I’m only too aware that I’ve been very remiss about posting on my gardening blog over the past few locked down months. I can only blame pressures of work (and I know I’m very lucky to have been so busy, especially when so many colleagues have had nothing), family circumstances and now the busiest time in a gardener’s year: harvest time! This post in my translation blog gives a quick overview of what’s been going on in my life for those who don’t already follow it – and, one of these days, when I’ve more time, I promise I will catch up with lots of posts about my sourdough experiments and lockdown cooking/baking in general.
For now, a colleague on the Foodie Translators Facebook group asked me to share my recipe for cassis and I thought I might as well write it up here for future reference. Like many of my recipes, it comes from a yellowed newspaper cutting I’ve had in one of my recipe scrapbooks for years and never got round to making. The article author credits Jane Grigson (her Fruit Book), but I haven’t kept a note of who wrote the article – sorry! This year, with a great crop of blackcurrants, I decided to put it to the test. Warning: it’s a lengthy process, although not that much actual hands-on time, so make sure you allow enough time to complete. Perfect if you’re (still) working from home, juggling work, childcare and household tasks.
Cassis – makes 4-5 500-ml bottles
1 litre decent red wine
(I used an Exquisite collection Australian Shiraz from Aldi – sorry, France!)
about 1.5 kg sugar
about 750 ml brandy (or gin or vodka – your call)
Take the stalks off the blackcurrants and remove any leaves or squishy berries, then place in a large bowl. Pour over the red wine, cover with a tea towel and leave to steep for 48 hours.
Liquidise in a blender – you may need to do this in two batches due to the volume. Then tip into a jelly bag or straining cloth suspended over a large bowl and leave to drip overnight. (I use a jelly stand, bought as part of a Good Housekeeping offer over 35 years ago, comprising a preserving pan, long-handled wooden spoon, jam funnel, jelly stand and muslin jelly bag. Bar the pan (which came to a sticky end after an ill-fated encounter with plum ketchup a few years ago), I still have the rest – and they come out like clockwork every year. However, you can also strain through an old tea towel tied to the legs of an upturned kitchen stool or chair with a bowl beneath.) After straining, wring firmly to extract every last bit of juice. Discard the dry seeds and skins left in the bag – mine went straight to the compost heap.
Measure the resulting liquid, place in a preserving pan and add 1 kg sugar to each litre of liquid. Note the level. Place the pan over moderate heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then regulate the heat so that the temperature stays above blood temperature, but well below simmering point. Leave for about two hours, checking every so often to make sure it isn’t simmering too fast. At the end of the two hours, the level should have reduced slightly and the liquid will be slightly syrupy. Leave to cool.
Finally, stir in the brandy, or spirit of your choice (again I used an own-brand cognac from Aldi) in the ratio of 1 part brandy to 3 parts of syrup. Pour into sterilised glass bottles through a standard funnel. It should keep for years – if you can!
Mine didn’t have to wait long for its first use: the very next day, in fact. Perfect added to Nigel Slater’s divine cross between a Tiramisu and blackcurrant trifle (adapted recipe here) and equally good added to raspberry sorbet – I’ve used Chambord raspberry liqueur before, but I think this was even better.
Incidentally, I’ve been so glad I treated myself to an electric ice cream maker last year. I’ve been wondering about buying one for years. They are expensive, at around £200 to £250 for the Cuisinart model I have, but if you grow a lot of your own fruit, they are worth every penny. They give a much better result than the old Magimix model I had before, where you freeze the bowl overnight, plus you can use them again immediately you’ve made one batch should you feel so inclined. You can also use them straight from the ice cream maker, although I find they are better frozen for at least a couple of hours for best results. The texture (and taste, of course) are quite simply sublime – I’m so glad I took the plunge with birthday money from my parents at the end of last year.
Interestingly, the instructions also say (and you feel for the Masterchef contestants once you read this) that the mixture should ideally be left in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours (or even overnight) before churning, which certainly seems to give good results every time for me. It’s no hassle, as I blend the berries on my return from the allotment in the evening, then leave the mixture in the fridge overnight to churn in the morning (about 45 minutes) as I have my breakfast. No wonder the hapless contestants sometimes end up with a puddle of would-be ice cream rather than a perfect quenelle….