Juicy, sour, jewel-like summer berries
“We picked the first batch a couple of days ago, and they will keep coming,” says chef and Demo Kitchen regular Celia Brooks. “Currants tend to all come out at once, but they freeze well: there are photos of us watching the women’s Wimbledon final and preparing all our redcurrants for the freezer. Wimbledon has become the mark of their peak for me—but they’re a little early this year.”
They’re ripe for the picking at Chegworth Valley’s Kent farm, too—the first batch arrived on the stall this weekend. “The first to come through are the blackcurrants, followed later by red and whitecurrants come July through to August,” says Vikki. “They grow on small bushes which we plant at intervals, pruning them over winter to encourage growth. If we have any left we whizz them into juices—though we sell almost all of them fresh!”
The white and redcurrants grow on ‘strings’ like threaded jewels: “It’s a beautiful thing to have a full stem of them decorating a plate, particularly the whitecurrants, which I would say are a little less flavoursome than red and blackcurrants, but make for the ultimate dessert garnish,” continues Celia.
Fragrant pigeon salad
Try using sour redcurrants in a fragrant pigeon salad, or use them to recreate a classic: “My favourite thing to do with redcurrants is make ‘bar-le-duc’ jelly, which is a recipe named after the town in France where it originated. Jane Grigson’s recipe requires you to use the quill of a goose’s feather to remove the seeds—can you imagine how long that would take?!” If you’ve not got a goose quill to hand, Celia suggests simply removing the fruits from the stems and cooking them down with sugar, then strain to remove any stems or seeds—they can be bitter—and leave in a sterilised jar to set.
“There’s so much natural pectin in them, it just makes the best jelly. If you’re a first-time jam-maker, this would be the one to do. It has a brilliant, vibrant red colour and a really good flavour, too.”
Redcurrant jelly is traditionally paired with lamb, though red meats and game work equally well. “Redcurrant jelly is very sweet, but has that sharpness as well so it goes well with meats,” says Celia. “It works nicely with cheese and crackers, or it’s lovely just spread on toast, sandwiched in a victoria sponge, or in a pastry.”
Blackcurrants, however, hold the top spot in Celia’s heart. “They have such a great flavour, it’s really interesting and distinct—almost herbal,” she enthuses. “You could scatter them through a summer fruit crumble so you get that nice burst of flavour and colour, or make it into a fruit puree and layer into a tart. I think all currants need the help of a little sugar for sure, but of the three, blackcurrants the least so. They’re just wonderful.”