Sunday, 19 June 2011

Crème de cassis (Blackcurrant liquor)

At G’s family cottage in the Lake District, there are blackcurrant bushes in the back garden. In anticipating our visit there last summer, I imagined lots of walks, lamb on the fells and on the table, and a bag of fresh-picked berries to take home. Over three days, I managed to get my walking boots suitably muddy, fell asleep to the sound of bleats and dined on local chops. But there weren’t enough berries yet, so I had to make do with a punnet of farm-shop ones.

Upon our return to London, I put them straight in the freezer, plotting a sauce for autumn game or perhaps an apple-tempered crumble. But we tended to eat our birds quite plain, and, having not wholly mastered crumble topping, I didn’t want to waste the blackcurrants on a substandard effort. So they sat until a month or so ago, collecting hoar-frost at the back of the freezer.

Over this time, our supply of Paris-purchased crème de cassis had dwindled and turned a bit stale. In deciding a use for the blackcurrants, I recalled that Amanda Hesser had written about making it from scratch during the year she lived and worked on an estate in Burgundy.

The process, as Hesser explained it, was almost comically simple: Sterilise jars and fill them with fruit. Cover with plain spirit, seal and leave for five or six months. To finish, bring the mixture to a boil, then strain. Add sugar in equal quantity, and boil the two until the sugar dissolves and the mixture turns syrupy and glossy. Pour into a bottle and seal or cork.

I’ve followed the initial instructions, and my vodka-covered blackcurrants are infusing in the cupboard. Come October or November, I’ll finish it off, hopefully making enough syrup to keep me in kir (cassis-enhanced white or red wine, usually drunk as an aperitif) through the winter.

Crème de cassis
adapted from Amanda Hesser’s The Cook and the Gardener

As the method scales to whatever quantity of fruit is available, a proper recipe seems unnecessary. A few instructions, gleaned from Hesser and others:

-Check that you have jars in which the fruit fits quite snugly. You’ll want to leave no more than ½ an inch (1 cm) on the top. Sterilise them in a clean dishwasher or with boiling water.
-For the alcohol, use something neutral in flavour, which is cheap but still potable. In France, one can buy plain eau-de-vie, in effect grain alcohol. I used vodka.
-The instructions for finishing are similar to those used for jellies. In this case, however, the well-strained liquid is boiled for a shorter amount of time. (Hesser suggests that it should coat the back of a spoon after 10 minutes.)
-For easy pouring, the finished product can be stored in a sterilised wine or liquor bottle.

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