Berry good for you

STRAWBERRIES, raspberries, loganberries, tay berries and now lots of black, red and white currants — it’s the season for berries. A few weeks ago we feasted on green gooseberry and elderflower tarts, compotes and fools. The gooseberries that survived will be left on the bushes to ripen. When they are plump and full of sweet juice we’ll enjoy them as dessert gooseberries.

If you haven’t already got a few gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes in your garden, order them now to plant between now and the autumn. One can buy strawberries and raspberries, even redcurrants ad nauseum year round, but unless you have a good Farmer’s Market close to you, gooseberries and blackcurrants are virtually impossible to find in the shops.

A red currant bush or two is also worth considering — they make a divine jelly and their bitter sweet flavour and high pectin content make a delicious and valuable addition to jams and fruit salad. They too are loaded with vitamin C. All the currants freeze brilliantly: don’t bother to string them, just weigh them into manageable kilogram lots and freeze. The strings will fall off when you shake the bag of frozen berries just before you use them — I discovered that trick years ago when I was too busy to string the fruit before freezing.

If you are stringing the fresh currants a fork is useful and children find it brilliant fun and may even nibble some of the vitamin rich fruit.

Fresh blackcurrants make a delicious cordial that can be diluted like the well known brand and, of course, stored for the winter. They also make irresistibly funky blackcurrant ice pops.

Strings of black, red or white currants are also easy to frost and look delicious on a cake or dessert. The sugary coating makes them irresistible to nibble — if you can hide them they’ll keep for several days in a dry place.

Next week I’ll devote my entire article to jam-making in response to readers’ requests. For now, here are a few delicious puddings to make the most of the Summer berries and currants.

Meringue with Raspberries and Rosewater Cream

A fan oven works really well for meringues, but don’t forget to reduce the temperature by 10-20% depending on your brand of oven.

Serves 10

Meringue: 4 organic egg whites

9 ozs (250g) approx icing sugar, sieved

600ml (1 pint) chilled whipped cream

2 – 3 teaspoons rose blossom water

450g (1lb) fresh, fresh raspberries

To Decorate:

Organic rose petals

Fresh mint leaves or sweet cicely leaves

Silicone paper

First make the meringue. Cover two baking sheets with silicone paper. Otherwise grease and flour the sheet very carefully. Draw two 25.5 cm (10 inch) circles on the silicone paper with a pencil.

Put the egg whites and all the sieved icing sugar into a spotlessly clean bowl and whisk until the mixture forms stiff peaks. This can take 8-10 minutes in an electric mixer. Alternatively you can whisk it by hand, but it takes quite a long time, so if you even have a hand-held mixer it will speed up matters a lot. Divide the meringue mixture between the two circles on the silicone paper and spread with a palette knife into two even discs.

Bake in a low oven 150C/300F/regulo 2 for 45 minutes, or until the meringue discs will lift easily off the paper. Turn off the oven and allow them to cool in the oven if possible.

To Serve: Add rose blossom water to the cream to taste. Put a disc of meringue onto a serving plate. Spread with a layer of the softly whipped rosewater cream. Save some to decorate the top. Sprinkle with a generous layer of fresh raspberries (keep a few for decoration). Top with the second meringue disc. Whip the remainder of the cream stiffly and use to decorate the top with raspberries and fresh mint or sweet cicely leaves. Scatter some fresh rose petals over the top.

Gooseberry, Elderflower and Strawberry Compote

The combination of gooseberries and strawberries is surprisingly delicious. Their seasons just overlap nicely.

Serves 8

900g (2lb) green gooseberries, topped and tailed

2 or 3 elderflower heads

600ml (1 pint) cold water

450g (1lb) sugar 450g

(1lb) ripe Irish strawberries

Make the compote as in the Gooseberry Nectar recipe, opposite page, cook until they just burst. Remove the bag of elderflowers. Pour the gooseberry compote into a bowl. Allow to cool completely. Add the sliced strawberries, stir gently and serve with softly whipped cream.

Blackcurrant Fool

Serves 10 approx.

340g (¾ lb) fresh or frozen blackcurrants

425ml (15fl oz) Stock syrup (see recipe)

Whipped cream

Cover the blackcurrants with stock syrup. Bring to the boil and cook until the fruit bursts, about 4-5 minutes. Liquidise and sieve or purée the fruit and syrup and measure. When the purée has cooled, add up to equal quantity of softly whipped cream, according to taste.

The fool should not be very stiff, more like the texture of softly whipped cream. If it is too stiff stir in a little milk rather than more cream.

For alternative presentation choose tall sundae glasses. Put 50ml (2floz) of blackcurrant purée into the base of the glass, top with a layer of softly whipped cream, another layer of blackcurrant puree and finally a little more cream. Drizzle a little thin purée over the top, serve chilled with shortbread biscuits.

