About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Monday, 4 July 2011

More blackcurrants than you can shake a stick at

In fact, if you shook a stick at the blackcurrants in question, you'd hear a series of little thuds as currants jumped off the bush and landed on the ground.

On Tuesday evening of last week, my neighbour came round to ask if I'd like some of her blackcurrants. She'd already harvested twenty pounds and had run out of freezer space and enthusiasm for blackcurrants. Of course I said yes.

On Wednesday afternoon I spent a pleasant, if somewhat back-aching, couple of hours picking currants in her garden. I then realised that as we were going away on Friday, I'd need to get them topped and tailed, stewed and strung up before going to bed on Wednesday so I could make things from the juice and pulp on Thursday. Furthermore, I had an idea for using the seeds (which belongs to another post) that meant I wanted to top and tail thoroughly, removing the little hard disk from behind the flower. So it was that I took a sharp knife and removed the flower (as well as anything else that needed removing) from every blackcurrant in that five-pound-plus harvest.

Topping and tailing late into the night

Actually, that's not entirely true. As it got towards two o'clock in the morning, I was getting pretty fed up with this, and got selective. I picked out the biggest, ripest currants and left the small and unripe ones. I ended up with five pounds processed, and the plus (about five ounces) left over. Stewing and stringing up didn't take long and I got to bed at about 2:30 am.

The bag kept dripping juice well into the next day, and it was early Thursday afternoon that I turned my attention to the next stage of processing. First, I added sugar to the juice to make cordial. That yielded about 750 ml, or one and half small bottles, which was a little disappointing - I'd expected at least a litre.

Next, I pushed the fruit mush through a sieve to separate the pulp from the seeds and skins. That was very hard work, especially when I put too much in the sieve at once.

Pushing pulp through a sieve

This yielded a huge quantity of pulp, lots more than the juice I'd used for the cordial. First I made ice cream with it. I had an idea that a ripple ice cream would be nice and as I had the ingredients, I went to the effort of doing it properly.

Step 1: Heat some double cream left over from birthday scones with milk to make it go a bit further (maybe 400 ml total?) and a vanilla pod that I knew I had in the back of the cupboard somewhere. Leave that gently heating and infusing for a while.
Step 2: Separate two eggs. Put the yolks in a big bowl and whisk a bit.
Step 4: Fish the vanilla pod out of the milk/cream and wash it (it can be used again). Pour the hot milk/cream onto the yolks, whisking. Put back in the pan and heat gently, still whisking, until it thickens. At some point in this process add some sugar until it looks and tastes like custard, which is what it is. Leave to cool.
Step 5: Add sugar to some pulp until it tastes about sweet enough for a ripple.
Step 6: Beat egg whites until fluffy and fold two-thirds or so into the custard. Put this in the freezer. Ideally, this should be taken out and stirred at frequent intervals as it freezes, but I couldn't figure out how to do this at the same time as adding the ripple, so I did it once or twice before...
Step 7: Fold the rest of the egg white into the blackcurrant pulp. Add this to the half-frozen vanilla ice cream and stir just a little bit. Put back in the freezer to finish freezing.

It may be rather solid, but it looks fabulous:

Blackcurrant ripple ice cream.

We haven't tried it yet, but my sister's coming to visit with her husband and baby, so I'm looking forward to sharing it with them. The baby will not be getting any ice cream.

I also made sorbet, which is much simpler. Just add water and sugar to the pulp and freeze. I did the taking-out-and-stirring-during-freezing thing with this one, so hopefully it won't be too solid. Without the egg whites, that could easily end up as a lump of ice.

After all that, I still had some pulp left over and started thinking about jam. Now, if you're making jam you'd usually use the whole fruit and if you're making jelly you'd usually use the juice and throw away the bit I had left. On the other hand, I don't really care whether my jam is cloudy or not, and this pulp must have plenty of pectin in it for setting. I put it in a pan (actually the same jamming kettle I'd stewed the fruit in the night before. It was already covered in blackcurrant juice...) with some water and quite a lot of sugar (keep adding until it tastes about as sweet as jam) and turned on the heat. I left that boiling while I did the washing up, stirring and checking from time to time (the hand towel got quite soggy). I also put some jam jars in the oven to sterilise.

When a drop dripped onto a chilled plate passed the wrinkle test (it really did - it wrinkled!) I quickly poured it into jars (easier said than done when manhandling a jamming kettle) and put the lids on. I got three jars full (two of which are small jars) and in spite of ignoring the usual procedures, I think I've got some pretty good jam:

Blackcurrant jam. Its resemblance to toffee is minimal.

The final job for these currants was to clean the seeds as best I could and spread them out on a tray to dry. I also picked out the small but ripe currants and spread those out in a basket to see if they'll dry into the kind of things you put in a Christmas cake. Now I just have to decide what to do with the rest of the currants on my own bushes, which are probably ripe and falling onto the ground by now.


  1. We had one of those "will this night of processing never end?" moments with apples for cider last year so my sympathies are with you for your long night :)

    Good work though - the ice cream looks yummy. What a lovely neighbour :)

  2. OMG! You topped and tailed then cooked and strained it? You don't have to do that, really you don't. With blackcurrants, even if you make whole Berry jam without straining you don't have to do that, only remove stems. The only real need for topping and tailing is if you can them in light syrup. Thanks for the pulp recipes though, found this when looking for things to do with the pulp from the cordial I'm making


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