Fresh berries from the garden are one of my favourite harvests, and they garnished our Christmas ice-cream pudding (same yummy flavour as plum pudding but even nicer in our climate). In the last two years my fifteen-year-old, borer-infested red, white and blackcurrant bushes were replaced with fresh cuttings, so only a little fruit from them this season, but there have been plenty of tayberries, boysenberries, and even blackberries from a boundary thicket. I confess that my first harvests of raspberries never made it inside the house!
Jams (or rather jellies) are easy to make by softening the washed berries for a few minutes on the stovetop, then sieving them through a mouli, before adding pectin (Jamsetta), 30-50% by weight of sugar and cooking till set (place a saucer in the freezer when you start cooking the jam; place a teaspoonful on the plate and replace in freezer for a few minutes, then pull a finger through the cooled jam – if it wrinkles, it’s ready).
Red and white currants are high in pectin and don’t require extra, especially when you include some under-ripe berries. Sterilising jars is now easy with a dishwasher set on rinse – just remember to keep them warm and dry in the oven afterwards so they don’t shatter when you pour in the hot jam. A non-stick wok is perfect for cooking jam, and covers and rubber bands are available from most supermarkets, so the process is surprisingly quick and straightforward.
If you’ve never made jam before, why not try? Although large batches are more efficient to make, small batches of a few jars will thicken much faster and are less likely to burn. You can combine berries, too – my favourite is one-third raspberry and two-thirds red/white currants.
However, nowadays we eat less jam than we used to; and the boysenberries and tayberries this year were more than we could eat fresh: 4 kg tayberries in three weeks November-December, 7.5 kg boysenberries in December. So this year, after the success of frozen sour cherries last season, I did the same with both sieved puree (in single serve containers) and whole berries (first on trays so they remain separate, then placed in ziplock bags).
You can still make jam with the sieved puree or berries later if you wish, but the puree is also delicious over or in icecream (Santa brought an ice-cream machine!), pavlova or Eton mess. You can add it to lemonade or soda water or cocktails. The whole frozen berries are fantastic in pies, cobblers, soufflés, tarts… you name it (Yummly is a terrific recipe resource).
Below is my ice cream pudding recipe, adapted from Donna Hay’s frozen Christmas pudding recipe. Mine is quite strongly flavoured, so reduce quantities of spices if you prefer a milder pudding.
Frozen Berry Icecream Pudding
Combine the following ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and leave covered overnight in fridge:
50g glace cherries
35g glace mango or pawpaw
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup fruit medley
½ tspn cinnamon
1 tspn vanilla bean paste OR 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
1/tspn mixed spice
2 tbspn brandy
2 tbspn orange Triple Sec
Liquid should be almost all absorbed by the morning.
Next day, remove vanilla bean if used. Mix marinaded fruit through 2litres of softened but not runny icecream. Transfer to a Bundt tin lined with Gladwrap and freeze for at least 4 hours.