How to make a berry nice homemade crème de Cassis says Donna Kerridge, an expat Brit who lives a self-sufficiency lifestyle at her farmhouse in northern France…
Friends of ours have called their house Grand Ciel (Big Sky), and indeed, here in the north of France there does appear to be a lot of sky. This provides us with wall to wall sunshine and equally, cordes (ropes) of rain and some rather impressive storms that roll easily across the undulating countryside.
Such changeable weather can wreak havoc in the garden and spring storms can destroy the entire blossom overnight and leave us all muttering that “there’ll be no plums this year”. This year we were blessed with a stunning, early spring and in my garden, the berry bushes have been collapsing under the weight of plump fruits. I am trying to ignore an oft heard phrase from my wise, elderly neighbours; that nature provides a lot of fruit before a harsh winter… and instead, happily reap the benefits of this year’s récolte (harvest).
I have so far gathered more than 10kgs of blackcurrants from three groaning bushes and with the aid of my steam juicer, I have turned this into Blackcurrant sirop, Crème de Cassis and Blackcurrant Wine.
The syrup is simply the rich, undiluted juice mixed with sugar and the bottles are pasteurised in Le Sterisateur so they can be kept on the shelf for years to come (although I suspect, they won’t get the chance).
Crème de Cassis is an alcoholic version of Blackcurrant syrup (Ribena for grown-ups!) and the key ingredient in a Kir Royale (with champagne) or a Kir Petillante (sparkling wine) and this is my French recipe adapted to use with the blackcurrant juice I achieve with my steam juicer.
No cook’s kitchen in France is complete without one of these handy gadgets. Think of a typical double saucepan (normal pan below, steamer above) but with a clever middle layer with a vented funnel and a hose attachment. Fruit or vegetables are placed in the top steamer level, water boils in the bottom pan, steams passes up through the funnel extracting juice, which is then caught back in the middle layer. When enough juice has collected, it can be drained straight into hot sterile bottles.
The fabulous part is that you can throw in blackcurrants, raspberries, elderberries etc, stalks and all (plus the odd leaf). The resulting juice is pure and undiluted with the most amazing flavour. And no messing with jelly bags. The juice is all ready to be turned into syrup, jelly or in our case, most of it gets turned into wine, sometimes with fantastic results and sometimes not. However, my homemade wine recipe book says no fruit wine is undrinkable, it just needs more time in the bottle. Hmmm – I may need more cellar space as some of our wines may need a few decades of lying down!
French Recipe for Crème de Cassis
1 part pure, undiluted Blackcurrant Juice
1 part fruity red wine
Sugar (for quantities see 1. Below)
Vodka (for quantities see 3. Below)
Measure the juice into a large pan.
2. Heat gently, stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves. Then cook for 2 hours on the lowest possible heat; this is to reduce it to a slightly more syrupy consistency but being careful not to boil it which would release the pectin in the fruit and start the setting process. Allow it to cool completely.
3. You then need to measure the quantity of syrup again (as it will have reduced), and add 300ml of Vodka to each 900ml (or 1 part vodka to 3 parts syrup).
4. Decant into cold, sterilised bottles.
Store for 2 weeks before using. It should keep well on the shelf for years (until your friends taste it, that is).
Donna Kerridge is part Kiwi/part British and moved to France with her daughter in search of a simple life. She managed to complicate it with a new partner (Potter/Sculptor Nik, part British/part German), a draughty old farmhouse and a menagerie of cats, dogs, goats, chickens and pigs. Find out more at: www.farmhouse.fr