A cool region plant, the Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) thrives in the British climate. Much more acidic than white or red currants, it is closer in this regard to its relation the Gooseberry. Its intense aroma comes from the many spicy terpenes, fruity esters and a sulphur compound that is also to be found in gooseberries, green tea and Sauvignon Blanc wines.
The Blackcurrant’s resinous character needs to be tamed by briefly cooking with sugar and a little water to reveal its qualities. The Blackcurrant is not only versatile and delicious but exceptionally rich in vitamin C and antioxidants. Its strength of flavour means a little goes a long way. Blackcurrants also freeze extremely well.
The leaves of the blackcurrant shouldn’t be overlooked. They are highly aromatic and can be infused in a syrup or a custard to impart a flavour which Kitty Travers of La Grotta Ices interprets as “white acid drops”.
Their season is relatively short but you can normally expect to see blackcurrants from early- to mid-July and into August. The French value them mainly for the making of their Crème de Cassis cordial – essential for the white wine aperitif, Kir. Much of the UK Blackcurrant crop is harvested for a well-known sweet, sticky blackcurrant drink but we buy ours from our favourite fruit farm in Kent. As well as selling them by the punnet, they go into our London Fermentary healthy, tangy Blackcurrant Water Kefir.
Blackcurrants pair well with mint, anise, chocolate and coffee flavours. They respond exceptionally well to cream. High in natural pectin, they are easy to preserve and make a deeply flavoured syrup, jelly (good stirred into meat juices) or jam; a highly aromatic sorbet and a luscious ice cream; outstanding with a creamy syllabub or a posset; a crumble or pie, on their own or teamed with pears; and they’re a wonderful addition to a Summer Pudding with raspberries - Nigel Slater champions a Blackcurrant and Blackberry version of Summer Pudding, with the proviso that plenty of cream be deployed.