A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gooseberries and black currants

Oops.  I went back to Wasem's.  The temptation was too much for me. It was my day off, it was supposed to rain most of the day and the orchard posted something on Facebook about opening new rows for U-Pick Currants and Gooseberries.  If I could just get out there between rain storms, it would be a good day to work in the kitchen with my loot when I got home!  It was hot, so I figured a little light rain would feel good anyway while I picked.  I just couldn't resist checking them out.  I looked at the radar and waited for what I perceived to be the right time between rain and...      I was off!

When I arrived at Wasem's, the woman pointed me in the direction of the new rows and gave me instructions on what to look for to get the best quality fruit.  I picked, it rained a while, it quit, it rained harder, I picked longer, this time under an umbrella I found in the car.  I don't recall the weight of the berries I picked, but it seemed like a nice amount to do something delicious with.  So, what to do with the spoils of my efforts?  I turned to the  magic of the internet for my answers.  Black currants are not as favored in the United States as red currants are, so I found the recipes significantly more limited.  The general consensus seemed that I either needed to make some type of scone-thing with them, or produce a sweet liquor.  Hmmmm.... We have a WINNER! :)  Liquor it is!

I divided my washed, stemmed and sorted black currants into two quart jars, having just a bit left over.  This bit I put into a jelly jar (half pint).  Into the first quart jar, I placed plain vodka for steeping.
Into the second, I placed a half cup of sugar and plain vodka. Recipes vary about when to add the sugar (before or after the currants sit in the vodka), so I thought I would try one of each.  The tiny jelly jar remained, so I took a cue from a handful of online ideas and filled this jar with a plain smooth brandy.  Now comes the hard part.  I am to give the jar a shimmy each day or two and let it set for anywhere from a couple weeks to 4-6 months.  Patience is not my strong suit, so I really hope the result is worth the wait.  My understanding is that my next step will be to strain the liquid off and sweeten to taste.  Then I should bottle it and let it age a while longer for best flavor.  Man, this takes forever.  It better be yummy!

Next, I had to deal with the gooseberries.

Gooseberries are thorny and difficult to pick.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  Their preserves are tasty and they are delicious fresh out of hand as well.  They pop in your mouth like grapes, their seeds are soft and nearly undetectable, and they have a lovely citrusy finish, something like grapefruit.

I have read in several places that gooseberries are best after stored for a short time in the refrigerator to enhance their color and flavor.  This worked best for me since I did not have time to preserve them the day I picked them, as I try to do with most fruit, to capture the most nutrition and flavor. Again, an internet search led me to many gooseberry jam recipes that peaked my interest.  The one I used turned out delightfully.  It turned out to be a real mix of ideas and proportions, based on preference, from those recipes I liked most online. I could not be more pleased with the resulting tart spread.

Here is what I did (it is an amalgam of the recipes I found online, and a result of its ability, or lack thereof, to gel):

Brandi's Tart Gooseberry Jam

1/2 lb sugar to each 1 lb fresh gooseberries, stemmed and tailed
1 cup water
2Tbs? Ball flex pectin for low sugar recipes

I added the gooseberries and water in a stock pot and simmered until the berries became soft (this takes a while).  Here is where I changed things up a bit.  I gave the pot a whirl with my immersion blender to give it a nice consistency and really release the natural pectin in the fruit.  I did NOT, however, blend all the berries to bits.  I left a few nearly whole for some interest and surprising texture in the finished product.  Then I added the sugar, and brought the mixture to a boil.  Most recipes say to boil it for 10 minutes or so.  I didn't really keep track.  I boiled it for some time, but it just didn't want to reach the gel point, so I then added, what I believe was, 2? tablespoons of ball flex pectin for low sugar recipes.  I added it one tablespoon at a time and stirred to check gel point.   

I know it is vague, but I was really shooting from the hip with this batch since I had never made it before and I am really trying to get more comfortable with just "feeling" recipes as I work. I envy folks who do that with some success.  Additionally, I used about half the sugar most of the recipes called for because I find that most of my jams and jellies are quite sweet and I really wanted more of a tart jam.  The results:  a beautifully colored, deliciously tart spread.  In other words, SUCCESS!

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