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So retro, so English and so unavailable

"The prominence that American food has gained within the last century has led to redcurrant sauce being partially replaced by cranberry sauce as the condiment of choice." Sweetish Hill

I seem to be a little bit stuck on retro nostalgia and also on English of late but this topic - redcurrant jelly - has come to the fore because of my chosen guru recipe of the week - Chicken with lemon sauce by Beverley Sutherland Smith. A catch-all kind of title which could cover a multitude of dishes, but this particular one includes redcurrant jelly. Indeed the redcurrant jelly is the reason I chose it really, and I vaguely remember it as being an ingredient that pops up a fair bit in her recipes. Green peppercorns were another one and they should be looked at some time too.


Anyway I knew that I had bought redcurrant jelly from the supermarket before, so was quite confident of buying some today. But no - none to be found. I admit I did not look in the delicatessen shop almost next door to Coles, but to be honest I have very little faith in them as a provider of gourmet things you can't get in the supermarkets. Frankly I don't know how they have survived as long because they only seem to stock the same things as the big three at higher prices.


I do know that these products do exist in Australia, - Beerenberg makes one and there also seems to be imported Baxters and Bonne Maman versions. Plus a few small artisan products. None available in Eltham however, although the lady in Coles thought that you could get it at Christmas for the turkey.


So for the moment anyway the redcurrant jelly has been replaced by the above mentioned cranberry jelly - which I reluctantly bought. I tried to find out on the net what the differences were, but could not get a satisfactory answer, which I think implies that it will be different but OK. So we'll see. I'll try to remember to photograph my finished dish and report on it tomorrow. Mind you I was a little bit alarmed by her statement at the end of the recipe:


"Because of the slightly sweet and sour flavour it goes best with rice and salad but doesn't seem to be particularly good with vegetables." Beverley Sutherland Smith


Which is a bit of a pity because I was planning to do some kind of fairly neutral potatoes and some buttery broccolini and something - red capsicum perhaps. Now David does like rice, so we'll see.

Anyway I'm obviously serving an old-fashioned dish, so maybe I should try an old-fashioned pudding to go with it? After all David serving champagne and it's Friday after all. And I just found the perfect choice - because I have some blood oranges - Blood orange and marmalade puddings from Olive Magazine. I shall report back on this.


But back to redcurrant jelly. It appears it is very ancient - like 13th century. The website The Old Foodie has an interesting account of its history including a rebuttal of a claim by the French that it is theirs. The French version comes from the town of Bar le Duc and dates back to 1344, not quite as far as the reference made at a feast in honour of Edward I knighting his son in the century before. The redcurrant jelly was to accompany the roast swan.

But back to Bar le Duc and their recipe which is quoted by Jane Grigson in her Fruit Book a recipe which is fundamentally the same as the one claimed by the modern manufacturer Dutriez minus the goose quills:


"With a quill pen cut from a goose's feather, remove the pips from the finest large red or white currants: put them on plates as you go. When you have 1 kg. bring 3kg of sugar to 111°C with 750ml water. Add a glass of red currant juice and their currants. Give the whole thing a gentle boil, and when it reaches 105°C pour into a basin. When the jam has cooled a little, put it into jars and cover as usual. Do not forget to stir up the jam before potting it, so as to get an even distribution of fruit."


Modern recipes for redcurrant jelly do not bother with removing the seeds, although the French website still does - by hand! I can't imagine how much it costs! If you should ever come across any redcurrants - not in Australia I think - have a go at making some. And you know I have a vague memory of doing this once upon a time. Maybe there were some in the Queen Vic Market.

Apart from its use as a condiment accompaniment to the Christmas turkey and various gamey things, the other main use for redcurrant jelly is in Cumberland Sauce, which I may have written about many moons ago. This picture accompanies a recipe from Sainsbury's in England in the person of Lucas Hollweg - and it seems that even over there in England they have succumbed to the cranberry invasion because it includes cranberries - and they call it Cranberry Cumberland sauce. If you want to be more authentic and possibly a little less beautiful you could also try a recipe from The Times in 1938 which is reproduced by the Old Foodie:


Gelée Cumberland.

