black currants, stemmed & rinsed
- 2 lbs (4 cups) sugar (organic evaporated cane juice)
- Prepare canner, jars and lids.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year.