Of course, we have the usual courgette mountain (why did I plant so many courgettes!?) but this year the allotment has also given us 4kgs of blackcurrants. All from one inherited plant. I spent last autumn clearing the weeds on our plot extension, detangling the poor neglected blackcurrant and giving it a good prune. I don't know whether it was this treatment, the early netting or just the weather that influenced the bumper harvest but we currently have a lot of blackcurrants and I am very pleased about it. There is a limit to the amount of jam we can use and as nobody else was keen on my kale and blackcurrant smoothie it seemed sensible to divert a good proportion to alcohol related activites. Blackcurrant vodka was an easy way to start and I got a batch infusing early one Saturday morning while The Husband was still in bed, dreaming of burgers and pink drinks. Consulting my trusty Flavour Thesaurus I learnt that juniper and blackcurrants make a good pair so I now also have a blackcurrant gin in my special drinks cupboard, quietly coming together.
The blackcurrant vodka has been infusing for four weeks, time enough for the clear spirit to be turned a deep purple-pink. I siphoned off about 200mL of this beautiful liquid: just enough to monitor the flavour and try out a few experimental cocktails. The blackcurrant aroma and taste were already strong but it wasn't too overwhelming; perfect for a later summer cocktail. It's quite a transitional time of year for cocktails. The hedgerows are already full of autumnal fruit but it's still hot and sticky in Cambridge. I've been inspired to create cocktails that reflect the soft fruit harvest but are still light enough for summer drinking.
In need of a cocktail last weekend and contemplating the blackcurrant vodka, memories of Pernod and black started to creep across my mind. Not having any Pernod and not wanting to relive the student days in that much detail, I settled instead for introducing the aniseed flavour by using a simple syrup infused with star anise. The contents of the fruit bowl were cannibalized: pear for flavour and texture and lemon for acidity. A wonderful way to use the early blackcurrant vodka. In a month or two I will report back on the longer infusion time. I will also be making a version of creme de cassis with some of it.
760g blackcurrants (clean and with most of stalk removed)
Place the blackcurrants in a sterilised Kilner jar (or other suitable receptacle) and cover with the vodka. Leave them to get to know each other for a couple of weeks. I left mine for four weeks before straining about 200mL worth of vodka. The rest I have left to infuse for longer. I'm interested in whether the flavour will deepen further.
late summer blackcurrant cocktail (makes one cocktail)
50mL blackcurrant vodka
20mL mashed and sieved ripe pear
25mL simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water) infused with star anise
15mL fresh lemon juice
3-4 dashes of bitters (I used Bittercube Cherrybark Vanilla bitters but you could use Angostura)
Combine all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake for 30 seconds or stir vigourously for 1 minute. Strain into a prepared cocktail glass and garnish with blackcurrants on a cocktail stick and some fresh mint. For the long version, strain into a suitable glass filled with ice and black currants (frozen berries work well here). Top up with sparkling or soda water and garnish with some mint.
UPDATE: You can hear me talk about this cocktail on Flavour, the food and drink programme on Cambridge 105, podcast of the show is available here.