Yes, I know it’s an odd combination, but it’s that it’s time of year when the vegetable garden is bursting with produce. Inevitably there’ll be a glut of something or other and it makes sense to preserve the harvest to enjoy later in the year. I currently (sorry) have a lot of redcurrants and cucumbers.
So here you go – redcurrant jelly – fabulous with lamb and ham, scrumptious whisked into sauces and gravies and jewel-like in its perfection (as long as I don’t muck up the recipe).
And sweet pickled cucumbers – one of the best and most delicious ways I know of using up a glut if you grow your own – and still worth the cost of buying a couple of extra cucumbers in the market if you don’t.
You’ll need a jelly bag and stand or a piece of cheesecloth big enough to line a large sieve or, failing that, an old cotton pillowcase will do the job.
Redcurrants – depends on what you have available but hardly worth the effort unless you have a couple of pounds of fruit
Water – to 2 lb/900g of redcurrants add a scant 1/2 pint/300 ml of water
Sugar (1 lb/450g to every 1 pint/568 ml of juice)
Wash the fruit (you don’t need to de-stalk the currants), place in a preserving pan or large saucepan and add the water.
Bring to a simmer and cook gently until the juices run and the fruit is soft.
Tip the whole lot into your jelly bag and suspend it over a large bowl until it has finished dripping. This can take anything between 2-8 hours – I usually do it overnight and put it somewhere the cat won’t knock it over.
Do not attempt to squeeze the juice through faster, you will make the jelly cloudy.
Measure the resulting juice. You will need a pound of sugar for every pint.
Warm the sugar in the oven and warm the jam jars too. Put a clean saucer into the freezer or fridge.
In your preserving pan, heat the juice until it comes to a simmer.
Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved completely.
Tip: add a small knob of butter to the pan – this stops the jam from producing huge amounts of scum.
Bring the mix to a gentle rolling boil and keep going until setting point is reached.
Test by putting a teaspoonful on the cold saucer. If after a few minutes it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s reached setting point.
Pot into warm, clean jars and seal.
Sweet Pickled Cucumbers
This is delicious with fish and cold cuts and I often chuck a few tablespoons into a potato salad.
It also makes a great cheat’s tartare sauce – put some of the pickle, a few drained and rinsed capers and some chopped parsley into a bowl of shop-bought mayo and hey presto!
The joy of this recipe is that you don’t have to mess around fermenting the cucumbers in a brine for ages yet they still stay crunchy.
It’s very quick and easy to make, although you do need to start the prep a few hours ahead of time. But then you can wander off and do other things in the meantime.
About a kilo of cucumbers
2 tablespoons of sea salt
A quantity of ice cubes
450 g sugar
800ml cider vinegar (I’ve tried white wine vinegar and I think it’s too sharp for this recipe)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon of coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons of whole allspice
1 tablespoon of yellow mustard seeds
Wash the cucumbers. Slice them lengthways and then again lengthways until you have long quartered sections. Remove the seeds.
Chop the cucumbers into 1/4 inch dice, keeping the skin on. In a bowl, toss the cucumbers with the salt.
Spread ice cubes over the cucumbers and let them stand for three to four hours.
Drain the cucumbers, discarding any ice cubes that haven’t melted.
Bring the vinegar, spices and sugar to the boil in a non-reactive saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Add the cucumbers and bring the mix back to the boil over a medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Pack into warm, sterilised jars, leaving half an inch of headspace. Seal the jars.
For safety’s sake you can process the jars in a boiling-water bath for five minutes but I find they keep fine without.
Store in a cool, dry place for at least three weeks before eating the pickles.