Thursday, July 14, 2011

Making Some Jelly, Feeding the Babies

Our garden is encircled by currant bushes (groseilles), which every year at this time ripen to a bright red. Each year I wish to myself that the bushes were blueberries or blackberries. Currants have seemed to me to be a ridiculous fruit. They have very little flesh and a huge pit, making them not at all delectable to eat. You see them as a garnish in some restaurants, and that can be pretty, but its the only practical use I could imagine putting them to. Locals had mentioned that they make a nice jelly, but I was skeptical, since not only are the fruit mostly pit, but the flesh itself is far from tasty and sweet.

Then I happened upon a recipe by David Lebovitz, author of my favorite food blog. He used to work at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, but now lives in Paris and always has great ideas for places to go and things to cook. When I saw how easy it was to make currant jelly, I decided it was worth the trouble. Besides, Emily was on hand and she chided me for letting them all go to waste. I gathered up a basket full of the very last of the harvest and decided to give it a try. The recipe is called "Currant Jam", but in fact it is a jelly.

The first step is easy enough. Just clean the berries, add a small amount of water to cover the bottom of a pot, add fruit and boil until the berries are wilted, stirring frequently. David doesn't even recommend taking off the stems, but I did. It doesn't take any time to do it.

Once soft, the berries are crushed and put through a fine sieve to make a bright red liquid. It's at this point you add the sugar. The recipe calls for weighing the berry mixture and adding the same weight in very fine sugar. I didn't have that much on hand so I put less than half that amount. I was sure it would make it so the jelly wouldn't jell.

Emily suggested cooking up some peaches to combine with the tart currants in some of the jars. She added sugar and apples (for pectin), which were removed after cooking. The sugar was stirred into the berries just until it melted, then the mixture was left undisturbed on the stove at a rolling boil for 5 minutes. Voila. That's all there is to it.

We put the plain currants and the currant with peaches in combination in sterilized jars. Turning them upside down seals them. You leave them until they cool. Storing them in a refrigerator is not a bad idea either, according to David.

I was very pleased with the results, which did jell, quite beautifully and the jelly itself is delicious. Not tart but not at all too sweet. Of course we'll be serving this to our guests.


This is the moment in the season where the baby birds are learning to fly. Apparently, however, they're still too young and inexperienced to catch their own food. The last few evenings, right outside our top story window, some swallow babies (hirondelles) sit and wait as their parents swoop past, giving them a morsel to eat and flying off for more. This goes on for several hours between 5 and 8 in the evening.

The babies are as big or even bigger than the slender mother who never stops to rest from her task.

The babies themselves fly from one end of the roof to the other, but don't leave their perch for long for fear of missing their meal.

It's hard to capture the beauty of these little creatures, as their coloring is very subtle and translates as black and white in the photos. In truth their faces are a deep red and the top of their heads and backs are midnight blue.

Adult swallow rarely land, as their legs and feet are not made for perching. They swoop through our courtyard with grace and ease. Summer begins when the swallows come to town. The season will end when they leave again. In the meantime, I am really getting to enjoy them.

If you want to see a larger version of the photos, be sure to click on them.

Happy July 14th from France! It's not called Bastille Day over here, even though it does mark the day that prison was stormed. More often it's know as la Fête Nationale or just le 14 julliet.


  1. Bonne Fete Nationale! Those currants look beautiful - what a wonderful red. And your bird photos are very good - hard to capture such mobile targets. I love those brilliant blue feathers.

  2. Je voudrais bien avoir autant de groseilles ! ça me changerait des prunes ...
    Mirabelles, prunes jaunes et rouges, cette année sont encore en abondance (j'ai fait plus de 50 pots de confiture et mis plusieurs sacs de fruits dénoyautés au congélateur) et il reste encore un arbre entier d'une autre variété.
    Tes photos des bébés oiseaux sont merveilleuses et émouvantes.

  3. Great post! Would love to try the jelly and the see those hirondelles...