The trouble with turning fruit gluts into sweet preserves is that I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth and neither, it seems, do most people who stay here. So the store room shelves are usually very well stocked with jams and jellies that are often 2-3 years old because I made such large batches. Recently I’ve taken to making smaller batches, and increasing the variety in both the number of jams and jellies I make and in what I do with the fruit. This has been a lot more successful in actually getting things eaten. So here are the redcurrant recipes used this year …
The 6 redcurrant bushes planted in 2010 in the jungle that’s now the yurt terrace gardens really came into their own this year and produced more than 2kg of fruit apiece.
Most of the fruit went to make natural redcurrant soda. Next to elderflower, redcurrant soda has to be the favourite of all the fruit sodas I regularly make every summer now. 2kg of fruit will make 12 litres of soda so it goes a long way, and now we have refrigeration up at the wee house, it’s much easier to keep in optimum drinking condition once the initial fermentation is over.
Put 1kg redcurrants in a large bowl. Add the juice of one lemon and another lemon thinly sliced. Use a potato masher to break up the redcurrants a bit. Add 4 litres of water, cover with a tea towel and allow to stand for 24 hours. Dissolve 1kg sugar in 2 litres of water. Strain the fruit water into the sugar water, stir, then bottle in 3 x 2-litre (or 4 x 1.5-litre) soda bottles. Keep at room temperature until the fermentation has peaked and calmed down a bit, releasing the pressure build-up as required.
With redcurrants, the fermentation takes off almost immediately and you need to unscrew the bottle caps 2-3 times a day at least. The plastic soda bottles can be used again and again. Although they’re plastic, which is not ideal, they’re made to take pressure and I feel safer with them than glass. I’ve never yet had one explode, but it has taken me at least 20 minutes to progressively depressurise some very vigorous fermentations, so frequent attention is preferable for the more lively sodas. After 5 days or so, the fermentation will calm down. At this point the soda has lost a lot of its sugary sweetness, but is still sweet and refreshing and not yet noticeably alcoholic. This is a good point to put it in the fridge. The cooler temperatures slow the fermentation right down and the soda will keep a few weeks.
Another 2kg of redcurrants went to make redcurrant jelly. How can you not make redcurrant jelly out of redcurrants? This was just a very simple generic recipe – equal weights of fruit and sugar, no added water. Soften the fruit over heat until it releases all its liquid, cook about 10 minutes, strain through a muslin, add the sugar, boil until setting point and pour into sterilised jars (now going through their 3rd use and still going strong).
Some more went to make redcurrant liqueur. This is just a matter of adding some fruit to aguardente, letting it sit a few months, then adding sugar syrup to taste. It will be ready for Christmas.
Next to the redcurrant soda, redcurrant ice cream emerged as another favourite. This is the first time I’ve made ice cream with the fruit here.
It’s not possible to get fresh cream here in Portugal – well at least not in this area – which leaves only the UHT version. I took a tip from a friend and used crème fraiche, mixing it in with the UHT cream. The crème fraiche masks that UHT taste, while the cream smoothes out the slight yoghurtiness of the crème fraiche. It’s not fresh cream, but it’s better than UHT on its own. It’s also very easy to make ice cream from. I simply made a fruit purée or reduction, sweetened to taste, folded in an equal volume of crème fraiche to which had been added roughly half that volume again of UHT cream, and bunged it in an ice cream maker. (So for 500ml fruit purée, you would add 500ml crème fraiche and a 200ml carton of UHT cream.) The proportions aren’t critical. With an intensely flavoured but watery fruit like redcurrants, you can get away with doubling the quantity of UHT cream as it makes for a smoother ice cream.
No photos of the ice cream – it disappeared too quickly.