Day 227 To Preserve Currants – An adventure in food history detection

I’ve decided to take on a deceptively simple recipe in the 1906 Berlin Cook Book. I’m going to try To Preserve Currants using a recipe contributed by Mrs. D. Gross, Jr. This is a very short recipe but has several challenges. Number one … how could I afford or even find five quarts of currants (5 quarts equals 10 pints or 20 cups of currants)? Clearly Mrs. Gross has currant bushes in her back yard. Secondly, how big is a box of raisins in 1906? I’ve decided to make the recipe using the pint (2 cups) of red currants I bought at the market on Saturday. I’ll determine how many raisins to add based on proportions. The most interesting aspect is discovering there were seedless raisins in 1906!! I was under the impression that they were not available yet.

I began by washing the currants and stripping them from the stems. I measured and I had one pint or 1/2 a quart (two cups) of currants but I also needed to weigh them. Mrs. Gross uses several systems of measurement in just a few lines of the recipe. There are quarts of currants and then pounds of currants, boxes of raisins and pounds of brown sugar. In order to reduce the recipe I needed to do a number of calculations. I based the amount of sugar on the proportions listed — one pound of currants to 3/4 pound (2 1/2 cups) of brown sugar. I weighed my currants and had 10 ounces (just over 1/2 pound). One pound is 16 ounces while 3/4 of a pound is 12 ounces or four ounces less sugar to currants. Therefore my poor math skills say I need six ounces (1 1/4 cups) of brown sugar equals four 10 ounces (2 cups) of currants so that’s what I added.

Now it was time to decide on an amount of raisins. Since I was cutting the recipe by about a fifth, I would need less than half a box of raisins. According to the SunMaid raisin website they have a box of raisins that is their “classic” at 15 ounces. I don’t know yet if that was the size in 1906 but it gives me a starting point. I weighed the raisins and found that 6 ounces (a fifth of 30 ounces or two boxes of raisins) is about 1 1/2 cups. This seemed like a bit too much for my currants so I added just 3/4 of a cup. And please don’t ask how many ounces that ends up — I’m done weighing and calculating.

The next decision was whether to add water. The only ingredients listed are currants, raisins and brown sugar. I have no idea what is the expected end result. Mrs. Gross’ other preserve recipes include more instructions. I decided to start by simply turning the heat low under the saucepan and see what happened. The brown sugar started to melt and the currants started to release their juice.

I’ve talked about Louise (Mrs. D. Gross) a few times the past two weeks as she contributed the gooseberry recipe as well as the one for tomato catsup.

The currant preserve was ready more quickly than I expected. The currant juice flowed and the raisins plumped up. I liked that some of the currants still looked like currants so I decided to turn off the heat. I didn’t wait for it to thicken too much as I was afraid it would burn. Besides currants are so full of pectin (the part that makes jam thick) that I was sure it would set as it cooled. It is at this point that you would start the canning process.

I tasted the preserve while it was warm and it was delicious. The currant seeds are a bit annoying but otherwise this is quite a nice preserve. It set a bit more as it cooled and was still tart but with a bit of sweetness. This would go nicely with meat. Do be careful with the currants as the juice will easily stain things as I discovered while wearing white and sampling the preserve! I think my culinary, detective and math skills combined to make something edible from the recipe below.

Update: I contacted Tom Reitz of the Waterloo Region Museum and it turns out they have a raisin box of the appropriate vintage in their collection! Someone else can calculate the volume of the box based on the measurements. I stretched myself already since I have to calculate in my head (calculater and pen & paper are currently missing in my house). Here’s the info:

Description:
Cardboard raisin box. Box is yellow with a gold band, above which is a red shield with the design of a griffin on it. Principal lettering is black, outlined in red and white. Lettering on box front reads (in part): GRIFFIN BRAND/SEEDED RAISINS/GRIFFIN & SKELLEY CO./FRESNO/CALIFORNIA. Box top reads (in part): GUARANTEED BY/GRIFFIN & SKELLEY CO./UNDER/SERIAL NO./ 421/THE/FEED AND DRUGS/ACT/JUNE 30, 1906. 13 x 8.8 x 4.3 cm ORIGINAL
Narrative:
This box came from the farm of Enoch Erb, which was located near the present intersection of Columbia Street and the Erbsville Road in Waterloo.

TO PRESERVE CURRANTS
Take 5 quarts ripe currants picked from stems, 2 boxes of seedless raisins. To every pound of fruit add 3/4 of a pound of brown sugar.

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