If you’ve tasted both blackcurrants and red currants, it’s hard to believe they’re related. Blackcurrants have a deep, astringent flavor reminiscent of a dry wine. Red currants, on the other hand, are bright, light and quite sweet. Blackcurrant jam is a rarity in the US, and a treasure to find, but red currant jam is almost non-existent.
Red currants are finding their way into backyard gardens, and their beauty is hard to resist at farmers markets. Since your corner grocery likely doesn’t carry red currant jam, you can buy it online for $10 a jar or get our your jam pot and make your own. The unique flavor of red currant jam is worth the extra effort.
Red currants are delicious eaten out of hand, but they aren’t sold in supermarkets. The fruits are soft skinned and fragile. It’s almost impossible to pick them without bruising them, and removing their stems often pulverizes them. If you find red currants in pint baskets at the farmers market, they’ll still have stems attached in fruit clusters because that gives them an extra few days of shelf life. It also saves the farmer a lot of work.
Still, even with stems attached, their days are numbered.
Once you get a basket of red currants home, it’s best to use them up that same day. There’s no guarantee that they’ll make it to tomorrow, and they’re definitely doomed by the end of the week.
If you’re growing currants in your backyard, plucking whole clusters is also the best strategy. If you try to stem these beauties in the field, you’ll lose more berries than stems. Once you do get them in the house, hand stemming is optional. If you want seedless jam, you can skip the stemming step altogether.
I’m one of those strange people that really likes the seeds in jam. I want to feel the toothsome bite of a piece of fruit in my jam, and I’ve never minded a seedy jam. Red currant jam is usually seedless, and the berries, stems and all, are run through a food mill or chinois sieve to separate the meat from the seeds and stems. That method is much easier, especially for larger quantities of red currants.
Since I want to keep the seeds in my jam, I hand stem the red currants. Feel free to use a food mill and save yourself a good bit of tedious work. Your jam will be smooth and seedless, as many people prefer it. If you want to keep the chunks, grab a glass of lemonade and take a seat on the porch and get to work.
Either way, once the red currants hit the pot, you’re only a few minutes away from a finished jam. While homemade blackcurrant jam needs about 30 minutes of simmering and tending before it’ll set up, red currant jam is ready in about 5 minutes, no pectin needed.
Add a tiny bit of liquid (water or juice) to the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching, and then add the red currants. For the first minute it’ll look like currants floating in juice, but once it gets going it sets up fast.
As the fruit begins to boil, add in sugar to your taste. Many recipes call equal amounts of fruit and sugar by weight. For every pound of stemmed currants, they add in a full pound of sugar. While I do this for astringent blackcurrants, sweet and bright red currants don’t need that much sweetness in my opinion.
I generally add about 1/4 pound of sugar per pound of fruit for a tart jam. A 1/4 pound of sugar leads to a quite tart jam, and that may be too much for most palates. A half pound is probably more appropriate for most people accustomed to a homemade real food diet. That said, if you love the sweetness of store-bought jam, go ahead and add in the fruit and sugar in a 1 to 1 ratio.
I’ve written the recipe using a 2:1 fruit to sugar because it’s appropriate for a wider audience. The amount of sugar in the recipe does not change the process, and it’s not necessary to safely can currant jam. It’s your jam, you decide.
Once the jam begins to thicken, it may trace in the pan. If there’s a lot of currants in your batch, the trace may not be as obvious as the picture above. When you run a spoon through the jam, it’ll look thick and the sugars will begin to candy. The bubbles will change, and instead of looking like water, it’ll look a good deal more like boiling syrup.
At that point, take it off the heat. Red currants have a lot of natural pectin and they’ll set hard if overcooked. My batch simmered for no more than 5 minutes before reaching a stiff gel once cooled. If you’d like to test the gel of your jam, place a plate in the freezer and dollop a bit on the frozen plate to flash cool it. Once it’s cool, you’ll be able to see the finished texture.
This is a small batch recipe, for just a single half pint jar. It’s made with a single farmers market pint of currants, which usually contains 2 to 2 1/2 cups of fruit. That works out to right about a pound. We grow our own currants and I make bigger batches, but I know backyard currants are not as common these days. If you do have more fruit, feel free to use 4 to 6 pounds per batch. Too much more than that and it’ll be hard to prevent scorching.
Red Currant Jam
Red currant jam is quick and easy to make at home. Leave the seeds in for a chunky jam, or sieve them out, your choice.
- 1 pound red currants roughly one heaping pint
- 1/2 pound sugar roughly 1 cup, adjust to taste
Prepare the red currants by either stemming them by hand to retain their seeds, or running them through a food mill to remove their stems and seeds.
Place the fruit in a saucepan with a tiny bit of water (or lemon juice if you prefer). Bring to a simmer.
Add sugar to the pot and stir to dissolve. Feel free to add between 1/2 cup and 2 full cups of sugar based on your own tastes.
Simmer the jam for about 5 minutes until it begins to set.
Ladle into sterilized jars and store in the refrigerator, or process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.
One pound of fruit yields roughly 1 half-pint jar of jam. This recipe can be made with 4 to 6 pounds of fruit per batch for larger quantities.