Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Berry soothing

When my mind starts to whirr in smaller and smaller circles I try and lose my self in therapeutic tasks. Picking black currants is perfect. Its not a job you can rush. Black currants hide their berries beneath aromatic leaves. You have to crouch down and hold up the branches to find the fruits. They are luminous, their swollen burnished sides glint even in the half light of this gloomy summer. It takes time to collect your harvest. A well covered bush produces a large carrier bag full of berries and takes over an hour to pick.
You have to be nimble, holding up the branch with one hand and picking with the other while trying to catch the fruits in your cupped hands before they tumble down. The berries resist for a moment then come lose with a satisfying barely audible snap. You also have to be selective not all the berries ripen at the same time. All of this takes concentration of the best kind. You lose yourself and your cares. Time stands still as the bag slowly starts to fill.
This year's crop is heavy but the rain has swollen the  berries so the flavour may not be as intense as on sunnier years. To get round this I roasted the fruits in a casserole so that the initial juice is more concentrated. Now to add to the calm of the hour I spent picking yesterday, I have the audible plink of the syrup dropping slowly down from the distended jelly bag, which hangs like a crime scene photo from my kitchen plate rack.
Blackcurrant jelly is a highly prized commodity in our house. I am sworn on pain of death not to give any away. 

Roasted blackcurrant jelly
Makes roughly 6 x medium (350ml) jars)
1kg blackcurrants (ripe but unblemished fruits)
granulated sugar (500g for each 500ml of juice you collect)

Preheat your oven to 150ÂșC/gas mark 2. Place the washed fruit in a large casserole dish. Bake covered for about an hour until it is soft. Remove the pan from the oven and using a wooden spoon or potato masher crush the fruit.
Having placed a large bowl underneath your scalded jelly bag pour in the pulp in and the juice. The jelly will run through very quickly at first and then slow to a dribble. Don’t be tempted to squeeze your jelly bag as this will make your jelly cloudy. When it has all dripped through, measure the juice and set aside.
Take the pulp and put it in your preserving pan, just cover with cold water and bring to the boil, let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Return the fruit and juice to the jelly bag and repeat the straining process above.
Combine the two juices and measure, allowing 500g sugar for every 500ml of juice.
In your cleaned saucepan combine the sugar and juice. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then turn up the heat and boil rapidly, skimming off any scum that forms (if you keep the jelly half off the heat it will collect on one side of the pan, making it easier to skim off. The setting point should be reached within 10 minutes. To know when it is ready,you can use a sugar thermometer or do the flake test . Remove the jelly from the heat and skim off any last remaining traces of scum. Pour into hot, sterilised jars.
Cut out little circles of greaseproof paper and put one on top of each jar before sealing down by screwing on the lids tightly. Store in a coolish dark place. It keeps for ages but store in the fridge after opening. 
This year's plot is overgrown, rotten, slippery underfoot, over run with snails but still somehow productive. 

Rocket seed heads hung up to dry in the shed ready for sowing when the flea beetles have disappeared (August).

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