Old-time Currant Jelly Recipe

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, July 5, 1911: No news for today, not the smallest pinch, excepting that I got drenched during a rain storm.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma doesn’t give many clues about what she did a hundred years ago today. I wish that she’d written more about mundane events. For example–Which vegetables were ripe in the garden? . . . Which fruits?

This past week-end my husband, daughter, and I picked some red currants at a u-pick farm. I wonder if Grandma’s family had currant bushes and if they made currant jelly.

We decided to make currant jelly, and I used a recipe from an early 20th century cookbook. My daughter used the recipe included in the box of Sure-Jell Pectin.

The jar on the left contains the currant jelly made with the old-time recipe. The jelly on the right was made using the modern recipe.

Bottom line: My daughter’s currant jelly turned out fantastic. Mine ended up being more like fruit leather than jelly. I obviously didn’t interpret and adapt the recipe for use with a modern range, but my jelly had more wonderfully complex flavors than the modern recipe  I think that I learned from my mistakes and hope to pick some more currants next week-end—and try again to get the consistency right.

The old recipe is below:

Currant Jelly

Wash and drain currants thoroughly. Do not remove stems. Mash a few in the bottom of the kettle. Cook until the juice seems to be extracted from the currants and the currents look white. Press through a coarse colander, then drip through a jelly bag, but do not squeeze.

Allow one pound of sugar for each pint of juice. Boil juice twenty minutes. Add hot sugar and boil hard three minutes; skim when necessary. Strain into hot glasses.

 Lowney’s Cook Book (1907)

I obviously over-cooked the juice—and substantially less cooking time was needed. I think it’s one of those things where with practice—or advice from a more experienced cook—you just learn how thick the boiling juice should be when the sugar is added.

Don't laugh, but here's a photo of the jelly made with the old recipe (left) and the modern recipe (right). The consistency is obviously much better with the modern recipe--but the intense fruit taste of the old recipe was awesome. (I really want to do some more experimenting with old pre--commercial pectin era jelly recipes and try to figure out how to make them properly.)

The cooking process reminded me of boiling maple syrup—and the juice naturally thickened as some of the water evaporated. I just boiled it way too long.

Another old cookbook that I have says that slightly under-ripe currants should be used because they naturally contain more pectin.

The recipe calls for adding hot sugar. Elsewhere in the cookbook it indicates that sugar should be heated in the oven prior to adding to the boiling juice. I guess this reduces the amount of time needed for the liquid to return to a boil after the sugar is added.

An aside: Currants were a popular berry in the US in the early 20th century. A few years after this diary entry was written currant plants were banned in the US. From 1916-1966 Federal laws restricted currant plants because they were an alternate host for a tree fungus called the White Pine Blister Rust. Some states still have laws restricting currants, but they generally are not enforced because there are varieties that aren’t very susceptible to the fungus.

3 Responses

  1. [...] days ago I had an entry about making currant jelly using both modern and hundred-year-old recipes. My daughter and I filled miscellaneous jelly jars [...]

  2. So glad I saw this post – I was just thinking about foraging some currants! Thanks for the tips!

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