This year we are awash in strawberries and raspberries from our garden. But sandwiched in between along one of our crumbling garden stone walls are two bushes of currants. One is red currants, the other Champagne currants.
I had heard of red currants, and of course red currant jelly. A very British thing, usually served with pork. Like having cranberries with turkey if you are in the US. And like cranberries, it is a bitter sweet fruit, that adds a lovely tang to the meat.
When we moved to France, the garden we took care of at the Chateau had both red currants and black currants. The black currants have such a fantastic scent, and are slightly sweeter. And if you are familiar with cassis (a sweet syrup) it is made from these.
Cassis syrup can be made with or without alcohol. The latter is often used and particularly delicious in white wine or Champagne, otherwise known as a Kir if you find yourself in a bar here in France, or a Kir Royal if Champagne is used.
Both versions of Cassis are quite easy to make, too. It’s simply fruit, sugar and water. Brandy instead of water for the alcoholic version (and you don’t need to use the good stuff.)
If you prefer a metric recipe: 500 grams fruit to 300 ml water and 300 grams sugar (give or take depending how sweet you like it. (Not metric recipe inclined: 3 pounds fruit, 3 cups water and 3 cups sugar). If doing the brandy version recipe, you use more brandy than water and a little less sugar (due to the sweetness already present in brandy, particularly cheaper brandies.) In all of these, you simply boil, mash the fruit, sieve and store. (Follow the respective links above for more detailed recipes, if desired.)
As you can tell I am not an ‘exact’cook. I used to be, but Pumpjack influenced me to spread my wings and be a little more experimental. As I love recipes from around the world, we often don’t have all the exact ingredients in our cupboard. So substitution regularly happens, and we have had some amazingly delicious discoveries in consequence. Give it a whirl. I really recommend it.
Now back to current day and currants. Our restoration garden came with an already in place veg / fruit garden. Around its edge was the perennial fruit and nuts. Part of this were red currants and Champagne currants.
I had never heard of, let alone seen, Champagne currants. And honestly, I have to say, ‘Why had I not heard of these!?!’ They are delicious! Better, I think, then black and red. Unlike the other two, these can actually be eaten straight off the bush. Yes, they are still a little tart, but have much more natural sweetness than the other two.
Red currants are the little ones. Black currants are the plump ones. But Champagne currants are the biggest of all. And a gorgeous cream colour with a rose pink blush. I am guessing it is the colour that gave them their name.
Our first summer here we had a great harvest from these shrubs, particularly the Champagne one. Sadly last year (too dry?) was more or less a wash out. Luckily though I had made enough currant jelly to last through that year. But it ran out this winter, so boy am I glad that this year has been another bountiful harvest.
As before, the Champagne currants far outweighed the red ones. (But then I think the crows nesting in our pine tree might be drawn to the red of the red berries. Though I have yet to see any bird eating them.) So rather than try to make two types of jelly, I simply mixed the two.
Currants have lots of natural pectin, so it’s a natural to make into a preserve. My go to recipe for currant jelly is super, super easy. And you don’t even have to de-stem the berries!
Wash, drain and then weigh your berries. Whatever weight they are, you then need half that weight in sugar. Put the berries in a heavy bottom saucepan (stems and all. Okay, maybe no leaves). Bring to a boil. Whilst boiling take a potato masher and mash the berries to release their juices. Boil for 10 minutes.
Now add the sugar. Once dissolved, boil for 8 minutes. Remove from the stove top. Put a sieve over a bowl. Use a fine mesh sieve, or if you don’t have one, line with cheese cloth or similar. Pour the currant jelly into the sieve and let the juice go through to the bowl. Push the remaining juice through with a spoon. Compost the left over mash. Sterlised jam jars at the ready, add your juice to the jars. Et Voila!
Mine does end up a bit more liquidy (is that a word?) than say jelly or jam like, but that is because I prefer it less sweet, so don’t add enough sugar to help it solidify. If you prefer it more solid, and more sweet, add more sugar.
Now what to do with your bounty? This jelly is perfect for cooking with. Think sweet and sour all in one container. A recipe calls for honey, try adding this jelly instead. Or it calls for vinegar, ditto. Or even barbecue sauce, try swapping this in.
My favourite is pork chops. I spread this jelly and a little mustard on a pork chop and sauté. Toss in some chopped mushrooms and walnuts, and you have a simple and absolutely delicious dish. (For vegetarians, try this with a veggie burger instead.)
Both our currant shrubs had a good prune this past winter. I think our red currant bush is quite old. It certainly was straggly, with lots of dead wood. It still isn’t a hundred percent back to full growth, but hopefully with more care it will find itself in direct competition with our Champagne shrub for production.
I had planted a black currant shrub up by the duck enclosure our first summer here, but sadly it was not the best place for it. It sent out about 2 green leaves its first year, which something ate. Then it died. The plan is to buy another and plant it down with the other currants. But first we have to dig out a hazelnut bush/shrub/scraggly thingy that doesn’t grow nuts. That’s going to take a bit of work.
In harvesting our currants this year, I had a lot of help from Gabby, one of pet ducks who is imprinted on me. Turns out he too is a fan of Champagne currants in particular.
If like me, Piddlewick, you like cooking and/or growing your own foods, I offer up a taste of vintage and antique garden/food related gift items we found for our Shop.
(Simply click on an image to see more.)