#422 Peppered Redcurrant Jelly

This is the last fruit jelly recipe in the book, and I’ve become somewhat of a seasoned jelly maker, making up my own recipes and these days cooking them up at The Buttery to go with meat and cheese platters, roast meats and the like. This is the second of two redcurrant jelly recipes from English Food.

Redcurrant jelly is considered a rather niche preserved, being served with rich meats such as lamb, venison and other game, or as an ingredient in Cumberland Sauce, but it is versatile; I like it with cheese.

Redcurrant jelly is very much the preserve of the gardener – the delicate berries do not transport well and have a short shelf life, which is why they are expensive to buy fresh. On a recent walk around nearby Chorlton Meadows I found dozens of sprays of ruby-red currants growing out of sight beneath a huge mass of thick brambles. Typically in these situations, I brought neither bag nor tub and so I ate them straight from the bush until acid reflux began. It was a shame really, as I could have made a huge amount of jelly. Hey-ho, I’ll remember this secret spot next year.

Our cultivated redcurrants are actually made up of three distinct species, and the less common whitecurrant is simply a variety of redcurrant that has lost the ability to produce the distinctive red pigment. There is also a pinkcurrant.

Country houses and kitchen gardens particularly in the 18th Century, grew vast amounts of red and white currants; their pectin-rich and tart juice used as a base for dozens of other preserves and sauces. I have never made whitecurrant jelly, and I wonder why one doesn’t see it anywhere?

This redcurrant jelly is enriched with red wine and contains cracked black peppercorns, I imagine it would work just as well using whitecurrants and white wine.

This recipe can be easily scaled up or down, depending on how many redcurrants you have, and the great thing about making a jelly is you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of stripping the berries from their stalks as they all get left behind during straining.

Put three pounds of redcurrants in a saucepan. To this, add around 2 ¼ pints of liquid; between 8 and 16 fluid ounces of it should be red wine, the remainder water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the currants are soft and pulpy. Pass through a jelly sieve or bag and allow to drip overnight.

Next day, place the juice in a saucepan or preserving pan with three pounds of granulated sugar. Put over a medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the spoon and turn the heat up so that the fruity syrup boils enthusiastically. At this point put a saucer in the freezer so you can test for a set later.

After 15-20 minutes boiling, test to see if the jelly has set. There are two ways: (1) use a thermometer, pectin gels set at 105C; (2) the wrinkle test where a few drops of jelly on a cold saucer cool and wrinkle when you scrape them with a finger. I usually do both to be on the safe side. If the jelly isn’t set, boil for another 10 minutes and retest.

Finally, roughly grind about a teaspoon of black peppercorns using a pestle and mortar and stir in right at the end of cooking. Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes before potting in hot, sterilised jars.

#422 Peppered Redcurrant Jelly. This is a delicious jelly, spiked with rough spicy peppercorns giving it both interesting flavour and texture. The red wine doesn’t make it too rich, as you might expect it to, so be generous with it. I am going to use it for some future lamb dishes I think, though I did try a little sample with some good cheese, butter and bread. Very good, 8/10.

#173 Summer Pudding

The quintessential English pudding for, er, summertime. The summer pudding is one of my favourite desserts; I’d never made one before, but had eaten many. It is my favourite because it contains a massive load of summer berries, in particular, raspberries. For those of you that don’t know, a summer pudding contains lightly stewed summer berries encased in slightly stale bread. The ‘soggy’ bread seems to put many people off, but it doesn’t even seem like bread. Trust me. Apparently, the summer pudding arose in care homes of yore because many invalids couldn’t stomach the rich and heavy pastry or suet puddings.

Make this pudding whilst there is a glut of summer berries that are in season and therefore won’t cost a fortune. (The original recipe is for a huge one that serves eight to ten people, but I halved all the ingredients).

Place a pound of summer berries in a bowl with 4 ounces of caster sugar. Grigson says to use blackcurrants, or a mixture of raspberries, redcurrants and blackberries. The truth is, you can use whatever you want – chopped strawberries are a common addition, for example. Stir, cover and leave overnight. Add the fruit and the juices to a saucepan and bring to a boil and simmer for two minutes to lightly cook the fruit. Next, prepare the pudding basin – you’ll need a 2 ½ pint one for this amount of fruit. Cut a circle of slightly stale white bread for the bottom of the bowl, and then cut wide strips for the edges which should overlap as you place them inside the mould to produce a strong wall with no leaks – make sure you remove the crusts!. Once they are all arranged, pour in half the berry mixture, then add a slice of bread, then the rest of the mixture. Cut more bread make a lid and then fold over or trim any surplus bits. Put a plate on top and weight it down with a couple of food cans and place in the fridge overnight. Turn the pudding out onto a plate and serve with plenty of cream. (Grigson suggests making some extra berry sauce to cover any bread that has not become soaked, though you can get around this by dipping te bread in the berry juices before you place them in the pudding basin.)


#173 Summer Pudding – 9.5/10. It is jostling with Sussex Pond Pudding for first place in the pudding stakes for me. What is there not to like about a big load of tart berries and a dollop of cream? Anyone squeamish about the soggy bread really needn’t be – it is an English classic and everyone should try it (if not this one, then the Sussex Pond Pudding!).