Take a very thinly peeled rind of an orange, a small piece of lemon peel, two tablespoonfuls of redcurrant jelly, a gill of clear soup [stock] and a teaspoonful of Worcestershire Sauce. Put all the ingredients in a saucepan, bring to the boil slowly, then strain through a bit of muslin into a small glass bowl and let it set. Serve with cold meats or ham. One chef adds a pinch of ground ginger for those who like it highly seasoned. Times [London, England] 7 Feb. 1938; In an article called ‘When there is Stock.’" The Old Foodie


Which brings me to Delia - Queen of English cooking - well one of them. She certainly covers most of the classics including redcurrant jelly and Cumberland sauce. And lo and behold she has a recipe for Cranberry Cumberland sauce too which she serves with Venison steaks. They look utterly scrumptious. Venison might be hard to come by here, but you could try it with kangaroo perhaps - or maybe even beef steaks. Why not?


But she also makes use of the redcurrant jelly to make two slightly different redcurrant and mint sauces to go with lamb.

The one shown here is very simple:


"Place the redcurrant jelly in a small basin, break it up with a fork, then mix in the orange zest and mint – and that's it. This must be one of the quickest sauces in the world, and it's absolutely delicious." Delia Smith

(4 tablespoons red currant jelly, zest of 1 orange, 1 1/2 level tablespoon chopped mint.)


The other one is slightly more complicated - you need to do a tiny bit of heating:


"All you do is place the redcurrant jelly and wine vinegar in a sacuepan, whisk thoroughly, bringing the mixture up to simmering point and making sure the jelly is dissolved. Then remove it from the heat, add the chopped mint and some seasoning and pour it into a serving bowl or jug." (3 tablespoons red currant jelly; 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar. Whisk to a simmer in a saucepan. Add 4 tablespoons chopped mint.


So if you are a mint sauce and lamb kind of person but would like to jazz it up a bit, go for one of these.

Redcurrant jelly is often used in various desserts from crumbles to cakes and tarts and a common pairing which the foodies write about is raspberry - or maybe rhubarb. I think it must be an ingredient in Linzer torte, because Nigella decided to do something similar but with cookies - Linzer cookies. They look vaguely Christmassy to me. Perhaps it's the little candles, which, by the way somebody compared to the glow of redcurrants against the dark leaves. Even Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall got mildly poetic about them - a bit over the top perhaps but nice:


"These shiny little jewels soak up the sun and reflect its ripening light through their translucent, bright skins – like little stars in a night of deep green leaves. A dewy truss of black - or redcurrants reminds me of a clutch of sapphires or rubies, while whitecurrants couldn't look more like pearls if they jumped out of an oyster."


However, I did find a few savoury recipes that used redcurrant jelly. I suppose you could try it with cranberry jelly as well, or other substitutions I found here and there included honey and blackcurrant, even blackberry jam or jelly. Or wait until Christmas and buy up big. It won't go off after all. They all look very rich and very delicious: Coq au vin - Simon Hopkinson; Shredded duck with plums and chilli flatbread - Nigel Slater; Beef stew with redcurrant jelly and cream - Wolfgang Puck/Food and Wine ( a style of sauce that is apparently called 'grand veneur') and Redcurrant lamb souvlaki - Matt Preston and Michelle Southan.

All of which are the heavier meats - yes duck is another common partner. I, however, am tackling chicken so that will be interesting. I don't remember anybody using it with fish - maybe salmon?


It is interesting though isn't it, how ingredients come in and go out, even the ones that are very, very old? I guess there are just so many new ingredients (however old they actually might be), that something has to suffer. Fashion is a fickle thing. Maybe redcurrant jelly will rush back in when someone on TikTok discovers it.


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