This morning, early, our elderly neighbour called out to us through the heavy foliage of the green abundance that divides our gardens.
My husband peered curiously through the branches and Isabel on seeing him pushed some laden with plump blackcurrants stems into my husbands surprised arms.
She also gave us the most delicious cucumbers I have tasted in years and some yellow courgettes with a note wrapped around one on it she had written in her shaky handwriting ‘yellow courgette tastier than the green’.
I love Isabel already and I hardly know her.
She refused any reciprocal offer of fresh laid eggs, saying that her joy was in the growing.
We have spoken before briefly in the local shop but her Cornish accent is so wild and strong that I barely caught on with what she was telling me.
I have been missing my fruits from the old garden and so we welcomed this gift of blackcurrants and they are also a good reminder to me to stay tuned to the seasons, preparing what is ripe in the area I am in and also to harvest little and often.
I love making any kind of jams, so after stripping and washing the blackcurrants I had 750 grams of delicious plump berries to fill 4 & 1/2 x 1 lb jars with of fresh made jam.
750 grams blackcurrants
1125 grams of golden granulated sugar
450 ml water
Place a saucer in the freezer so it is nice and cold, this will help you when it is time to test the set of your jam.
Remove stalks and twiggy bits and any damaged fruit. The shriveled flower bit can stay. Put the currants into a preserving pan and add 450 ml of water. Place over a low heat and bring to a simmer, do this slowly as too fast can toughen some fruit skins.
Alys Fowler says in her book the Edible garden
‘slow cook before the sugar, rapid short cook afterwards’.
Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the fruit is soft but not disintegrated into a mushy pulp.
Add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved.
Quickly bring the pan to a full rolling boil and boil hard for about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat continue to stir gently while you test for a set.
For blackcurrant jam around 5 minutes hard boil should be sufficient for a set.
Take the saucer out of the freezer and drop a small amount of jam onto it.
If it wrinkles when you blow on it or push it with your finger, it is ready. If it runs dripping down the saucer return the pan to heat and continue with a rolling boil.
Test again often until you reach a desired consistency.
Setting point for Jam is 220 F (105 C).
A sugar thermometer clipped to the side of the saucepan with the end dipped in the boiling jam is a great aid.
When the correct temperature has been reached your jam should set.
Let the jam cool for a little.
Remove any scum with a slotted spoon if need be.
Pour into clean, dry, warm (not hot)or the jam will burn, jars.
Jars can be sterilized by either boiling in water for five minutes or in the oven by heating the oven to 280 F (140 C ) and leaving it to heat up for five minutes, then turn off the oven and place the jars in for about 10-15 minutes.
The jars need to be filled right to the top as the jam will shrink back when cooled.
Jams made with whole fruits need to be allowed to cool a little before filling and then the jars filled very gently, otherwise the fruit will rise to the top.
Place a small waxed disc on top of the jam to prevent mold forming.
If using lids they need to go on while the jam is still hot to make a tight seal.
Usually I don’t have lids because I am using jars collected by friends and family, so I am currently using up a large batch of cellophane circles and elastic bands I had from pre no one use plastic, foil and cling film days.
I read this though on mums net:
Just before you pot the jam, pour boiling water over the jam jar lids in a bowl. Take them out with tongs and screw straight on to the sterilized jars. The jam/pickles will keep for years.
Think I will try this when I run out, I will be keeping lids from now on in anticipation.
With a nice scrap material top hat, held on with rustic twine, it should make any table quiet festive.
Lastly label and date your jam. It really does save time later down the line and is especially necessary if you like giving your produce as gifts.
When I first started making jam almost thirty years ago I had some disasters. I was worried my jams would not set and I over cooked a few to begin with and they had a burnt tang to them which was awful, then I found if I rather eared on caution and only achieved a partial set I could always reboil and that was much better.
Over the course of a couple of seasons I learnt you start to get a feel for when the jams or jellies are ready, by sight, by smell and just tuning in to the individual characteristics of the fruits being worked with.
I found the above recipe in the book ‘Preserves’ by Pam Corbin. It is River Cottage Handbook No 2 and found on page 64 . Called ‘mum’s blackcurrant jam.’ I Love the River Cottage Recipes
Afterwards GD took the stems and put them into some rich earth at the back of the garden. By doing this the stems will root and we will have new fruit bushes. I am so happy to be planting stock that has been grown local to me and that has been shared as a gift from a neighbour.