Friday 20 July 2012


Neither my raspberry canes nor my blackcurrant bushes seem to have been deterred by the worst British summer seen in a long time. Despite the sun's conspicuous absence, berries on both have been ripening merrily. And as a result of all the rain, berries of both types are also deliciously juicy, although their high juice content also means that they don't keep for long unless eaten straight away or hustled pronto into the freezer or preserving pan. A good many of the raspberries have been eaten just as they were picked - nothing added, nothing taken away. Some have been made into raspberry ripple ice cream and a rather nice hot raspberry and lemon pudding as in the pics and I have squirrelled away some in the freezer.

The blackcurrants have posed more of a problem. They are too strong and too sharp to eat easily just as they are off the bush and they have more limitations than raspberries. Quintessentially English, easy to grow and frighteningly good for you - blackcurrants are packed with vitamin C and those bioflavonoid things that are in all intensely coloured fruit and vegetables - dare I say it, but I feel blackcurrants ought to be nicer than they are!

Not only is their taste very strong and very sharp, they are very pippy and a little of them goes a long way. They are full of pectin so they make jam easily and I've done this in previous years. But it's always the jars of blackcurrant jam that linger on the larder shelf the longest, long after their lighter, gentler, more rubicund cousins, the pots of strawberry or raspberry, have been demolished. Making blackcurrant jelly, rather than jam, gets rid of the pip factor but it's such a faff straining the juice overnight in a muslin bag etc and I seem to get everything in sight covered in a remarkably tenacious, purple, pippy mess every time.

But still there are all these blackcurrants ripe and ready for picking - what to do with them? I quite like (an occasional) blackcurrant crumble or pie especially with a generous spoonful of thick, preferably clotted, cream on the side, to cut the acidic sharpness, but there are no other  takers in the household for these. And I can't bear the waste of just leaving them to rot on the bushes....

Enter what has emerged as a bit of a brainwave! While not many thanks are given here for blackcurrant jam and none for a blackcurrant crumble; blackcurrant syrup, on the other hand, diluted with fizzy mineral water is extremely popular. Why not make it oneself out of the real fruit instead of buying the commercial version?

I did a bit of research and lo and behold, there are indeed various recipes for such a thing out there on the Internet. I have adapted several recipes and come up with my own version, as detailed below, which is dead simple and the results are popular enough to mean I actually have spontaneous offers from my in-house teenager to pick the blackcurrrants required for the recipe! As this in itself is quite a laborious task, if you're talking large quantities (which we are - the bushes have gone berserk;) this is not an offer to turn down in a hurry!

What you need:

500g of blackcurrants, washed and mostly destalked but it's not too critical - another piece of good news as meticulously destalking each berry can be a task to drive you up the wall!
1 litre water
300 g sugar
a large bunch of fresh garden mint (optional, but a nice aromatic addition that I've found goes beautifully with the flavour of the blackcurrants. As my mint patch this year has also gone berserk in the rain this is a good way of using some of it up too.)

a steamer or a heatproof colander or sieve that can be set over a pan of boiling water
sterilised bottles to store the cordial in

still or fizzy water to dilute the result with (or a glass of white wine should you feel inclined to go the Kir route but don't want to splash out on a bottle of Cassis!)

Here's what you do:

Tip the blackcurrants into the top of the steamer or the colander if using. Pour a litre of cold water into the base of the steamer (or the pan over which the colander is sitting). Clap a lid on and heat until the water is boiling. Turn the heat down so that it's not boiling too fiercely but still definitely bubbling and cook for 20 minutes. Wash a large handful of fresh mint under the tap (don't bother to dry it, just shake off most of the water) and add to the blackcurrants. Carry on cooking for another 10 minutes, making sure the water is still bubbling happily. Then remove the whole thing from the heat and leave the juices to carry on dripping through for a quarter of an hour or so. Now lift off the top of the steamer or the colander which contains your spent fruit and wilted mint leaves and discard the detritus into your composter.

