When we first started creating our garden, we sourced and planted currants and various berries – raspberries, blueberries, loganberries and boysenberries and others. Although apples have always been a passion (and we have amassed a ridiculously large collection of heritage varieties that are now scattered through our entire garden), as Christmas approaches so does the delicious soft fruit/berry season, heralded by the first reddening on the redcurrants.
Our range of currants has shrunk a little – mainly out of laziness as currants by and large aren’t that great eaten straight from the bush, but rather need converting into cordials or jellies. We started off with red, black and white currants – but in the end got rid of the white as the jam appeared made of tadpoles (due to the excessively large seeds) and I hadn’t mastered jelly-making at that stage. These days I make cordial out of both the red and black, as well as redcurrant jelly and blackcurrant jam – surely one of the nicest.
Patience was needed for our blueberries to begin bearing – years and years in fact – but now we harvest kilos and kilos off only half a dozen bushes. They are far and away my favourite berry – and providing they are kept well watered they are relatively maintenance free. We planted ours not far from a hedge of enormous conifers as they have a penchant for acid soil and they have done beautifully. Sadly, the birds love them as well, and we need to net them the moment the fruit flushes with even the tiniest hint of blue. Most are eaten fresh but they have the added bonus of freezing incredibly well in a container where they will stay separated like frozen peas.
And raspberries….. what can I say? In so many ways, they are synonymous with summer and a dessert of fresh raspberries with cream or ice-cream is hard to beat. We grow a few varieties – including the so-called ‘white raspberry’ which is more yellow than white and has a hint of coconut to the taste.
We planted them in four rows trained on wires that make harvesting and protecting from birds very straightforward. The pruning is much easier this way as well, with fruiting canes removed to the ground at the end of the season, and the newly sprouted canes then tied onto the wires. There are few summer pleasures greater than standing among the rows and eating spray-free, fresh berries to your hearts content.
Loganberries are a little odd in that they retain their central ‘core’ when picked – and their ‘hairs’ a bit more prominent, but the jam produced from them is unsurpassed. We grow them again on wires, alongside our boysenberries, which are perhaps the most impressive berry of all. When ripe, boysenberries are fat, decadent and juicy and a wonderful addition to a fruit salad.
Every morning at this time of year we enjoy our breakfast cereal loaded with fresh berries – only when I see the price of a punnet of raspberries or blueberries in the supermarket do I realise how fortunate we are to have planted so much soft fruit and to garden in a climate conducive to growing them. At times it can be a little daunting having to deal with so many berries all at once and this is where the deep freeze comes into its own. How on earth did people cope before they became standard in every home? I freeze excess berries into one kilo bags, and they can then be used for jam or jelly making whenever time allows. I would have to say the best results are achieved with fresh berries, however I am more likely to use frozen berries for making a cordial that can be diluted with water for a delicious drink.
Place berries (any variety) into a large saucepan and cover with water. Simmer gently until the berries have softened entirely and lost most of their juice to the water, softly crushing with a potato masher to assist with this.
Strain through a wire strainer, crushing berries to make sure the maximum juice is extracted (I’m not at all bothered by the slightly cloudy cordial this crushing produces) and return to the same saucepan, measuring the quantity of juice as you go.
For every cup of juice, add a cup of sugar to the pan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for a few minutes.
Pour into clean bottles and cool. I make this in smallish batches so it keeps well enough for a few weeks providing it is refrigerated.
It is delicious mixed with either still or sparkling water, with the ratio of cordial to water being a matter of personal taste.