Here on the northern Prairies, jam season is consuming a lot of stove time. The berries have a steady march through. And now it's the end of red currant season, little red jewels that can be slow and tedious to pick. All picking times equal, raspberries, strawberries and even saskatoons make for more satisfying volumes. Even pin cherries, with their individual dots, have an easier time finding their way into pails. Currants tend to mush if you strip them off so it is a light hand and meditative mind that are required. But they are so worth the effort. I love incorporating them into jams as they add a tang and are queens of pectin.
Natural pectin can be found in a number of fruits which is perfect for forgoing the enigma of packaged pectin. Some of my childhood memories are of my mother standing by the stove, rereading the directions on how to get raspberry jam to gel, with a pot of near-caramelized, soupy jam on the burner. There's nothing quite so defeating as a pot of berries, which were hand-picked, sorted and cleaned, sitting in a caramelized, over-cooked, unsalvageable stew. So, I forego packaged pectin. I like to combine low-pectin fruit, strawberries in this recipe with high-pectin fruit like currants. I've also learned to to love slumpy jam and much prefer it to the almost crystalline, make-your-spoon-stand-straight-up jam store-bought pectin can produce.
For this jam combination, which I've not done before, I used a combination of this recipe from the British Larder and David Leibovitz's jam musings. I let the fruit sit overnight to wilt under the sugar. But I then added sugar as per Mr. Leibovitz's volume method rather than measuring by weight. And as my stovetop doesn't get to a high enough heat very quickly, I prefer to place little dishes in the freezer to drip the jam on and check gelling with a finger trace.
Red Currant and Strawberry Jam (adapted from both The British Larder and David Leibovitz)
4 lbs of sugar
2.25 lbs red currants
2.5 lbs of strawberry
2 tbsp lemon juice
Clean and wash strawberries and currants. Slice strawberries. Place in a large bowl. Sprinkle one pound of sugar over the fruit. Let sit, refrigerated, overnight.
Pour fruit and sugar into a large pot. Heat at med-high heat. I have found short and high cooking to be best, foregoing lower, extended cooking more prone to caramelization. Place some little dishes in a nearby freezer.
Once the fruit begins to simmer, you will notice some bubbling and froth begin to form. At this point, I measured the total fruit volume and added 2/3 of this volume in sugar to the pot. Add the lemon juice. Give a stir to incorporate sugar and lemon juice.
And then I turn up the heat to high, much to the chagrin of my firefighter husband. I tend to cook everything on high with sometimes ashy results. But not jam! This requires an undivided attention. I will cook it for about 10 minutes, take it off the heat, and drizzle some in one of the cold dishes. Return to freezer for 5 minutes or so. Take out and, using a fingertip, push through the jam. The right consistency will push forward with a bit of a buckle. Thin and syrupy means it needs some more heat.
Repeat this process until the desired consistency is achieved. At some point, you may need to exercise your compromise skills. Sometimes the jam, rather than setting, will stay runny. Early in the process, you can add more lemon juice which increases the natural pectin. One way I try to avoid this is to include some fruit that borders on unripe as it has higher pectin levels than ripe, or worse, overripe fruit. If it does refuse to set, I choose a runnier jam over a caramelized jam that will likely remain runny.
Pour into sterilized jam. Process as per usual in a hot water bath. Remove from canner and let jars sit for 24 hours. There is nothing more satisfying as hearing the "pop, pop, pop" coming from jars taken from the canner. Any jars refusing to seal can be stored in the refrigerator for a month or so.
And that's about it! The flavour is fabulous, especially on English muffin, toasted and spotted with butter. The sweetness of the strawberries balances nicely with the tart, heavier textured currants. The consistency is definitely runnier than, say, a straight red currant jam. But we do like it.
We would love to hear about any currant combinations you've tried. We've done currant-raspberry, straight currant and, now, strawberry-currant. All are wonderful!