At this time of year the Italians might have their golden peaches and the Indians their lush ripe mangoes, but we have the most delicious local berries in season now. Strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries are in full flow with the promise of blackcurrants on the horizon.
Blackcurrants are my favourite fruit. They’re not as popular as their flamboyant scarlet berry counterpart, the strawberry, but they should be. With their lip puckering astringency and deep, rich flavours, they deserve to be cherished.
In the late 19th and early 20th century fruit curds were served with scones and breads as an alternative to jam. In those days, before refrigeration, it would have been made in small batches, but now commercial techniques have made it commonplace.
Homemade curds are now on trend in the best restaurants and they’re a lovely way of using up excesses of fruit and adding flavour and texture at the same time. Blackcurrants, combined with lemon, make an excellent smooth curd that can be a lovely addition to your afternoon tea spread. Fruit curds combine the actual puree with egg yolks, egg and butter – very decadent. The curd is great served on a warm scone or as a filling for a sponge cake with lots of cream. When fruit is in season it’s a good idea to preserve for the winter months. You can buy ready frozen fruit in supermarkets all year but you won’t capture the unique sense of place that a local one provides. The simplest way is to bag them and freeze them. But there are a couple of interesting alternatives.
Fruit Shrubs have become fashionable in cocktail recipes. Fruit is soaked in a sugar syrup, drained and topped with vinegar. It’s then bottled and refrigerated. They were developed in colonial America, where they were topped with ice and soda water to make a refreshing drink for a hot summer’s day. The acidity adds a refreshing element to drinks and is a more sophisticated alternative to sticky cordials.
Fruit liqueurs can also be made easily – combine 500g of fruit with 500g of sugar and add a litre of spirit in a kilner jar. Leave for about two months and strain ( give the jar an odd shake). I like to add vanilla pods, citrus rind, lavender and all manner of aromatics to the mix.
Gooseberries are an often overlooked fruit but they have a unique fragrant sharpness. They’re in season now and one of the best ways to enjoy them is in the simple pleasure of a pie. In my recipe the gooseberries are combined with apple and elderflower cordial and baked in buttery rich pastry. You could enjoy this with cream, custard or ice-cream ( or all three if you like) but I’ve included a recipe for a no churn homemade gooseberry ice-cream. These treasures aren’t around for long so make the most of them while they are.