Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Blueberries or Blackcurrants?

I don't really get blueberries. To be fair, I don't have the right kind of garden for them, they are ericaceous, or lime hating plants, in the same class as rhododendrons which also luckily don't grow here. So I have two blueberries in pots.

I got them because I kept reading how delicious/ fruitful/ good for you they are. And easy to grow. My two plants in pots did nothing the first year, so to give them more space I potted them in half barrels (old water butts that I sawed in half, and I used rather expensive ericaceous compost).  And they have produced a little fruit this year. Thing is though,I'm not impressed with the flavour overly much. And the quantity would have been fine if I'd been looking for the kind of quantity I need with say cranberries, (ie a couple of handfuls per annum for some sauce to go with the turkey) They are low acid, and therefore edible raw, but they tasted a bit dry mealy and uninteresting. Is it just me? Tesco's are selling them by the ton. It must be just me.

But give me a blackcurrant anyday. Now there's a proper berry. Juicy, tons of them on each bush, and enough acid to strip the paint off the garage doors. That's the kind of berry we like in England. There are some new varieties introduced in recent years that are meant to produce larger sweeter berries, such as Big Ben and according to Graham Rice's New Plant Blog on the RHS website can be eaten raw so I'm intending to give them a go, since my old plants are just that, getting on a bit, and producing less and less each year. I would also like to give Jostaberries a go since I heard Bob Flowerdew recommending them. And there's a man who knows his fruit, if not his hairstyles.

Blackcurrants make excellent jam, second only to damsons in my book, partly because they are strongly flavoured and highly acidic. But they also do very well in traditional English puds like Blackcurrant crumble, a great favourite of Him Indoors. You can even make your own Ribena, and I discovered by accident last year, that if you bottle some blackcurrant coulis you can make an instant dessert simply by mixing the coulis into a little ramekin of double cream. Blackcurrant coulis, by the way is not as complicated as it sounds, and is just a posh way of saying sieved stewed fruit. A recipe would be something like

Blackcurrant Coulis
8oz/250gr blackcurrants in a saucepan with a little water and sugar to taste. Probably about 3 or 4 oz.
Stir over gentle heat to dissolve the sugar then  bring to a gentle simmer for a minute or two, just enough to soften the skins a little, then pour into a processor and blitz to a puree.
Pour through a strainer to get rid of pips.
Bottle in hot sterilized jars, or freeze in little plastic pots.

Instant Blackcurrant Pudding
First of all I apologize for the name, it sounds like one of those horrible powder things you get in packets, but I can't think what else to call it, it's not a mousse, no air or whipping involved, it's not set with jelly or anything, just fruit and cream. Blackcurrant Cream maybe?

Pour some double cream into a ramekin dish, and stir in a few teaspoons of your coulis to taste. Miraculously the cream will thicken up as you gently stir, and voila, your dessert. I do like to understand how things work so if anyone can explain the science behind this miraculous transformation, I would love to hear it, (it doesn't seem to work with other fruits I've tried)- I'm not whipping the cream in any way, it's not curdling or separating at all, but it just thickens into a lovely creamy dessert.

PS did youknow that blackcurrants contain seven times as much vitamin c as apples? Considering that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, if you planted a couple of bushes of the new blackcurrant Big Ben, you could probably deter a whole range of NHS personnel in no time at all.

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