Black Currant Jam

Black Currants Cooking

Black currants cooking. This is about step #2 in the following recipe.

My mother is Estonian, and as a very young girl she was forced to flee her home and life on Muhu Island (part of Estonia) when the Soviets were re-invading the country, out of fear of the purges that the Soviets were so well known for at that time. Her story is compelling and complex, and I won’t attempt to describe it here; I mentioned this fact only as a way to mention that she ended up as an immigrant in Sweden, and that she grew up there, learning Swedish customs and cuisine.

One thing that is a part of Swedish cuisine that seems to be almost completely unknown in the USA is currants. These are berries of a particular kind of compact bush that is largely unknown in the USA, which is a shame because they are AMAZING. They are a mid-summer crop that is harvested quickly and processed immediately, because they go bad fast. Black currants are sweet and delicious; red currants are tart and will make your right eye squeeze shut if you try to eat too many at once. Both of them are loaded with nutrients! My european friends here in the USA all pine for the flavor of black currants.

One of the first things that I did when I moved to my current home was to plant 13 black currant plants, and they’ve been producing faithfully ever since. A flat (about one quart) of black currants in the grocery store costs $17 here, when you can find them. If you DO find them, I recommend that you buy them right away! Why? Because of the following recipe. This recipe can be easily doubled, and it always jells because currants are loaded with natural pectin. The resulting jam lasts for a long time and is wonderful on oatmeal in the morning, or toast, or whatever.

  • 5 cups black currants
  • 4 cups sugar (yes, you read that right)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (preferably freshly squeezed, but that’s not crucial)
  • 2 cups water
  1. Place the fruit in a sauce pan with the water. There should be several inches of headspace above the currants, as the combination will need to boil high.
  2. Bring to a low boil, stirring often to help break the fruit down. Once at a low boil, cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Turn down the heat and add the sugar (slowly) and the lemon juice. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  4. Raise the heat up and bring to a full, rolling boil. Keep stirring.
  5. Boil hard for 10 minutes.
  6. Once the 10 minutes are done, turn off the heat and let the mixture stand for 5 minutes, then pour into jars.
  7. If you want to can the jars, process them in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.

Depending upon your technique, you’ll get about 4 to 10 eight-ounce jars of jam. And it will DEFINITELY set: currants are loaded with pectin, so you never have to test the batch for its jell-point. Your result might look like mine, as I finished cooling my black currant jam jars this afternoon:

Canned Black Currant Jam

I’ve already traded one of those jars for some ripe tomatoes, which go for $$/lb at the market, and each of those jars cost me next to nothing (less than a dime and a few hours of my time).

Tuna-Noodle Casserole

This is trashy American comfort food and it is very fine. You can vary how rich it is by the kind of milk you use (whole, low fat, skim) and how much mayonnaise you add. Yes, mayonnaise. Do not even.

Ingredients

-2 cans cream of mushroom soup
-1.5 cups milk
-1/4 – 1/2 cup mayonnaise
-1 pound egg noodles, cooked until still firm, set aside
-1.5 cups frozen or fresh peas
-miscellaneous leftover veggies if you have on hand; chopped carrots are good
-parmesan
-Salad Supreme seasoning (McCormick’s brand in the US; otherwise celery seed, salt, pinch cayenne, orange peel, black pepper, salt, sesame seeds. Or whatever.)
2 cans albacore tuna (10-12 ounces)

Technique

The theory here is the same as for creamy macaroni and cheese—-never bake the entire casserole with noodles in it. Prepare it on the stove top then briefly broil to get a nice crumb crust on top.

Put soup in saucepan over medium low heat. Whisk in milk and several dashes Salad Supreme. Heat until it can be whisked smooth, then add peas. Return to simmer and stir, adding other veggies if you have them. Cook until peas are tender, then add tuna and mix. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, put cooked egg noodles in very large bowl or pan. After the sauce has cooled slightly, whisk in mayonnaise. Add sauce to cooked noodles and stir, thinning with milk if necessary. Adjust seasoning.

Put on oven broiler. Pour noodles into lightly greased casserole dish. Top with parmesan, Salad Supreme or paprika. Place under broiler just long enough to give a golden crust, no longer than 4 minutes.

Zucchini Relish, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Squash

This is the time of year in the Pacific Northwest (where I call home) that zucchini, yellow squash, and other summer squashes become the reason why neighbors and family begin avoiding each other. A single zucchini plant can produce so much fruit that it’s not only impossible for a single person to use it all themselves, it’s impossible to even give it away right now because everyone is trying to give away their excess. If you had hearts in your eyes as a mid-winter dreamer of gardens and foolishly seeded more than one plant, then you are in even worse straits; it’s likely that your local food bank won’t even answer the doorbell when you ring, now.

However, I have discovered a partial solution, and it’s a good one: zucchini relish. It’s easy to make, easy to preserve (if you enjoy canning), delicious, and it works for any food that you might use pickle relish on. (Think meats: hot dogs, hamburgers, etc., but it works equally well on veggie burgers and even with crispy fried tofu.)

There are a huge number of recipes for zucchini relish out there, but this is the one that I’ve settled on, after a bit of modification. It’s sweet, but not overly sweet. It keeps in the refrigerator for a few weeks, and probably a couple of years after being canned. I cannot comment on that second assertion since I devour it long before it gets to its first birthday, no matter how much I make.

The offending fruits

The offending fruits

Sweet Zucchini Relish

  • 12 cups shredded summer squash (I use a food processor)
  • 4 cups chopped onion (I use a Vidalia ChopWizard)
  • 5 tablespoons salt (I use salt *snerk*)
  • 1 red bell pepper (optional: just for color)
  • 1 green bell pepper (optional: just for colour, for my UK friends)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
  • fresh ground black pepper (amount to your liking)
  1. Place the shredded squash in a large bowl, and add the salt. Mix with your hands until it’s evenly mixed. The squash will immediately start shedding liquid. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Drain and rinse the squash. Squeeze out as much water as you can from the remaining solids.  (Rinsing is important: the salt was there to get the liquid out of the solids; you don’t want the salt in the final product, at least not in that amount. What salt remains will be perfect for enhancing the flavor.) Add in the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

At this point, your relish is done. You can pack it into jars and refrigerate and eat, or you can freeze it, or you can can it. It’s really just that simple. If you decide to can it, here are the remaining (incredibly uncomplicated & standard) steps:

  1. Pack relish into jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
  2. Use a knife to skim the insides of the jar to remove any bubbles.
  3. Wipe the top of the jars to get rid of any moisture or solid bits.
  4. Put on a fresh lid and place in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes.

A pint of canned zucchini relish. This EXACT pint is going into the mail to grace Josh SpokesGay’s table.

And that’s all there is to it. The great thing about this recipe is that it takes a nutritious and delicious fruit, summer squash, which has a very short raw shelf-life, and turns it into something that you can use for months or even years.