Whilst we’re big fans of hedgerow foods and foraging can be very satisfying and productive, sometimes it’s worth the extra effort to grow your own harvest. Last year we planted a range of soft fruit bushes to supplement hedgerow blackberries, including a selection of red & black currants. More about redcurrants in another post, once they’ve ripened: this time we’re concentrating on the blackcurrants.
There’s a huge range of blackcurrant varieties that are worth growing, each with their own advantages, but, really, it’s up to you which type you prefer for your conditions & palate. You could, like we did last year, leave it up to your fruit nursery to select them for you, or, if you prefer to do a bit more research & choose for yourself, Tender II by Nigel Slater (which we may have mentioned before, once or twice!) always has excellent advice on cultivars.
Blackcurrants are a good option for many gardeners as they can be used in a wide variety of recipes, jams and preserves as well as being tasty when eaten on their own. Another advantage of blackcurrants is that they are much less fussy about their site and soil than most other fruits, so if you have a spot in your garden or allotment where other fruits are refusing to grow, maybe it is time to give blackcurrants a try?
Blackcurrants should be planted early to mid season (especially if you’ve bought them bare-rooted) and ideally in a sunny spot with good air circulation (although as we’ve said before, they’re not particularly fussy). For best results, the soil should be kept moist but not waterlogged. Blackcurrants can be very long lived so make sure that you plant them in a site that you are prepared to leave to the blackcurrants for a few years. The plants also require regular (annual, so not too onerous a task) pruning as older branches produce less fruit than newer ones. Finally, the currants should be picked whilst still dry and firm – pick the entire string so that they continue to ripen.
Blackcurrants have a wide variety of uses, from jams to fresh eating (well, if you can cope with their sharp, dry flavour raw). Blackcurrant juices & cordials are always popular, whether they be mass market concentrates or homemade affairs: making a juice by crushing the currants couldn’t be easier and it only takes a little more work to turn them into your very own squash syrup.
This year, we’re attempting to make cassis with some of our crop. We’re testing two methods: one that should yield something drinkable in just a few weeks, the other will take months to mature. We’ll let you know how we get on & how the finished products compare.
Of course, the most traditional use for these delicious fruits is in jam making, and we’ve been no stranger to this use. For something that sounds quite complicated, jam making is surprisingly easy and there are literally hundreds of websites and books out there to help you perfect the art. For super easy jam, popping an equal quantity of fruit & sugar into a breadmaker (if yours has the appropriate setting – yes, we did say “breadmaker”) will give you results after about a hour (this holds true for many fruit, though you may need to add pectin for some that naturally set softer).
If you’re not into preserves, there’s a wide variety of recipes that call for the use of blackcurrants, often in sauces as their sweet taste provides the perfect accompaniment to savoury dishes.
Of course, the simplest way to consume your blackcurrants is to eat them raw. This can be, as with many fruits, the nicest way to eat them, but make sure that you grow a variety that is conducive to raw eating rather than the ones meant for cooking . Eating them this way, if you’re brave enough to do so, will mean you get the full benefit of their high vitamin C content, which many people do not get enough of in their diet. For a super-indulgent, but not wholly unhealthy, treat, try them with a frozen yoghurt made from low fat creme fraiche & sugar syrup.
We’ve had a bumper harvest this year, and half of our crop has gone straight to the freezer whilst we figure out what to do with it. If, after all of the suggestions above, you’re having a similar dilemma, freezing isn’t a bad way to go to begin with. Whatever you decide to do with them in the end, enjoy your delicious crop of blackcurrants!