Making my redcurrant jelly is easy: no need to wait for an overnight drip of juice, you can speed it up by squashing the pulp. And did you know that currant jelly can be as expensive as caviar?
Bar-le-Duc confiture de groseilles is a French currant preserve, indigenous to the town of Bar in Lorraines, somewhere between Reims and Nancy.
One tiny jar of the confiture costs 20 euro and it is also known as le caviar de Bar. What’s special?
Jelly or jam?
The reason why currant jam is not as hugely popular as, say, strawberry is the pips. You can presumably mash the currants and de-pip them by pressing through a sieve, like you do (pointlessly, in my view) raspberries for seedless jam.
But red, white and all kinds of currants have softer seeds and so you generally lose the fruit along the way to smooth perfection.
Jelly is the answer then, dripping juice slowly then crystallising into a semi-solid with a little help from copious amounts of sugar.
Bar-le-Duc redcurrant jelly
But the good people of Bar le Duc, originally monks of the local order are not the faint-hearted. They make their jam – confiture – from whole, specially selected white or redcurrants, handpicked, blemish free.
They also like them whole, as you do in posh confitures; suspended, like flies in amber, in delightful syrup/jelly made from currant juice. Pips don’t bother them? Au contraire, they remove them.
One by one. By hand. With a fine goose quill. From each single currant.
No wonder it's pricey
It would be awe-inspiring if it wasn’t totally bonkers; but the Maison Dutriez, the only surviving producers of the old style confiture, count Mary Queen of Scots and Alfred Hitchcock among the fans of the preserve so perhaps the thing is indeed mind-blowing?
Don’t know, haven’t tried but sure will do next time I’m around Lorraine and have twenty euro spare.
Redcurrant jelly with a bit of chilli
Mine is not such a high horse; I do not reach for my quill nor pick the pips out with a miniature syringe (there’s a thought).
I add a few dried cranberries to the mix which pretend to be de-seeded currants but in spite of that I won’t be able to flog it for 40 euros.
I also add a pinch of heat in the shape of ancho chilli flakes. Like sweet and salty, sweet and spicy go together like yin and yang.
Redcurrant jelly is incredibly awesome on a lamb roast or a turkey pie. But it is also the secret ingredient that makes the absolutely best gravy - try next time and see what I mean.
How to make redcurrant jelly
Like with all jellymaking, it starts with boiling the fruit with some water. It will take only about ten minutes before the currants soften and you can help them along by squashing gently with a wooden spoon.
Jelly apparatus is a muslin or stronger fabric bag suspended on metal prongs set over a bowl. It is easy enough to construct such rig by placing a colander lined with muslin over the tallest pan you have, so that there’s enough clearance between it and the bottom of the pan, for the juice to drip freely.
A more professional version will involve layers of muslin cloth with their corners tied around a chopstick or a long-handled spoon, again propped across the top of a tallest pan. You can make a pan taller by perching a cake tin ring over the top.
Make sure such scaffolding is reasonably secure for the hour it takes for the fruit pulp to cool and drip away. Especially if there’s a cat in the house – they love finding out what happens when contraptions like that are lightly nudged with a paw.
The gospel of jelly making is to let the juice drip overnight without squashing the bag in order to obtain clearest jelly. It’s hogwash: I squash and twist and squeeze and as in the images, my jelly is not cloudy in the slightest.
Once you’ve got the last drip out of the bag, it’s jamming as usual. The mix of the juice, sugar, some cranberries and a drop of vinegar needs about twenty minutes of rolling boil, until it reaches the temperature of 105C or a blob dropped onto a freezing cold plate sets to look and feel like jam.
Jar it up in sterilised jars and let it mature for a few days before sampling, when it turns out you wish you’d made three times as much…
More jelly recipes
Pomegranate jelly is extremely flavoursome and great with panna cotta or with Greek yoghurt. My personal favourite: pomegranate jelly and cream cheese on a rice cake.
Greengage jelly with chilli and rosemary is a full of flavour, unusual condiment. It’s a cross between greengage chutney and plum jam and it’s perfect with lamb.
The most gorgeous thing made from foraged produce is bramble jelly. Go raid the hedges!
More fruit preserve recipes
Cranberry ketchup is a sweet, sour and salty condiment with a festive tang, excellent with roast meats instead of the usual cranberry sauce.
Quick and simple glace cherries recipe: make your own candied fruit. They will last for a couple of weeks in a jar. Joking, of course – they’ll never last that long…
Lovely with cheese or charcuterie, fresh fig confit, with whole chunks of figs in syrup made with port or madeira wine.