Over Christmas and up to the New Year we have enjoyed a most pleasing amount of warmth and sunshine far south in Dunedin. The heavy rain some weeks back helped to plump out the berries and now the sunshine is transforming them into bright ruby red jewels, I refer to our redcurrant crop which is going to be our best yet.
Two plants were bought about five years ago for a $1 each at a church fair. They were sluggish getting underway and for the first year or so made little growth. Planted in a raised bed their size now is huge and some careful pruning will be necessary this season to tame them.
Cuttings can easily be taken and struck without too much hassle. So what can we make with these attractive looking berries with rather a tart taste? The most common choice would be redcurrant jelly. This is a bright clear jelly to have with cold meats and traditional lamb. Be careful in the amount of sugar you add, as keeping the sharpness of flavour is very much a plus point. This year I may add some very finely chopped hot red chili peppers to give it a spicy zing.
Intrigued by these beautiful little berries I have recently learnt they have been transformed over centuries in Bar-le-Duc, a town in North-East France into a very special and highly expensive jelly. Bar-le-duc jelly (or Lorraine jelly) was first mentioned as early as the 1300’s the product is hand seeded and a small 3 oz / 85 gm jar will cost in the region of $85! The fruit is picked and then extracted by hand from each berry with such expertise as to not lose any of its pulp and seed. It remains intact. No expensive equipment is used in its preparation and all cooking is by hand in ordinary domestic sized pans. It is a secret recipe but only water and sugar is added, it is the method of cooking which is secret. Non aluminum pans are used. The rosy red jelly has each fruit perfectly suspended complete with each tiny black speck of seed.
Mary Stuart in the 16th century referred to the preserve as ‘Un rayon de soleil dans un pot!” (a ray of sunshine in a jar). I like that description and read that the late Alfred Hitchcock (often nicknamed “The Master of Suspense” was especially fond of it as was the French poet/novelist/dramatist Victor Hugo.
They are quite precious jewels which hang like fragile Christmas tree decorations off the bushes. If you have a special recipe for these I would very much like to hear about it.