Currant affairs

A bumper crop of blackcurrants and redcurrants summon lots of potential

This summer’s bumper crops of blackcurrants and redcurrants have left gardeners wondering what to do with their bounty once they’ve exhausted the jams and jellies options.

Some years ago chef Skye Gyngell, who was then working at Petersham Nurseries, the garden centre with a Michelin-starred restaurant in Richmond, southwest London, was guest chef for a demonstration at Ballymaloe Cookery School and she opened her session by making crème de cassis, the blackcurrant liqueur used to make kir and kir royal.

I can still remember the startlingly sweet/sharp and deeply fruity taste of the liqueur, served to us in sparkling water. It was so much better than the commercial varieties, even the best ones from Dijon. But I never got around to recreating the recipe, partly because I don't have a ready supply of blackcurrants. This week I was kindly offered some by food writer and blogger Margaret Griffin.

Griffin, who studied agricultural science and later food safety, and has a highly productive smallholding at her home in Moynalty, Co Meath, also makes cassis and has just made a version with redcurrants, called crème de groseille. In addition to caring for her chickens, ducks and pigs, and tending her fruit and vegetable garden, Griffin also found time to find a use for her surplus gooseberries, which are now macerating in gin, en route to becoming Green Cowboy martinis, with the addition of gooseberry syrup and mint leaves, from a recipe she found on the channel 4 website.


Griffin's crème de cassis and crème de groseille are made with vodka, fruit and sugar and they require a little patience. She says she has used the blackcurrant version after the initial three-month steeping, once the sugar syrup was added, but suggests allowing it to mature for at least a further five months. Any not-too-expensive vodka can be used. "This is not the place for your Grey Goose," she says. "I think if I could get my hands on eau de vie it would be much better, being a grape-based alcohol, but all recipes say vodka works as well."

Journalist and broadcaster Caroline Hennessy also makes crème de cassis and though her method is brandy-based, they are broadly similar, and neither will suffer from a bit of neglect. Hennessy says she intended to steep her currants in brandy for an initial period of four weeks last summer, but forgot about it, and it was fine three months later, so that's what she will do again this year. She was delighted by the depth of flavour in the liqueur, which she is using "to boost the flavour of homemade blackcurrant jam, drizzling over just-baked tea brack and adding to any recipe that involves almonds".

Sky Gyngell’s version uses red wine as well as brandy, and is ready to use as soon as it’s made, though will benefit from a period of maturation.

Griffin and Hennessy stress the importance of making sure the glass jars or bottles are sterile.

For me, it's going to be a long wait, but that first kir will be worth it, I hope.

Margaret Griffin's blog is; Caroline Hennessy's:

Marie Claire Digby

Marie Claire Digby

Marie Claire Digby is Senior Food Writer at The Irish Times