Saturday, 20 August 2011

Black gold

It wasn't a quick job: picking through almost a kilo of blackcurrants, gently easing off the stalks from the tiny, ripe globes, dark red juice staining fingers.

But eventually, the colander was full of rich, almost-black fruit - almost 970g. Rinsed gently, it all goes into a large pan with a scant amount of water - around 75 ml - and 300g of caster sugar.

Lidded and on a gentle heat, everything comes to a simmer. Stirred once or twice carefully, to make sure that all the fruit and sugar gets a brief cooking, it takes a while.

Once the sugar has dissolved, everything is strained over a jug, pressed through a sieve with the back of a ladle.

Time to taste. It's rich but tart. This is the moment for a decision: if you like something that's a little less sharp, add more sugar, remembering that the freezing process will cut the sweetness a tad.

If your preferred taste is for something with even more bite, add a little fresh lemon juice.

In this case, it stayed as it was.

Allowed to cool, the syrup is eventually decanted into a large, freezer-proof container and then popped into the freezer. It's checked after about an hour and given a whisk to break down any ice crystals, a process that's repeated until it's fully frozen.

The memory of that cassis sorbet in Collioure was with me as I headed to Broadway Market for a first Saturday shop since our return to Blighty.

The big question was whether I could actually buy blackcurrants anywhere. I already knew that Ocado didn't sell any - only blackcurrant products. 

When I was growing up in Mossley, we had a couple of blackcurrant bushes in the garden: there'd be enough fruit for my mother to make a pie or two: that deep stain where the fruit had leaked out onto the pastry around the edge of the enamel tin; the smell as you pushed your spoon beneath the surface; my sister's face, screwed up at the tartness that I loved.

I am rather ashamed to have forgotten blackcurrants - until that sorbet.

A slow, careful stroll up the market saw the realisation dawn that this was not going to be easy. I asked at Chegworth, a stall that specialises in orchard fruits. No likelihood.

Yet around the corner, hunting for herbs that seemed to be almost as elusive this week, something caught my eye outside one of our local Turkish grocers: punnets of blackcurrants from Kent.

With no weight specified, I simply grabbed all nine little plastic boxes that were there and stuck them in a basket, with protective glances over my shoulder. It could have been black gold that I had found.

Why so few places sell this wonderful fruit it's difficult to guess. Browsing the internet, one page proclaimed it a fruit with dessert limits. Really? Pies and sorbets, plus ice cream presumably and compotes - the latter to eat with a creamy, rich yogurt, perhaps. And that's without mentioning jam.

How many dessert possibilities do gooseberries have?

But perhaps it's not as surprising when you think that the most popular blackcurrant product that you can find on supermarket shelves is Ribena, while the French have come up with crème de cassis.

One of the strangest things about browsing for recipes for a sorbet was that several of the ones that came up included egg whites – why on earth would you add egg whites to a sorbet? And I dismissed too those that required glucose. As the recipe above illustrates, you only need the most straightfoward and simple ingredients.

It does take a long while to freeze, but that's hardly the end of the world. And the result is incredibly flavoursome and refreshing.

What a shame that we seem to believe that the best use for such a wonderfully rich, tart fruit is as a child's cordial. As a sorbet shows, blackcurrants are really very grown up and sophisticated.

1 comment:

  1. Chegworth do sell them - just not this late in the year. The vast majority of all the English blackcurrants are bought by Ribena!