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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Cooking and Preserving Blackcurrants - and a whinge!

Cooking with and preserving Fruit – Blackcurrants
I really do recommend rooting out old and unproductive blackcurrant bushes. I have a row of five that I inherited when I took over my plot. I have pruned them carefully over the last few years, manured them, cut out the branches infected with ‘big-bud’ – (and burnt them – big-bud is caused by a mite which gets into the small growing buds. The growth then fails in these buds and is apparent by an over-fat bud which fails to develop.) I was told it was endemic on our plots but, none of my modern varieties has been infected – albeit 10 metres away. These pampered bushes have not rewarded me. They do produce fruit but, it is small, fiddly to pick and gives that nasty hard fruit I so remember from my childhood which put me off the dreadful crunchy, seedy blackcurrant jam we always had. Let’s face it strawberries were so much easier to grow, faster to pick and the jam was yummy.
However, apart from jam, strawberries do not preserve well – they are best enjoyed when fresh and anticipated with excitement each summer.
Blackcurrants, on the other hand have lots of uses when fresh and preserve easily through a variety of methods. They have strong flavour which works well with other red wine and herbs in both sweet and savoury dishes.

Try:
Blackcurrant pie
Blackcurrant crumble
Blackcurrant muffins
Frozen blackcurrants
Blackcurrant jus to serve with savoury dishes(can be made from frozen berries)
Blackcurrant jam
                                                     Blackcurrant jelly
                                                     Blackcurrant sorbet
                                                     Mixed with cereals - muesli or oats for breakfast
                                                     Why not just eat them straight from the bush?
Blackcurrants are definitely one of the ‘superfoods’ and are cheap and easy to grow. If you buy just one bush, it is easy to take and establish cuttings to create new bushes for future years ( expect to wait a couple of years for results – more later). I was tempted to list all the vitamins and minerals they contain but, resisted. Really there is not a lot missing. Do remember that, although an excellent source of Vitamin C, this will be destroyed on cooking.
Blackcurrants are easily frozen - remove any leaves, stalks or pieces of twig. Wash and store into shallow lidded freezer containers - freeze quickly. They will taste great all winter - unless you eat them first of course!
Preserves:-

Blackcurrant Jam
2 kilos(4lb) blackcurrants
1 litre ( 2 pts) water (or enough to barely cover the fruit)
3 kilos sugar
Method
·         Remove all leaf bits, twigs and stalks and wash the fruit.
·         Put the fruit into a preserving pan with the water and cook very gently until all the fruit is soft and well broken down. The skins need to be soft. Stir frequently to ensure the fruit is not sticking to the pan.
·         Add the sugar and over a very gentle heat, stir continuously until all of the sugar has dissolved.
·         Boil briskly until the setting point is reached ( use a sugar thermometer or place a spoonful on a saucer in a cool place, until it wrinkles when pushed gently with your finger tip.)
·         In the meantime – place sterilised pots into a warm oven to heat ( cold pots will break if hot jam is added to them).
·         Place the pots on a wooden surface or board then pot the jam ( a jam funnel is useful). Cover and label.

 Blackcurrant jelly
2 kilos (4lbs) blackcurrants
Enough water to barely cover the fruit
Sugar – see below
Method
·         Wash the fruit and remove any pieces of leaves or small twigs – stalks can stay in.
·         Put the fruit into a preserving pan with the water and cook very gently until all the fruit is soft and well broken down. The skins need to be soft. Stir frequently to ensure the fruit is not sticking to the pan.
·         Pour the pulp into a scalded jelly bag and strain overnight – don’t be tempted to squeeze the jelly bag – it will make your jelly clouded for little extra juice.
·         Measure the liquid and add ½ kilo (1 lb) sugar for every 1 litres ( 2 pts) liquid.
·         Put the liquid and the sugar into a preserving pan and heat gently – stirring regularly until the sugar has all dissolved.
·         Boil the jelly briskly until setting point has been reached.
·         Pot up into hot sterilised jars and label.

Do try the brilliant recipe below for blackcurrant sorbet:-

Black Currant Sorbet – converted from  Food.com
500 - 600 g black currants
1 lemon, juice of
14.79 ml egg white ( approx 1 Tblsp or the white of 1 medium egg)
 sprig of mint(to garnish)
Method
Prep Time: 1 hr
Total Time: 4 hrs
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the sugar and 1/2 cup of water to a boil, stir until the sugar dissolves. Boil the syrup for 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
1.      Remove the black currants from the stalks by pulling them through the tines of a fork.
2.      In a blender, process the black currants and lemon juice until smooth. Alternatively, chop the black currants coarsely, then add the lemon juice. Mix in the sugar syrup.
3.      Press the puree through a sieve to remove the seeds.
4.      Pour the puree into a non-metallic, freezer proof dish. Cover the dish with plastic wrap or a lid, and freeze until the sorbet is almost firm, but still a little slushy.
5.      Cut the sorbet into pieces and put into the blender. Process until smooth, then with the machine running, add the egg white and process until well blended. Transfer the sorbet back into the dish, and freeze until almost firm. Chop the sorbet again and process until smooth. ( I know this seems like a lot of processing, but it makes the sorbet very smooth, and is really necessary).
6.      7 Serve immediately or freeze, tightly covered, for up to 1 week. Allow to soften 5-10 minutes at room temperature before serving, garnish with mint leaves.

I really do need to have a whinge about a very well known and well awarded seed company in the UK (Thompson&Morgan). They provide products and services ideas that have been missed by other companies. They have received awards for the on-line service they provide yet, it seems to me that, since they have started receiving all these awards, the quality of their products and service has seriously deteriorated. In the last 12 months I think I have phoned or emailed them to complain about the quality of some product or other in every order I’ve received. I’m sure their computer has it on record that I am ‘Complain Central’, yet I have never ever had reason to complain to any of the other companies I regularly buy seeds or plants from.
Today I received an order I had requested to replace plants I had put in the compost bin as they had grown too long and thin to be viable, because of the long very dry spring making the ground untillable and therefore unplantable (in this case it was brassicas). The plant plugs I received were every bit as bad, or worse. I had also bought leek plants as my own were not good. They have arrived very yellowed and they look, like the brassicas, as though they have been in transit for a week or more – yet the records show that they have been in transit for less than 48 hours – not time enough for them to have got into this condition through being stuck in a parcel for a long time. In fairness to T&M, they had also sent me cauliflower plugs, several weeks ago which are brilliant and pepper plants a week ago which are good but really, 50% good is not good enough!
I have potted up the brassicas in any case, in the vain hope they might grow into something worth the money I paid for them! Do tell me what you think.

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