What you are left with in the base of the steamer or the pan, is effectively pure blackcurrant juice scented with mint. Stir in the sugar, bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and bottle in warm sterilised bottles.  Once cool, I keep mine in the fridge. I imagine if you use plastic bottles you could freeze it, if you want to keep it for longer than a fortnight or so. If using plastic bottles let the cordial cool before bottling or you may have a meltdown!

H is so taken with this, he insisted I bought some of those old-fashioned cordial bottles with ceramic tops and swivelly metal fastenings (obtainable from Lakeland in the UK, if you're interested) but I also use (scrupulously cleaned!) old ketchup bottles which are great as they don't have too narrow a neck to pour into.

I have to say this is very popular with people of all ages, some of whom, to my certain knowledge, would not be seen dead with a blackcurrant under normal circumstances! I expect the heat does destroy some of the vitamin C but at least I know there are no additives or artificial anythings in my blackcurrant cordial and my conscience is clear because the fruit is used and enjoyed and not wasted.

Try it if you have a bush which has taken the rain and gone haywire with aromatic, shiny, black berries you don't quite know what to do with!

A Berry Happy Weekend everyone!


  1. Absolutely adore berries! Everything about them is sublime, the colour, the texture and the wonderful sweetness laced with tartness. Fabulous photos and great ideas of what to do with them. Yummy! x

  2. No chance of scurvy in your house! And good to hear that the rain hasn't spoiled all the summer fruit crops.

  3. I've tried blackcurrant cordial before but not with mint - this looks like an interesting twist, but I don't think we have any blackcurrants this year, just plenty of red ones. Do you think you could make redcurrant cordial? You are just like Mrs. T herself, squirrelling things away in her underground tunnels for the winter. (Love the alchemilla) Judy.

  4. Wow, what a great idea....I have some blackcurrant .....I hesitate to call them bushes....not a bean on them, nor a blackcurrant.... I would love to grow soft fruit better, but it just doesn't seem to come to anything, whereas my neighbours fruit flourishes....typical.....I think I need some decent manure...that would probably help.

    Love raspberry ripple ice-cream, but again not enough raspberries, however there are a few to pinch when strolling in the garden!

  5. Ooooh - that looks delicious. And the bottles are just perfect! Hope you have a great weekend too x

  6. I have had no luck growing berries. Since I'm rather your opposite weather-wise, I guess that's no surprise. It all sounds -- and looks -- truly delicious! And I'm glad the berries didn't go to waste:)

  7. My mouth is watering just looking at the photos! With the weather hopefully about to improve I think you will be enjoying a refreshing glass or two in the sunshine soon!

  8. Mmmm what a yummy scrummy post! Mrs T you are always tempting us!

    Helen xx

  9. wow, that is brilliant. We spend a fortune on bloody Ribena, and now, to add insult to injury, I have to use the no added sugar variety which is full of chemicals.... your version looks fantastic - well done you on going down the au naturel route. And I love your photos - you should write a cookery book. I'd buy it!

  10. What a perfect idea! This I really must try :D And the ice cream looks delicious too. My favourite way to eat raspberries is freshly picked and mashed on to buttered soda bread, beats jam in my book. Blackcurrant jam, on the other hand, I absolutely adore :D

  11. Firstly yum yum yum.

    Secondly - i've just posted about a blog award. You were one of my nominations xxxxx I love you writing so much! xxxxx

  12. Such a good idea! Blackcurrants were always my least favourite fruit to eat or for jams or crumbles, so sour and pippy. But I buy blackcurrant cordial every week, it never occurred to me to make it. I love the ripple in your raspberry ice cream, such gorgeous colours!

  13. This sounds much easier than my usual recipe so will definitely try it. Have you tried adding lavender to blackcurrants? As long as you don't use too much it adds another dimension (rather than making it taste of soap).
    Incidentally, I used your "jazzing up olives" recipe with a tin of mixed beans to make a very acceptable bean salad.

  14. I love your recipes. The raspberry ripple icecream made my mouth water! I am going to have to make some! The photos are all lovely and inspiring thank you for a lovely post !


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