Sunday, August 28, 2011

Grandma Minnie's Currant Jelly

Currant bushes

I am five years old, picking currants in the back yard of Grandma Minnie’s house. I am wearing a light summer dress, maybe the one with the hoop skirt and frilled hem. My blond curls are glued to my damp temples. 

Me and big sis in Grandma's garden
  It is the summer of 1954, and I am going to watch Grandma Minnie make currant jelly. The currant bushes are at the edge of the lawn that goes up the hill to the cemetery fence. My sister and I each have an enamel bucket into which we drop the perfect round globes of translucent red. We do everything together  --  she the leader and me the follower, but on this particular occasion her year-and-a-half head start on life doesn’t give her any particular advantage.  I can pluck berries as quickly and as nimbly as she can.

Plump red currants

When our pails are full, we bring them in to Grandma, where the currants are washed, boiled, strained, and mixed with sugar and pectin to become quivering melt-in-your-mouth jelly in jars topped with paraffin plugs. We take several home . . .

I almost believe that even now, if I go down to the basement in the house where I grew up, I will find some of those jars in the corner cabinet in the laundry room, with labels in Grandma’s handwriting: Currant Jelly, August 1954

Currant jelly on wheat toast
I didn't find Grandma Minnie's recipe for currant jelly in her notebook, but it was easy enough to find several recipes on the Internet. Similar to what I recall about  Minnie's recipe, these call for large quantities of sugar, as currants are notoriously tart. The jelly is tasty spread on whole wheat toast, or can also be used as a glaze on your favorite Dutch apple cake recipe. If you'd like to try that, be sure to beat the jelly with a fork, then spread it on top of the apple cake as soon as you take it out of the oven.  

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