Small-batch homemade red current jelly

A success story!

For several years now, ever since I discovered that the mystery shrub on my property at the end of our hedge was a red current bush, I’ve been trying to make jelly from the berries. And every year I’ve ended up with a lovely syrup, instead.

Until this year. Finally, I’ve succeeded in making three small jars of ruby red, sweetly tart jelly.

Why I failed

I failed at my first effort because I tried to sweeten the syrup without sugar. With no sugar, I was doomed to fail, because the sugar crystals are needed to react with the pectin molecules in the berries to gel.

I failed in my second year because although I used sugar, I had no idea how to tell when the sugar-berry mixture had boiled long enough for the gel to set. Hard ball, soft ball, no ball – you need experience to understand when it is the exact right time to take the mixture off the boil.

I also failed on my third try, last year. I had learned that there is a precise temperature at which you should stop boiling. So I used my meat thermometer. But alas, it wasn’t accurate at high temperatures, and once more I ended up with a syrup.

What was different this year

This time, I started the process armed with a brand new candy thermometer. I learned that the temperature of the syrup rose quickly to 100C (212F) and stayed there… for a long time. After about 10 minutes the mercury began climbing again, ever so slowly. I think I had to evaporate a good percentage of the water in the syrup before the temperature would begin to rise above the boiling point for water. But rise it finally did, and I whipped the syrup off the stove at the precise temperature, added the liquid pectin, boiled for the prescribed additional 30 seconds, and that was that.

Two other reasons for success: Last year I added a little water to my starting syrup to make up a full two cups of fruit juice. This year I added no water but ended up with almost exactly 2 cups anyway. Don’t add any water to your syrup, regardless. Secondly, last year I didn’t follow the canning instructions, thinking that with such a small batch, the jelly wouldn’t last long enough to benefit from the canning process. This year I processed my jars of jelly in a bubbling water bath for 15 minutes. Canned and done.

The results speak for themselves – a perfectly beautiful jelly. Da-dah!

Red Currant Jelly

Makes 2 cups

  • small canning jars equivalent to 2 cups total (I had three)
  • 1.5 pounds fresh red currants (about 4 cups, destemmed and rinsed). Four cups was the output from one red current bush.
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3/4 cup white sugar per cup of juice you end up with
  • 2 tablespoons liquid fruit pectin

Sterilize your jars

  1. Wash jars in hot suds and rinse in hot water. Put jars in a water-bath canner or on a rack set in a deep pot and cover with hot water.
  2. Bring water to a boil and boil jars, covered, 15 minutes from the time steam emerges from pot.
  3. Leave the jars in the hot water until just before filling them. Remove them with tongs and invert jars onto a kitchen towel to dry.

Process the berries

  • Place the cleaned currants into a large sauce pan, and crush with a potato masher or berry crusher.
  • Add the water, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Strain the fruit through a jelly cloth or cheese cloth, and measure out 2 cups of the juice. You can press the berries and squeeze the cloth to get all the juice possible. Squeezing doesn’t affect the clarity of the jelly with my currents. If you don’t get 2 cups of juice, just reduce the sugar a little, accordingly.
  • Pour the juice back into your large saucepan and stir in the sugar. I added 1.5 cups because I had 2 cups of juice.
  • Bring to a rapid boil over high heat, and stir until the temperature on a candy thrmometer reaches 220F (104C). The candy thermometer proved vital for my success. Well worth the price. Once the syrup boils and reaches 212F/100C, it takes a good 10 more minutes to get up to the goal temperature. Be patient and watch the thermometer closely.
  • Stir in the liquid pectin immediately upon reaching 220F/104C. Return to a full rolling boil and allow the syrup to boil for 30 seconds.

Putting the jelly into your sterilized jars

  • Remove the syrup from the stove and skim any white foam off the top. I had only a little foam around the rim of the pot. Ladle or pour the hot syrup into sterile jars, leaving space at the top. Wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth. Cover with sterile lids and rings and tighten.
  • Process the jars on a rack in a bath of simmering water, covered, for 15 minutes or the time recommended by your local extension for your area. The jelly should keep in the fridge for a year. But if you’ve done it properly, your three small jars of jelly will be eaten up long before that!

To serve

Put a dab of jelly on a cheesy cracker for a quick hors d-oeuvre. Use your jelly on homemade scones with fresh butter or clotted cream, if you can find some. Serve it with peanut butter on rye bread for breakfast. Keep a jar for Christmas morning or other meaningful holiday, for a special homemade treat to offer your family in celebration.

If in spite of following these instructions you end up with syrup, all is not lost. Far from it. Drizzle it on ice cream, mix it into a bowl of unsweetened natural Greek yogurt, or add a spoonful to a tall flute and fill with sparkly wine for a pretty pink cocktail.

Making jelly from your own berries is a very good feeling. Even if you have to buy four cups of red currents, try it and see for yourself :).

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