No-Cooking, No-Canning Black Currant Jam

raw black currant jamIn my intermittent effort to make space in my freezers, I was delighted to come upon a bag of black currants yesterday. Just the day before, while pruning my currant bushes, I’d been dazed by the musky fragrance of the wood—the same intoxicating fragrance that wafts from the fruit and leaves of the black currant.* (And perhaps most of all from the buds, for it’s the buds that the French collect for perfume.) And I’d suddenly realized that I’d neglected to make raw black currant jam last summer.

So I made some this morning, from my recipe in The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves: 

Raw Black Currant Jam 

¾ pounds fresh or thawed black currants, stemmed
1½ cups sugar

Briefly blend the currants and sugar in a food processor or blender. Pack the jam into a jar, and cap it tightly. Store the jar in the refrigerator or freezer. Makes 1 pint.

Don’t be tempted to reduce the amount of sugar called for here unless you plan to eat up the jam quick or store it in the freezer. Provided the currants were free of mold when you picked them, the sugar will allow the jam to keep well—so well, in fact, that for me this jam keeps perfectly in the fridge for a year. And don’t assume the jam will be too sweet for your tastes. Currants are low in natural sugar, and the added sugar is well balanced by the currants’ high acid content.

If you taste the jam immediately, you’ll probably feel sugar grains on your tongue. That’s OK—the sugar will soon dissolve. And although the jam may already seem thick enough to spread on toast, it will thicken more in the fridge, though it will never jell hard, as cooked black currant jam does.

*I mean Ribes nigrum, the European and Asian black currant, which the French call cassis. The yellow-flowered, thicket-forming variety known as Crandall, which was selected from an American species, lacks the cassis aroma.

Black Currant–Sausage Pinchos

currant & sausage pinchos
When I offer samples of fruit pastes at fairs and other public events, people always ask me how to serve them. I tell them about the Spanish custom of eating quince paste with cheese. I say that Middle Easterners often serve fruit pastes with nuts, and sometimes incorporate nuts in the paste. I suggest taking fruit pastes on camping and car trips, and serving squares of paste along with other sweets on holiday platters.

But black currant paste, I figure, needs special attention, because it’s extraordinarily tart and aromatic. When I opened some recently and asked Robert how we should have it, he immediately thought of smoke and paprika.

And so we made hors d’oeuvres—or pinchos, I guess I should say, because we used Spanish-style dry-cured chorizo, from Chop, a new charcuterie in Portland, along with smoky, juicy sausage from Overseas Taste, a Russian market also in Portland. And we didn’t eat our tidbits as an appetizer; along with sweet potato fries, they looked like dinner to me. Robert threw in a green salad, with sliced Asian pears, still crisp and juicy, though I picked them two months ago, and his roasted hazelnut oil.

The currant paste complemented the paprika-rich chorizo and the smoky fried sausage equally well. What a satisfying meal!

In case you have no currant paste on hand, here’s a recipe to try next summer, or a year or two after that, if you haven’t planted your currant bushes yet. (Do plant at least one black currant bush, if your climate allows. You won’t regret it.)

Black Currant Paste

1½ pounds black currants
½ cup water
2 cups sugar

Combine the currants and water in a saucepan. Simmer the currents, covered, for 15 minutes. Press them through the fine screen of a food mill; this will remove many but probably not all of the seeds.

In a preserving pan, combine the currant purée and the sugar. Heat the mixture slowly until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat, and boil the mixture for about 15 minutes, stirring, until it pulls away from the side of the pan and the trail made by the spoon at the bottom of the pan remains clear for a few seconds.

Spread the hot mixture about ¾ inch thick in small, straight-sided glass or ceramic molds (I use two 5-by-7-inch Pyrex dishes). When the paste is cool, turn it out onto a rack, and let it dry thoroughly in a dehydrator or another warm, dry place.

Store the paste wrapped first in parchment paper and then in plastic.