We had several large slices of cold roast lamb which I wanted to use for shepherd’s pie. Rather than the traditional sweet/sharp enhancements like tomato, wine or Worcestershire sauce I decided to add some red currant juice.
I found a plastic box of red currants on the fruit shelves of Sainsburys supermarket in St. Leonards. Round, red, translucent pearls with shining skins each with a small withered crown of calyx leaves at their south pole. Each fruit was attached by a short stalk to a central string that had once hung enticingly from a branch of a carefully tended bush.
One of my long-held ambitions has been to grow a plant as a cordon on a shady north wall where the fruit can ripen slowly protected by some sort of cover from marauding birds.
For my shepherd’s pie I took about one third of the currants and squashed the juice out into my meat and vegetable mix by squeezing and scraping them through a fine mesh steel sieve with a metal spoon.
The following day I used the rest of the fruit to make red currant jelly to a recipe of 19th C Eliza Acton found on the Internet. It was very simple. I mixed the currants, stalks included, with their own weight of sugar and put them in my small, expensive sauce saucepan with a little water to help the initial dissolving of the sugar.
I heated the pan while stirring the mixture, pressing the currants against the side with a wooden spoon until I had a quantity of wine-dark liquid bubbling vigorously in the vessel. The boil was allowed to continue for 8 minutes and the resulting hot mash was strained into a jug through the same steel sieve I had used for the shepherd’s pie.
The filtered liquid set to a firm jelly rapidly. When it was cold I lowered the sharp end of a teaspoon into the jug and scooped out a dollop. It had a clear, pure colour, a gemstone colour like a piece of medieval stained glass as though all the red in the universe was reflected from its soft walls, and transmitted through them. It tasted like it looked.