I’ve preserved all our other allotment and foraged fruit in one way or another – raspberry jelly, redcurrant relish, rose hip syrup. I thought this time I’d give canned blackcurrants a go. Home canning (in glass jars that is!) is much more popular in the US than it is here in the UK, but I’ve always fancied giving it a go.
Canning, according to Wikipedia, “Is a method of preserving food in which the food contents are processed and sealed in an airtight container. Canning provides a shelf life typically ranging from one to five years, although under specific circumstances it can be much longer.”
Some websites I’ve visited say you need special equipment; a big stove-top canner – much like a pressure cooker – for starters. A jar rack, jar lifter, funnel… In practice, the only foodstuffs that need to be canned in a high pressure canner are meat, seafood, dairy and most vegetables (sweet tasting ones such as carrots, beetroot, sweetcorn, peas and beans). Fruit (which is what I’ll mainly be canning) and acidic vegetables can be done using the water bath method in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. It’s not absolutely necessary for them to reach the 116-130ºC temperature necessary for the first group of foods.
I used utensils I already had to hand. Aforementioned heavy bottomed pan. A jam thermometer to be perfectly sure the water bath got to the optimum temperature. A funnel to make sure the little berries didn’t bounce all over the floor and under the kitchen cabinets as I tried to pour them into the jars. A wire cooling rack to keep the jars from rattling against the bottom of the saucepan during boiling. A pair of tongs to lift the jars out of the hot water. Some vintage Mason-type jars with new rubber seals. It is important that jars are in perfect condition with no chips or ill-fitting lids. If they aren’t they won’t be air-tight and contents will spoil and may prove a health risk!
Here’s the method…
- At least 500g freshly picked blackcurrants. Use only perfect fruit - no bruised, over-ripe berries need apply!
- For the sugar syrup
- 1 part sugar to 2.5 parts water (e.g. 200g granulated sugar to 500ml water)
- Sterilise the jars & lids - you can do this by putting them into a large saucepan and covering them with water and bringing it to the boil. Once it boils, turn off the heat and leave them in the hot water until you're ready to use them
- Top & tail and rinse the fruit well in a colander
- Decant the fruit into the sterilised jars (using a funnel if you have one). Leave a space of about 2.5cm/1inch from the rim of the jar
- Put your sugar and water into a medium-sized saucepan over a medium heat
- Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat
- Carefully pour the hot sugar syrup over the fruit - enough to completely cover the fruit but leaving a gap of 1.25cm/½inch to the rim of the jar
- Remove any air bubbles using a plastic or wooden knife (like the ones you get from a take-away)
- Screw the lids onto the jars firmly, but not too tightly
- Put a wire cooling rack into the base of a large heavy-bottomed saucepan (if you don't have one or the one you have doesn't fit - use a folded tea towel)
- Put the jars into the saucepan and fill the saucepan with enough hot water to completely cover the jars by at least 2.5cm/1inch. Make sure there's at least 5cm/2inches gap to the top of the saucepan; if there isn't you'll need a larger pan
- Put a lid on the saucepan
- Bring the water to a low, rolling boil. Once it gets to this point, boil at this level for a further 15 minutes
- Turn off the heat and carefully remove the jars using a jar lifter or metal tongs
- Put the jars on a thick tea towel or wire rack to cool. The lids on the jars should be concave and should not move when pressed down with your finger. If one of your jars has not formed a vacuum - just refrigerate and use it's contents within a week
- Label, date and store the jars in a cool, dry, dark place. The fruit will store for at least next year when you can do it all over again! 🙂
This recipe will work for any kind of similar fruit - redcurrants, white currants, bilberries, blueberries etc.
Last week we brought you a sweet, baked redcurrant recipe. This week, some more of our redcurrants are being used in a savoury preserve – spiced redcurrant & red onion relish. We’ve slightly altered a recipe we found on the BBC Good Food website.
We’ve not tried out our relish yet – we’re giving the flavours some time to steep. It’s meant to be really good teamed with a creamy goat’s cheese or charcuterie.
