Currant Jelly

One of the great joys of summer for me is canning. My kitchen is always busy in July and August (and even into September), so I thought this year, we could talk about some of my experiments. I’m always tweaking an old recipe or trying a new one.

This month, I made currant jelly. I’ve had currant bushes for a long time, and we even moved the bushes from Toronto to this house. In Toronto, the birds didn’t care about the currants and I picked them each year. Here, I couldn’t figure out why there was no fruit. I’d go out one day and there would be currants ripening as well as green ones. I’d go out the next day and it would be the same. It took me a few days to realize that there were fewer and fewer green berries—and catching Mrs. Cardinal hiding in the middle of one bush—to realize that the birds were eating them all as they ripened. We had a bumper crop this year, though, and even Mrs. Cardinal couldn’t eat them all. I picked about 5 cups of currants and made jelly.

One interesting thing is that I realized I had three kinds of currants instead of two. I knew there were black currant bushes and red currant bushes – I thought two of each, but actually there are two different kinds of black currants out there.

Black currant bush in Deborah Cooke's gardenThe first one makes the biggest fruit and ripens last. The leaf is more frilly and the currants look like gooseberries before ripening. This kind also has a long tail on the berry from the flower, which is hard to remove without wrecking the berry. You can see some of the unripened fruit in this picture and one currant that’s half ripe—it’ll be black when it’s ready.

Black currant bush in Deborah Cooke's gardenThe other black currant has smaller fruit and ripens sooner. There are a couple of stray berries down in the middle of the photo. The leaf is very similar to that of the red currant and that combined with Mrs. Cardinal’s preference for its fruit is why I didn’t realize it was even a black currant, let alone a second kind. There’s almost no fruit left on this one as it ripens earlier, but notice how similar the leaf is to the red currant below. It is a brighter shade of green.

Red currant bush in Deborah Cooke's gardenThe red currant has fruit that looks almost like glass beads. These are pretty much done. There should be a stem of up to two dozen berries, but the stems on mine are usually bare—like that one on the right with just one berry!

I ended up with about five cups of berries, probably 40% black currants and 60% red ones. This is the balance suggested by this recipe so luck was with me, despite the mosquito bites.

I usually use commercial pectin when I make jam or jelly, but have a love/hate relationship with it. On the one hand, I like knowing that the jam or jelly will set. On the other, their recipes tend to require a lot of sugar and the result can be too sweet. Also, I know that people like my grandmother never used commercial pectin, so have been trying to learn how to make jam without it. I’ve tried lemon juice without a lot of success. My neighbor used to make her own crabapple juice from the fruit on the tree in her yard, then put a cup of that into each batch of jam or jelly. Liana Krissoff in Canning for a New Generation (a book I like a lot) uses sour apples to add pectin. That sounded similar to my neighbor’s solution, so I gave it a try this time.

I also didn’t want to make jam, as currants have lots of little seeds—they’re even worse than raspberry seeds for sticking in your teeth—so I mashed the fruit, added a half a cup of water, and set it to simmer. I peeled and cored two Granny Smith apples and added that to the mixture. Although the mash had to be strained and theoretically I could have left the skins and cores, there can be a lot of pesticides in the skin of fruit like apples, and I didn’t want that in my jelly. I never eat the skins so don’t cook with them either.

Once upon a time, I improvised a jelly bag by lining my sieve with a linen tea towel, then dumping the mash into it. I pulled up the corners and secured it all with an elastic band—like the kind you get on broccoli and inevitably save—then squished out the juice. This system worked well enough that I’ve kept using it. You’re not supposed to press the mash too much as all the books say it will make your jelly cloudy, but I mash the heck out of it to get every drop of juice. The leftover fruit mash from inside the tea towel goes immediately into the compost, because the fruit flies adore it and they’ll fill the kitchen in nothing flat.

I had two cups of very purple juice (and some happy fruit flies out in the composter).

This recipe, which is admittedly for jam not jelly, uses 2 cups of sugar for 490g of puree, plus the juice of half a lemon. There was 460g of juice, so I used 2 cups of sugar. Just to make sure it set, I used juice from the whole lemon. I followed these cooking directions, bringing it to a boil, then keeping it at a rolling boil for 8 minutes. Halfway through, I knew the jelly would set because it started to look like boiling burgundy glass.

Currant jelly made by Deborah CookeI can all my jams and jellies, even though people say you can just pour it into sterilized jars and leave it overnight. The hot jelly went into the jars, then spent 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. The lids popped right away. Is there a more satisfying sound? I don’t think so.

There were not quite 3 pints of jelly—this is the jar that wasn’t quite as full, and we’ll use it first. I’ll use the jelly to glaze fruit tarts—and that only takes 1/4 cup each time, so we have plenty. The color is fabulous and it tasted great (I licked all the spoons) plus it set beautifully!

Food in Jars

It’s that time of year again, and I’ve been canning.

First up were the Roma tomatoes. They had half-bushel boxes on sale, so I bought three then Mr. Math went back for a fourth—because he remembered that we’d almost run out of dried tomatoes. He uses them a lot when he makes soup or stews in the winter. Since I seldom use them in my cooking, I lose track of them. We had very few stewed tomatoes left from last year, so I wanted to do a bunch this year. I canned 28 quarts of tomatoes and this time, I put a sprig of basil in each one since my basil is so lush and there’s no way we’ll eat it all before the frost. I also put down 8 pints of salsa, which is nice and spicy. It’s a bit different from last year as I couldn’t find any tomatillos. I also dehydrated tomatoes to fill 6 quart jars. We still had a few left to eat, which was great as they were beautiful and ripe.

