Mary and other berries.

This post is about a whole bunch of berries… but it’s also a welcome excuse to dodge the laundry.  Our washing machine has bit the dust (probably all that post-USA washing) so I am trying to do tiny hand washes in our bathroom sink.  It’s a losing battle, friends, let me tell you.  As we speak, it’s started to POUR rain on the little load of Evey’s dresses and kitchen towels I just hung on the line.

So. Berries are a great distraction. 🙂

I’ve been attempting something new this week – I’ve entered the realms of booze!  I bought some lovely fresh blackcurrants last week at the Organic Delights stall on West Street and I’ve been turning them into Creme de Cassis.

My blackcurrants – ready to be mashed and soaked in red wine.

I wasn’t at all familiar with blackcurrants until I moved to Ireland.  They are really big over here, and in the UK and New Zealand.  The flavour is powerful and sweet-tart and replaces the grape flavour we might have in certain candies in the States (like purple Skittles – here they’re blackcurrant, in the US they’re grape).  You would also see it in juice form here a lot (i.e. Ribena) where you would find it hard to get grape juice.  Blackcurrants don’t taste like grapes though, lest you be misled. Real blackcurrants are too tart to eat raw (at least for me) and are small, nearly black, seedy fruits with a very high Vitamin C content.  I love blackcurrant jam, but as they are expensive to buy fresh (on par with huckleberries or other small, labour-intensive fruits) I thought I might try something different.  Creme de Cassis is a strong, sweet blackcurrant liquor that is nice added to champagne or cocktails or drizzled over meringues or summer puddings.

I found a few different recipes for Cassis… all similar but with different tweaks.  I based my trial run on this one from Channel 4 in England and it tasted pretty darn good.  It was also easy, though a bit messy (blackcurrants stain!).  The hard part is now going to be letting it sit for several months.  A full year is recommended, but I think I’ll be lucky to save it as far as Christmas!  I downsized this recipe considerably as well, because I could only afford 250 grams of berries, so it had to reduce all the ingredients to 1/6 of the original measurements.  Still, I got two small jars of the stuff and I know we will enjoy it in a few months time.

Finished Product

According to an article I found in the New York Times, blackcurrants (or the commercial growth of them) were actually banned in many states because the bushes can carry a fungus that is lethal to indigenous American pine trees.  Ha! No wonder we’ve never seen them in the US.  However, the same article (which is from 2009) went on to say the ban has been lifted and some farmers are trying to get Americans interested in blackcurrants again, as well as red, white and champagne currants.  If you see these at your local farmer’s market, I’d strongly recommend picking up a basket and trying them out.  They’re also great when make into sauces and accompanied with savoury foods like pork and duck.

Another new berry to me is the white mulberry, which I also bought at the market stall where I found the blackcurrants.  These mulberries are dried and, while mild and sweet enough to eat on their own, I’m not sure what to do with them exactly.  They have a flavour not unlike raisins though the texture is obviously totally different. We have eaten a few of them but I ended up freezing them because I was worried that, although dried, they would go mouldy in this damp climate.  If anyone has ever used mulberries or have any ideas for me, please share!  Hope you don’t have “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush” stuck in your head now… 🙂

Dried Mulberries

Then, of course, it’s blackberry season again.  We didn’t get a good crop of raspberries this year, but the blackberries look to be plentiful.  I’m not a huge fan of blackberries myself, but I’ve promised to make Frank a blackberry apple crumble later this week.  Hm, I think I can be convinced into that one, though I would still prefer the blackberry cheesecake I made a couple years ago… but the crumble is probably better for my waistline.  Sigh.

And I’ve saved the best berry for last –  Mary Berry.  She is neither stranger or acquaintance to me, but rather an inspiring cooking expert who has returned to the BBC for a third season of “Great British Bake Off.”  I love this show – I really, really do.  It is entertaining and educational and each week is chock full of gorgeous baked foods.  It’s a reality show, so to speak, but it’s one that is honest while still kind and funny.  I appreciate that.  It takes 12 amateur home bakers from around Britain and challenges them each week to bake new recipes as well as some of their own.  The judges are Paul Hollywood, another expert baker, and Mary Berry.

I hope when I am of a certain age I will have the poise and sparkle of Ms. Berry. She has luminous blue eyes and smooth lines around her face that crinkle when she smiles.  She makes me smile.  She is in every way a lady, and most intent on encouraging these bakers while not pulling any punches.  And she is a fountain of baking knowledge!  Frank bought me the cookbook from last season’s show and Mary smiles off the cover at me, almost cheering me on when I open the book and gaze longingly (and a little  bit nervously) at the recipes within.

Funny how the obesity epidemic is always a big topic these days, and yet there are no shortage of cooking shows and baking competitions like this.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing though, not really… I mean, if we all restricted our intake of sweets to only those we made ourselves, we might lose some of the unwanted pudge.  Or maybe not… but at least we’d know exactly what was going into our bodies (butter, butter, butter, sugar, butter) without having to Google all the bizarre processed ingredients found on most store-bought packaging these days. Food for thought?

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One thought on “Mary and other berries.

  1. Pingback: Meringue Magic | View From an Irish Back Yard

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