I love those long summer days, when I can leave the garden door open, the Wonder Dog can come go as he pleases and the balmy summer breeze can blow through the house. I love that moment in late spring/ early summer when the roses go crazy and explode with colour and fragrance. I don't like to think of it as mid-summer cos' that would suggest that it was already half over, and I want to hug this baby close and make the season last for as long as I can possibly hold onto it for.
Yesterday morning I was delighted to find that my little black currant bush (of a year and a half in my garden) had borne its first decent crop, which was all starting to look very lush and ripe. Not wanting to waste any of this precious fruit I headed out and harvested the bounty. It weighed in at a very respectable 460g, which I decided was more than enough to warrant getting my preserving pan out for.
And this is what I made:
Usually with jam-making I match the weight of the uncooked fruit to the weight of sugar that I add. And with black currants it's a good idea to add 250 ml of water to every 300 g of fruit to boil it down. Bearing these rules in mind you can adapt my recipe for however much fruit finds its way into your hands.
460 g black currants
460 g granulated sugar
375 ml of tap water
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 vanilla pod
4 stars of star anise
4 tablespoonfuls of Cassis
2. Place the black currants and the water in the preserving pan, and bring to the boil. Allow the fruit and water to boil for about 20 minutes until most of the water has evaporated and the fruit has disintegrated into a wonderful deep purple mush <and, yes, that is a technical term>.
3. While your mixture is boiling, wash out your jam pots and sterilise them and their lids by placing them open-end up in an oven that has been pre-heated to 150℃/ 300℉ for 20 minutes.
4. When you've got the desired consistency of fruit mush, add the sugar, the star anise, the vanilla pod (split length ways with the seed scraped out with a knife and added too) and the lemon juice. Stir until the sugar has all dissolved and add 2 tablespoonfuls of Cassis.
5. Maintain the mixture at a gentle rolling boil. It should be bubbling quite vigorously from all across the surface of the liquid. After 5 minutes, start testing for the desired set consistency.
6. To test the set I use cooler bricks that I keep in the freezer for putting in my cool box. I simply drip some of the jam onto the surface of the brick, leave it for a minute and then test it with my finger tip to see whether a skin is forming on the surface. You will see wrinkles spreading across the surface when you press on it once it's got to the right stage. If you don't get the wrinkles, set your timer for 5 minutes, keep stirring and watching, and then test it again in 5 minutes to see whether you've arrived. Black currants have quite a lot of pectin, so you really ought not to have much trouble getting this jam to set.
7. Once you've reached the magic setting point, add another 2 tablespoonfuls of Cassis and whisk your pan off the heat. Stir the Cassis in and leave it to sit for 5 minutes before you start potting up. This will allow the mixture to thicken so that your fruit will remain evenly suspended in the mixture rather than settling to the bottom.
And that's about all there is to it. This is one of the easiest jams to make, and it tastes fantastic: the very flavour of summer itself.