Dulce de Grosellas
I don’t remember having currants – red, black, or otherwise – growing up, so I was surprised to find them in one of the older Cuban cookbooks I’d been using, Delicias de las Mesa by Maria Antonieta Reyes Gavalán. Written in the 1920s, I came across it at the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection. While most other Cuban cookbooks date from the mid-fifties when everyone was only too happy to embrace cans and convenience, Gavalán’s book captures an earlier time, referencing ingredients and techniques that had fallen out of use but worth reconsidering. The book itself was so worn and frayed that it couldn’t be scanned or photocopied, so I spent most of my time in the archives furiously taking notes before reluctantly giving it back. It was complete coincidence when my aunt Marta called from New Orleans to tell me her friend had given her a copy of the book that I could have.
When I finally picked it up a couple of months later, it was even more fragile than the CHC copy. Nevertheless, some books are more alive than others and this one had a lot to say – fading dedications and notes in the margins, Cuban gossip columns from the 1940s, scribbled family recipes tucked into the pages alongside forgotten memorial cards. I kept it at hand during my book research but was careful to only consult it when I had all my questions together because very time I opened it, a small part of it would disappear into the ether.
I brought it out again last week when I remembered her dulce de grosellas recipe. Currants are only available a few short weeks in the summer, so I can’t stop myself from picking up a few pints every time I see them. Whatever I don’t use, gets packed up and stored in the freezer to be rationed out during the year – though I become stingier with them as my stockpile dwindles down as if they were actual rubies and not just ruby-coloured. It seemed fitting that the book I’d invested so much time in preserving would show me how to jar up a little bit of the summer.
Like most vintage cookbooks, the recipes are written in short descriptive paragraphs rather than ingredients and steps. I used to find this frustrating but now I actually prefer it. With just a general sense of what needs to happen, it’s easier to adapt. I consulted this David Leibovitz post when I needed to fill in some of the blanks. Most recipes call for equal parts purée and sugar. I like to start with a 2:1 purée to sugar ratio then adjust the sweetness to taste. Once the currants are tender they can be cooked down with sugar or passed through a food mill to produce a more preserve-like texture.
4 cups red currants, stemmed and rinsed
2 to 3 cups sugar
Combine the currants with 4 cups of water in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the currants are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Stir in the sugar immediately or pass the berries with their cooking water through a food mill to create a purée. Return the mixture to a fast boil for 5 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook until it reaches the desired consistency, 15 to 20 additional minutes.
Pour into sterilized jars, allow to cool completely, and seal.
Makes about 3 cups