It is made from currants, sugar and water (the syrup used to be honey.)
Some of the jelly made is white currant jelly, some is red currant jelly. The currants remain intact in the jam, with a syrup around them, suspended in the jelly.
It is sold in small 3 oz (85g) jars, and loved by gourmets. About 30,000 jars are made a year. It sells in France for about $15 US a jar; (2000 prices.)
The currants are gathered by hand, and seeded by hand. To get the seeds out, a very small incision is made in the skin to allow a fine goose-quill to get inside and fish each of the (average) 7 to 8 seeds out, then the flap of skin closed again.
About 2,000 currants must be seeded in this way to make 2 1/4 pounds (1 kg) of the jelly. The best deseeder can do about 3 kg (6,000 currants a day.) Every year, the deseeding women ( épépineuses) compete to see who can do the most.
Jacques Dutriez is sole remaining person making Bar-Le-Duc Jelly, as of 2000. His brand is called “Amiable.” He took that business over in 1974. As of 2000, plans were for his grand-daughter Anne Dutriez to inherit the business, and by 2006 she was indeed the contact person for the business.
To make the jelly, the fruit is weighed, and set aside. A weight of sugar equivalent to the weight of the fruit is put in a saucepan with water, heated, then fruit added for 3 to 4 minutes, then the fruit strained out, set aside. The sugar syrup is allowed to slowly simmer until it has thickened somewhat, then poured over the fruit, then canned in jars.
Bar-Le-Duc Jelly was reputedly invented in 1344. It has reputedly been enjoyed by the great and famous since at least the 1300s (based on a mention of the word “jam” in general in a legal document in 1344, which Bar-Le-Duc backers insist refers to Bar-Le-Duc jelly. )
If it has been made that long, then honey would obviously have been used instead of sugar.
Literature & Lore
“Stumpp and Walter also has something that’s been scarce since the war, Bar-le-Duc jelly, 3¼-ounce jars,three for $1.70. This jelly is made of currants chosen for their extra large size, produced in the Departement of Meuse, in France, their name taken from the capital of the departement. The seeds are removed by skilled workers using goose quills sharpened to a fine point. The carefully seeded whole fruit is made into jelly, the boiling of brief duration, which leaves each currant plump and brightly red to gleam enticingly through the glass. Serve the jelly with coeur a la cream, for instance. The last time GOURMET ran its recipe was in June, 1949. This is one to remember for a red-and-white dessert for that Valentine party.” — Paddleford, Clementine (1898 – 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. February 1950.
Barry, Ann. Bar-Le-Duc Currant Preserves. New York: New York Times. 30 January 1983.
Porter, Mark. Royal Jelly (Bar-Le-Duc). Waitrose Food Illustrated. London: Waitrose. February 2000.