Outlander Bread Needs Jam: Red Currant Jam

August 7, 2013 in Feast or Famine, Outlandish Recipes of the 18th century by M C

“There is nobody who, having a garden, shouldn’t plant a great number of black currant bushes for the needs of their family,” wrote the Abbé P. Bailly de Montaran in 1712. And he added: “Black currant is a fruit that promotes long life in human beings.”

I’ve been unable to find out anything about the Abbe P. Bailly de Montaran, except that in theory he wrote this line.  Maybe he painted it on his garden wall, because I can’t find any book or even an essay credited to him.  But there you are, Abbe P. says you should plant a “great many” currants in your garden, and Kevin Stelling quoted him in Vitality Magazine.

currant_jam1Diana Gabaldon doesn’t mention black currants, or red, in the Outlander series, but black currants were well known in France during the 1700s and were a rich source of vitamin C, in both the fruit and the leaves, which could be dried and used for tea.  Currants appear in period recipes, and have the added benefit of being easy to dry and store, before refrigeration.  Black currant liqueurs were even called “the elixir of life,” and are currently sold as Mathilde Cassis or Crème de cassis.  It’s a relatively simple process of soaking fresh fruit in strong alcohol for several weeks, and then, if desired, diluting the spirits with water until they reach the desired strength, and are not so compromised the blend spoils.  My extra black currants used to go to a friend of mine to be brewed into beer.  Currants.. you can’t have too many.

And I do have a great many black currant bushes, which, for a number of years produced so many berries I made black currant jam by the caseload lot, 3 cases or more a year.  Which proved fortuitous, because for the last 3 years the bushes have been recovering from mildew blight.  There was such a tiny crop this season I didn’t bother harvesting the black currants, but made do instead with the red.

Red currants are a little sweeter than their black counterpart.  Black currants dry your mouth out, they’re so tart and acidic.  Red you can sprinkle over your morning porridge.  Black currants I make into a conserve, to be served along side a lovely lamb roast.  Red currant jam is for spreading on thick slabs of bread.

Red Currant Jam

The ratio is 1 pound fruit to 1 pound sugar.  Recipes in my life are usually handed down and tend towards the “take a lump of butter” variety, so this is a wonder of clarity.  5 pounds of berries, 5 pounds of sugar.  The bit of extra that makes this jam special is Cointreau.  Which is not period.   The first bottles of Cointreau were sold in 1875. Cointreau is a blend of sweet and bitter orange peels and pure alcohol (from sugar beets), a member of the triple sec family of orange flavored liqueurs.  It is possible a housewife in the 1700s, seeking to gain the maximum use out of her oranges, thought to submerge the peels in spirits… certainly this was a common method of making elixirs.  But home canning doesn’t get started until the 1850s either.  So this recipe is 100 years off the mark.  No matter.. the propane stove isn’t period either.

Put enough water into a heavy pot to cover the bottomcurrant_jam_pot1
Drop 2 pounds or more of red currants into a heavy pot
cook the red currants slowly, using a potato masher to gently squish them as they start to break apart.

When the currants start to break apart and liquify add and equal weight of sugar
cook slowly until the sugar is completely melted, then bring your jam to a rolling boil for 5 minutes.

Add 1 teaspoon, or so, of Cointreau and test your jam for “done” by dripping it onto a plate.  If it sets up, it’s done.  If it doesn’t, boil it for another minute or two.

Skim off any foam and thriftily let it cool in a bowl… it makes a nice topping to your morning porridge, or yogurt.

currant_jam3Ladle your jam into sterilized glass canning jars and process in a boiling water bath.  2 pounds of currants makes about 3 pints of jam… plus enough left over to make it easy to put your jars on the pantry so you can crack them open on a dark winter day for a taste of summer.
Spread the remaining jam on your period authentic sourdough bread!



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