Blackcurrant Ice Cream with Blackcurrant Coulis

Left over blackcurrant fool may be frozen — it makes a delicious ice cream. Serve with blackcurrant coulis made by thinning the blackcurrant purée with a little more water or syrup.

Blackcurrant Coulis:

225 g (8ozs) blackcurrants

225ml (8fl oz) stock syrup

120 – 150ml (4 – 5fl oz) water (see below)

Pour the syrup over the blackcurrants and bring to the boil, cook for 3-5 minutes until the blackcurrants burst. Liquidise and sieve through a nylon sieve. Allow to cool. Add 4-5 fl oz (120-150 ml) water. Store in a fridge. Blackcurrant coulis keeps for weeks and freezes very well.

Stock Syrup:

175g (6 oz) sugar

125g (4 ½ oz) water

Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool.

Store in the fridge until needed.

Blackcurrant Ice Pops

Makes 12 ice pops

Fill the blackcurrant coulis mixture into ice pop moulds, freeze and enjoy.

Strawberries with Fresh Mint Leaves

One of our favourite ways to eat strawberries and good way to perk up less than perfect berries.

Serves 8-10

900g (2lb) ripe strawberries

2-3 tablespoons castor sugar

Freshly squeezed lemon juice of ½–1 lemon

2-3 tbsp fresh mint leaves, torn or shredded

Just before serving hull the strawberries and cut into quarters or slice lengthwise. Sprinkle with caster sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Scatter with torn mint leaves.

Toss gently, taste, adjust with a little more sugar or freshly squeezed lemon juice if necessary.

Serve alone or with softly whipped cream.

Red Currant Jelly

Red currant jelly is a very delicious and versatile product to have in your larder. It has a myriad of uses. It can be used like a jam on bread or scones, or served as an accompaniment to roast lamb, bacon or ham. It is also good with some rough pâtés and game, and is invaluable as a glaze for red fruit tarts.

This recipe is a particular favourite of mine, not only because it’s fast to make and results in delicious intensely flavoured jelly, but because one can use the leftover pulp to make a fruit tart, so one gets double value from the red currants. Unlike most other fruit jelly, no water is needed in this recipe.

We’ve used frozen fruits for this recipe also. Stir over the heat until the sugar dissolves. Proceed as below.

Makes 3 x 1 lb (450g) jars

2 lbs (900g) red currants

2 lbs (900g) granulated sugar

Remove the strings from the red currants, either by hand or with a fork.

Put the red currants and sugar into a wide stainless steel saucepan and stir continuously until they come to the boil. Boil for exactly 8 minutes, stirring only if they appear to be sticking to the bottom. Skim carefully.

Turn into a nylon sieve and allow to drip through — do not push the pulp through or the jelly will be cloudy. You can stir in gently once or twice just to free the bottom of the sieve of pulp.

Pour the jelly into sterilised pots immediately.

Red currants are very high in pectin so the jelly will begin to set just as soon as it begins to cool.


Marsh Samphire or Glasswort (Salicornia Europaea)

For just about a month one can gather marsh samphire. They look like little succulent cacti without the prickles. Catch them in your fingers and eat them by scraping them against your teeth to detach the flesh from the inner spine. If you can’t gather it yourself, look out for it at local farmers markets, such as Kinsale, Mahon Point and Midleton. Or contact Michelle Breen on 086 3458710.

Rock or Marsh Samphire with Melted Butter

Serve alone on toast or with fish dishes.

Serves 8 as an accompaniment

225g (8oz) samphire

Freshly ground pepper

25–50g (1–2oz) butter

Cover the samphire with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 5–6 minutes or until tender. Drain off the water, season with freshly ground pepper and toss in butter. There is no need for salt because samphire has a natural salty tang.

Serve with fish or have a little on toast with Hollandaise sauce.


Freeze summer fruits in small individual portions for a taste of summer in the winter, delicious with yoghurt for breakfast.


Ladurée Macaroons were only available in Paris up to relatively recently; these psychedelic macaroons are now taking Dublin by storm and are available in Brown Thomas, Grafton Street (why not in Cork?). They sell for €1.60 each and are fast becoming the new cupcakes. The most delicious Irish macaroons I’ve tasted are made by Iseult Janssens from the Cake Stand in Newcastle, Co Dublin — 086 0407676;

Plant blackcurrant, redcurrant, blueberry and gooseberry bushes in your garden between now and next autumn and you will be picking the fruit this time next year. Barry’s Garden Centre in Killeagh stock very healthy plants;; or tel, 086 8141133.

Contact English’s Fruit Nursery in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford for their catalogue 053 9240984.


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