Then the Ontario peaches turned up on the stores. I wasn’t going to do very many this year, but ended up with 14 quarts – with vanilla! – then bought more peaches to make jam over the weekend. I used to can peaches every August with my mom. We’d drive down to Niagara to buy the fruit, then come home and start peeling. I remember it being a really hot job, with juice running off my elbows, and every surface in the kitchen ending up sticky. (The sticky part still happens.) My mom still cans some peaches herself, but she doesn’t like making jam much anymore – and she loves peach jam. So, I made two batches of jam for her. 🙂

That’s all the canning I’m planning to do this summer.

quince jelly made by Deborah Cooke

I might make quince jelly in the fall, but maybe not. It’ll depend on the quinces. That picture is from the first year I made quince jelly. It’s quite magical to make, because it turns pink as it cooks. And quinces are interesting, being such an ancient fruit. I like the perfume of them. Peeling them is a job and a half, though. The fruit is so hard that it can feel like peeling rocks.

Do you do any canning? If so, what do you can?


I like to can produce and do a fair bit of canning every year. My favourite veggies to can, though, are tomatoes. I peel them, reduce them to a thick chunky sauce, then put them up in quart sealers. We eat a lot of them during the year, and I love opening the jar in the winter and smelling that summery goodness of ripe tomatoes. Each year, I look for Roma tomatoes in season, when they’re on sale. They have less juice in them, so they reduce into sauce more quickly, and their thicker skins make them easier to peel. (In an ideal universe, I’d grow my own Roma tomatoes, but my garden isn’t sunny enough for tomatoes. Buying local produce is the best solution.)

Yesterday, the 25 pound boxes of local Roma tomatoes were available and on sale at the supermarket. I was very excited. I’ve been waiting for them for a few weeks now. Next week, they’ll probably be gone. I bought six boxes, only realizing when I got home that this meant I have 150 pounds of tomatoes.

I canned two batches last night, which is 14 quarts, and only used a bit more than one box. Hmm. I’ll make salsa, too, as we also eat a lot of that (and Mr. Math will seed and chop the hot peppers for me) but I’m thinking this morning that I just might have over-purchased on the tomatoes. Either way, there’s a lot of peeling in my immediate future.

Do you can tomatoes? Do you can anything? What’s your favourite homemade pickle?


If it’s summer, I must be canning. I like making pickles and jams, although I haven’t done as much canning in the last couple of years as usual. Things have just been too busy, but this year, I realized that I miss doing it. This year, I was determined to get canning again.

For inspiration, I bought a couple of new books to add to my list of recipes. It’s time to try some new things as well as the old reliable pickles and jams. Of those new books, this one is my favourite: Liana Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation. (The link will take you to her blog.) Happy new adventures (so far) for me from this book include Pickled Garlic Scapes, Pickled Asparagus, Romano Beans with Indian Spices and Slow Roasted Fig Preserves with Lemon. I haven’t tried the Dilly Beans yet although they’re made. I also like her mixture for pickling spice and have been using that this year – it’s more interesting than the old reliable. I tried the fermented dills, but think I prefer my quicker dill pickle recipe.

If it’s August, I must be canning peaches. This past weekend, the freestone peaches were everywhere at good prices – with freestone peaches, the fruit slips off the pit more easily, so they’re the best choice for canning – so I dug into those. My kitchen floor is still sticky but we have quarts of quartered peaches, peach jam and Peach and Cilantro Salsa. (That recipe is in the book, too, but I changed it out a bit, adding mustard seed, cumin seed and peppercorns, and leaving out the red pepper flakes and mint.)

As is so often the case – which I’d forgotten until it happened – a story idea worked out all of its kinks while I was peeling and pickling. I’m excited about the new story and about getting back to writing again. The peach break has refreshed me!

What’s left to do? Well, there will be tomatoes to can in quantity. Last year, I didn’t make regular salsa and Mr. Math was disappointed ’round about November when we ran out of it. If the bartlett pears are nice this year, I may can some as Mr. Math is a fan of pears. I’d like to try some tomato jam and some onion marmalade, just out of curiosity, and I need to make green tomato mincemeat for my mom. (She makes tarts and gives some of them back to me.) That’ll probably be it, unless I get seduced by quinces as I do most years. I love the smell of them and the fact that they turn pink when cooked just seems like magic.

Do you do any canning? Do you have any favourite homemade preserves?

Just Peachy

This week, I’m canning peaches.

(Actually, they’re not going into cans – they’re going into glass quart sealer jars.)

My mom and I used to can peaches when I was a kid. Usually, it was in really hot weather. Invariably, everything in the kitchen was sticky by the time we were done. It was always hard to even look sideways at a peach after having peeled a bushel or two of them. But they were wonderful in the winter, and home-canned peaches have remained part of the rhythm of my year. Now, my mom doesn’t can very much, so she comes here, admires my peaches, and adopts several jars at regular intervals. (She brings the empties back.) Mr. Math is philosophical about helping to clean the stickiness from the kitchen, because he, too, loves those peaches in the wintertime.

This year, I’m up to 28 quarts. Maybe a few more today.

As a bonus, time spent peeling peaches is also good thinking. I’m working out Tupperman’s adventures this week, too.

Do you do any home canning? What do you “put up” or “put down”?