How To Turn A Basket Of Blackcurrants Into A Cupboard Full Of Frugally Fabulous Preserves
Is The Humble British Blackcurrant The New Superfood?
I lost interest in superfoods several years ago. I am not convinced any food remains super when it has been transported half way round the world. That, and superfoods always seem to be pricey. Nobody ever claims the humble – and cheap – brussels sprout as a superfood, for example. But a source of vitamins and minerals and antioxidants that is still bright green in the dead of winter sounds pretty heroic to me. Superfoods seem less like a health revolution and more like a marketing ploy, yet another way to get us all to buy expensive products when the cheaper, local version is perfectly good. So I am heartened by the more recent move towards embracing the super powers of foods that grow – cheaply – right here in our chilly northern climate.
Our national love affair with all things Scandi has reintroduced the idea that berries might be of benefit – great news in the British summer time when they are abundant. Which brings me to blackcurrants – hailed by one study as the next superfood over a decade ago. Blackcurrants are easy to grow and easy to pick. No bending over (strawberries I am looking at you) and no big prickles lurking on every stem (hello gooseberries and blackberries and I see you have your slightly kinder friends the raspberries with you.) They grow in gardens, are abundant in PYO farms and make some of the most delicious preserves and desserts known to man. According to The Blackcurrant Foundation, these tiny powerhouses can help with all manner of health issues, from a UTR to Erectile Dysfunction but let’s not pretend I am really eating them for their health benefits. In truth, you have to add so much sugar to the tart little berries that much of the benefit to your body is outweighed by the damage to your teeth.
Got Blackcurrants? Got No Idea What To Do With Them? Look No Further…
No, for me, blackcurrants are not health food; blackcurrants are treat food. Their intense flavour is wasted on Ribena – it deserves to be in artisan jams and jellies gracing elegant cream teas. Or in seriously indulgent deserts. Or liqueurs. The closest I am prepared to go to claiming blackcurrants as health food is as a dressing ingredient in salads. Pam Corbin’s fruit vinegar recipe works beautifully with blackcurrants to make the perfect base for fruity salad dressings – perfect drizzled over rocket, pecan nuts and goat’s cheese. The link also leads you to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Blackcurrant Ripple Parfait. What better way to enjoy the fruits in season? In fact, if you want to cook with blackcurrants – or eat them in a decadent smoothie or a cool, sharp ice-lolly – look no further than The Blackcurrant Foundation’s own recipe page.
Delicious magazine’s Creme de Cassis recipe requires very little effort but quite a lot of patience. Keep some of your jewel-coloured liqueur until December and you can use it to make BBC Good Food’s simple but impressive Christmas Mess. Or enjoy it mixed with bubbly on Christmas morning.
Blackcurrants are incredibly easy to make into jams and jellies because they have just the right balance of acidity and pectin. It’s the combination of these two ingredients that ensures a good set for jams and jellies and, without it, you have to mix fruits together or add pectin to your mix. With blackcurrants you need sugar and heat and nothing else. The only fiddly bit is removing the stalks from your berries – and you can skip even this stage if you make jelly instead of jam. Simply boil up the fruit, stalks and all, and then strain it through a jelly bag or a clean tea-towel in a sieve. Then add sugar to the resulting juice and boil it up again to make jars of thick, dark jelly. Try this Blackburrant Jelly recipe from The Irish Times to make an intensely flavoured and elegant preserve. If you are sold on jam, try this simple Blackcurrant Jam recipe with videos of all the important stages, from Farmersgirl Kitchen.
Finally, something a little different. Larder Love’s Blackcurrant And Rosemary Cheese – not an actual cheese, but a very dense, slice-able fruit preserve similar to the spanish dulce de membrillo – is simple to make and perfect to serve with cheese or pate.
Get picking and potting people!