Milking the blackcurrants

My two blackcurrants haven’t done very well this year. I say ‘this year’, but it is only their second summer since planting, so they are not really established yet. However, blackcurrant bushes need a lot of space, and are greedy plants for nutrients… Now that they are all competing,  I think that they are just too squashed in with my other fruit bushes. With the addition of the weather being too dry, they gave up trying to fruit. When autumn arrives, I’ll do a bit of a shuffle and give these bushes more room… as space is short, that might mean some big pots.

Luckily, my mum’s garden has several very prolific blackcurrant bushes! She’s getting too old to get under to pick them herself. It’s not easy to pick blackcurrants. So last year she cut off nearly all the stems low down with secateurs and brought them to the porch, where she could sit down to pick them. The regrowth has been phenomenal, and they’ve fruited better than ever this year. I would have thought that summer pruning would weaken the plant, but, despite my protestations, she’s doing it again this year…

My mum’s a pretty good gardener, from a line of country folk, so perhaps I should watch and learn. Blackcurrants do need hard pruning (the text books say when dormant, late autumn to late winter) to open up the centre of the bush, to allow a healthy flow of air, and because old stems don’t produce much fruit.

Not being quite so doddery, I’ve been using scissors to cut the bunches off, then de-stalk them once inside. But I’ve found the more ripe they are, the easier it is to just ‘milk’ them off their stalks into a big bowl positioned underneath. Unless they are too ripe, in which case they just squish.

So, if you can hold off, and time it just right, ‘milking’ them has to be the easiest and quickest way to pick currants (as long as you are happy getting down to kneel or have the thighs of a yogi). I use a large up-turned flowerpot to sit on… a milk maid’s stool would be perfect!… relax, and using both hands quickly but gently work them off rhythmically as if milking a cow. Lovely!! Ha ha!!

Something new I discovered this year is blackcurrant leaf tea.  I got the idea from Pam Corbin’s excellent book, Preserves (part of the River Cottage Handbook series). Why isn’t this tea better known? This is refreshing, great-tasting tea, with a subtle ‘brown tea’-like flavour, and worth growing the bushes for as much as the berries.

As for the berries, simply stewed with some sugar has to be one of the best blackcurrant recipes. (very slowly bring to a simmer in a tablespoon or 2 of water, stir in the sugar to dissolve it, then turn off) It makes a simple ‘gravy’ for icecream. Or fill a meringue. Or add in between a sponge cake. Or, my more ‘sophisticated’ favourite: in a glass, add a cut-to-fit chocolate brownie, add an inch layer of blackcurrant ‘gravy’, with a generous dollop of thick cream on top.

Blackcurrant jam is one of the easiest, and quickest (a relief after all that tricky picking!) jams to make, and the most intensely rewarding flavour to add to toast. There is no excuse not to make blackcurrant jam!

Along side Pam’s book, I’ve been reading this new one by Holly Farrell… as well as the standard recipes The Jam Maker’s Garden‘ has an additional ‘something a little different’ tip for each fruit, as well as a ‘how to grow’ page.

The ‘something a little different’ tip for blackcurrants is to add apples if you don’t have enough currants. Thanks to mum’s crop, that’s not a problem for us this year, but it would have been a useful tip if I was just relying on mine!

We’ve still got plenty left to pick but I’ve made more than enough jam… so it’s back to Pam’s book and her very simple recipe (no cooking!) for Blackcurrant Vinegar.

Now, where can I get a proper milking stool?



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