Grow Your Own Delicious Blackcurrant Juice
I have three blackcurrant bushes in my garden. They produce an almost unbelievable amount of fruit around this time of year. In the past I had neglected these bushes slightly as they don’t really require all that much care and attention in comparison to other needier fruits and vegetables.
However, several years ago I began a personal vendetta against the British beverage label Ribena when they launched an advertising campaign claiming that “95% of all Britain’s Blackcurrants” go into making Ribena. This made me irrationally angry; how dare they monopolise on blackcurrant production in such a way?! I decided that I would personally undermine their claim by producing as many blackcurrants in my back garden as humanely possible.
This required me to pay some attention to my blackcurrant bushes, which had been unceremoniously planted at the back of the garden. They seemed to be quite content with their location and had formed a close bond with the cooking apple tree and the surrounding overgrowing weeds.
After a ferocious afternoon of weeding the soil was finally visible. Blackcurrants like a slightly acidic soil; adding coffee grounds increases the acidity of the soil and also provides generous amounts of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper. They also release nitrogen into the soil as they degrade.
Blackcurrants like it wet. As we live on the outskirts of Manchester, a city famed for continuous rain, our berry yield is always plump, juicy and abundant. But if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with a slightly drier climate, make sure they are watered regularly. The coffee grounds will also help in that regard as they are great at making soil more moisture retentive.
- Ben Lomond – large, sweet berries, large yields, harvest in late July
- Big Ben – very large berries, large yields, sweet flavour, ideal for eating fresh, early season harvest
- Ebony – sweet flavour, ideal for eating fresh, easy for picking, harvest mid July
- Ben Connan – excellent flavour, large yields, compact bush, harvest mid July,
- Ben Sarek – excellent flavour, large fruits, large yields, small compact bush, suitable for containers
As you can see, all varieties are rather similar and have numerous advantages depending on what harvest you are looking for and the size of your garden. Blackcurrants generally produce large yields, so once you have harvested the only question remains is what to do with them all. Blackcurrants are famed for their very high Vitamin C content, are very good in summer puddings and pies and compliment other fruits like apple and gooseberry very well. They also make excellent jam.
Many fruits are not ideal for jam making as in order to set properly jam needs fruit which is acidic and contains a lot of pectin. Blackcurrants are perfect as they have both of these qualities. Also, as their tart flavour can sometimes be overwhelming when eaten fresh, so sweetening with a lot of sugar is a good idea.
Making Blackcurrant Jam
Everyone has their own theory on the best way to make jam, but mine is: 1 and ½ times as much sugar as there is fruit. So for 2lb of blackcurrants you will need 3lb of sugar.
- 2lb of blackcurrants
- 1 pint of water
- 3lb of granulated sugar
1. Pick over the fruit, remove any leaves, insects, stalks etc. rinse.
2. Tip the washed fruit into a large metal pan, add the water and cook over a low heat until the berries are soft. I have found that freezing the berries before making jam causes them to soften faster once they are cooking. Perhaps freezing breaks down the fibre slightly. To check if the fruit is soft enough, squash it against the edge of the pan with a wooden spoon. It should squash easily when ready.
3. Once the blackcurrants are simmering gently, tip the sugar into the pan and stir until dissolved. Check the back of your wooden spoon; there should be no sugar granules remaining. It’s important that no solid sugar is left or the finished jam will crystallise.
4. Once the sugar is dissolved turn the heat up and boil the jam rapidly for 10 – 15 minutes. It should start what is called a “rolling boil”, where the mixture foams and rolls as it boils. You must watch the pan throughout this process as boiling sugar is unpredictable and very dangerous. Make sure it doesn’t boil over or stick to the bottom and burn.
5. Once it has been on a rolling boil for ten minutes you can check the consistency. Spoon a few drops onto a small plate, let it cool for a few seconds, and then gently push the liquid with your finger. If the jam is ready it will crinkle up as you push it. It could take ten minutes, it could take twenty, so keep the jam boiling and repeat this process until it has the desired effect. You can then take the pan off the heat.
6. If you are reusing old jars you must ensure they are sterilised or risk ruining a whole batch of jam. To do this, remove the metal lids and set them aside. Add an inch of boiling water to each jar and put them in the microwave for five minutes. The steam will kill any bacteria. For the lids, put them all in a saucepan, cover with boiling water and boil them for the same amount of time.
7. Once your jars are sterilised, pour the water away. You can now add the jam! Depending on how steady handed you are you may want to pour straight from the pan, use a funnel or even transfer the mixture to a jug first.
8. Cut circles of greaseproof paper, place on top of the jar and put the lid on. You can then add labels, decorate with fabric covers and elastic bands, or whatever you want to make them look pretty. Leave to cool before storing.
Author Bio: Olivia Lazenby is a passionate gardening writer. She has a particular interest in garden design, and recommends http://www.gardenfurniturecentre.co.uk/ when choosing your garden furniture.