Spiced redcurrant & red onion relish
- 2 medium red onions, peeled & sliced into ½cm square pieces
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp dried crushed chillies
- 2 large garlic cloves, chopped finely
- 1 small knob of fresh ginger, grated
- 200ml red wine vinegar (I used some of our home-made blackberry vinegar)
- 140g muscovado sugar
- 1tsp Chinese five spice
- 1 tsp salt
- 200g redcurrants, de-stalked
- In a heavy bottomed frying pan, cook the onions and dried crushed chillies in the olive oil over a medium heat until softened
- Remove from the pan and set aside
- Without washing out the pan, add the garlic and ginger with half the vinegar, bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes
- Add the cooked onion & chilli mix, sugar, Chinese five spice, salt and the remainder of the vinegar
- Bring back up to the boil then simmer for about 5 minutes until thickened
- Add the redcurrants and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until some of them have burst and the liquid has become syrupy
- Remove and pour into a sterilised, 450ml heatproof jar
- Screw the lid on tightly while still hot. Once opened, it keeps in the fridge for up to 3 weeks
So far on our allotment, the only things that have come to fruition are the currant bushes that we inherited. The last time we were there we did a little bit of weeding but we spent the vast majority of our time picking shiny, jewel-like blackcurrants and redcurrants. We harvested almost a kilo of the latter – that’s over £10-worth from a supermarket! 125 grams of it was put towards making a batch of redcurrant muffins.
We acquired a silicon muffin tray in a boxed lot at an auction many moons ago that we surprisingly, have never used. Fished out, dusted down and washed; it turned out 6 big, beautiful muffin specimens! Silicon is a revelation – baked goods ease out of it with no cajoling whatsoever! If you’ve not tried it before, Lakeland does a good range of affordable silicon baking tins, pans and trays.
The redcurrant muffin recipe used here was found on the Abel & Cole website. The rest of the redcurrants have been put into the freezer temporarily, waiting to be turned into jam, jelly and relish; so keep a watch out for some more redcurrant recipes to follow!
Eccles cakes. In my opinion – they’re not cakes, or even biscuits – they’re pastries!
We watched the Great Sport Relief Bake Off recently and one of the celebrities’ challenges was to make Eccles cakes. Whilst watching, Justin started going on about how much he loves them and why haven’t I made them yet.
To be honest, they’ve not really been on my baking radar. For one, they involve pastry which I’m not fond of making. For two, they’re just pastry with currants. But, to placate him, I agreed… and besides, I always need the pastry practice!
I zig-zaged around the web and amalgamated a few recipes I found there. Most called for candied peel and/or orange juice, neither of which I like, to be added to the currants. I’m often a recipe purist but not in this case!
Remember a couple of paragraphs ago I said Eccles cakes are ‘just pastry with currants’? How wrong was I?! They were flaky, fragrant, buttery & delicious… and NOTHING like the dried up old things you find to buy in the supermarket.
- for the puff pastry
- 225g/8oz strong flour
- 225g/8oz slightly-salted butter, straight from the fridge, cut into 1½cm cubes
- 4tbs cold water
- 1tbs lemon juice
- for the filling
- 15g/½oz butter
- 100g/3½oz currants
- 50g/1¾oz golden caster sugar
- 1tsp ground cinnamon
- 1tsp ground nutmeg
- to finish
- drop of milk to brush the pastry
- 1 egg white, beaten to glaze
- 10g granulated sugar
- Put the flour and 225g/8oz slightly-salted butter into a food processor and pulse about half a dozen times. Just enough to combine and not cream the butter completely
- Empty mixture out into a large mixing bowl, make a well in the centre and add the cold water & lemon juice
- With your fingers, bring the mixture together just enough to form a loose ball of dough
- Empty mixture out on to a lightly floured surface and roll the dough out into a rectangular shape
- Fold the dough into thirds along the long end and roll out into a rectangle again
- Repeat the last step another two times before wrapping in cling film (Saran wrap) and putting it into the fridge for about an hour
- In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the 15g/½oz butter and remove from the heat
- Add the currants, caster sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and combine well
- Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas mark 7
- When the dough has cooled, remove from the fridge and roll out again to about a 3mm/?in thickness
- Using a 10-12cm/4-4¾in-diameter cookie cutter ( I didn't have one big enough so used a small glass bowl ) cut out 12-15 rounds
- With a pastry brush, one at a time, brush the circumference of each round with milk, put a teaspoonful of the currant mixture in the centre and carefully fold up the pastry to the centre
- Flip over and gently flatten with a rolling pin until you just about see the currants through the pastry
- Make three, small parallel scores on the top before putting it on to a greased 39cm/15in x 27cm/10½in baking tray
- With a pastry brush again, egg wash the top of each pastry, sprinkle with granulated sugar and put the tray in the oven
- Bake for 20 minutes, until the tops are golden brown
- Remove from the oven, allowing to cool on a wire rack before demolishing with a cup of tea!