The Darina Allen Column


The Currant and Berry garden here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School is bursting with ripe, juicy organic fruit and so are the Farmers Markets. Check out the Country Markets too and try to find chemical free fruit if at all possible. We can no longer say that we don’t know the damage that pesticides and herbicides are doing to our health and the environment….

So let’s make the most of their short season, sadly because strawberries are available from January to December as are raspberries, they are no longer considered quite the treat they were. Neither do they generate the excitement they used to, that’s unless they are the naturally smaller, intensely flavoured home-grown berries from your garden. When you taste one of these you remember or discover what they can taste like, although the dry conditions this year made it really challenging. In this column I’m going to concentrate on currants, black, white and red…

The latter can also be found in the shops pretty much year round coming in from as far away as Peru all over the world but black and white currants are a rarer treat, as are gooseberries.

Blackcurrant fool is one of my all-time favourite puddings made in minutes, sublime made with freshly picked currants but also pretty good made with frozen berries. All the currants freeze brilliantly so buy as much as you can and freeze them in convenient amounts. Don’t bother to string them, just shake the bags when they are frozen and all the strings will fall off. I discovered this a few years ago when I was too busy to string the currants before they went into the freezer….

Red and white currants have a deliciously sweet flavour and are very high in pectin so are excellent for jams or jellies. Redcurrant jelly is super versatile; use it to glaze tarts, to serve with pâtés or terrines, as a base for Cumberland sauce, good with lamb and a glazed ham too. I love this recipe for redcurrant jelly, a real gem that gives me double value from each batch of redcurrants. I use the redcurrant pulp, left over from the jelly making process to make a redcurrant bakewell slice or to add to strawberry jam to enhance the pectin content. White currants can be used in similar recipes – they too, make a sublime white currant jelly, which I particularly love, with a soft goat’s cheese and rocket or purslane leaves. White currants are also enchanting frosted.

Try poached blackcurrants with beetroot and duck breast, it’s a surprisingly good combination and best of all sprinkle them onto softly whipped cream in a meringue roulade - the tartness of the currants makes a perfect foil for the sweetness of the meringue. 


Duck Breast with Beetroot, Blackcurrant and Dahlia Salad

Beetroot and blackcurrant are as surprisingly good combination – they complement the duck deliciously

Serves 4-6

4 duck breasts

extra virgin olive oil

red wine vinegar

flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Beetroot, Blackcurrant and Dahlia Salad (see recipe below)

Flat parsley

First make the Beetroot, Blackcurrant and Dahlia Salad, see below. 

Fifteen minutes or more before cooking, score the fat on the duck breasts in a criss-cross pattern.  Season on both sides with salt and allow to sit on a wire rack. 

When ready to cook, dry the duck breasts with a clean tea towel or kitchen paper. Put fat side down on a cold pan-grill, turn on the heat to low and cook slowly for 15-20 minutes, or until the fat has rendered and the duck skin is crisp and golden. 

Flip over and cook for a couple of minutes, or transfer to a preheated moderate oven, 180C/Gas Mark 4, until cooked to medium rare or medium, 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the duck breasts.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes or more.  

Put out a portion of the beetroot, blackcurrant and dahlia salad. Thinly slice, cut or dice (8mm), the duck breasts and arrange or scatter on top.  Sprinkle with sprigs of flat parsley and dahlia petals.  

Add a few flakes of sea salt and serve. 


Beetroot, Blackcurrant and Dahlia Salad

Such an obvious combination but one I hadn’t tried until I tasted it in Sweden. We already love the marriage of raspberries and beetroot. This recipe can be served as a starter or an accompanying salad. 

Serves 8 

450g (1lb) cooked beetroot

200g (7oz) sugar

450ml (16fl oz) water

1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)

225ml (8fl oz) white wine vinegar

115-225g (¼-½lb) blackcurrants


Wine coloured dahlias and maybe a few marigold petals.

Roast or boil the beetroot. Leave 5cm (2 inches) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don't damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 1-2 hours depending on size. Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger.  If in doubt, test with a skewer or the tip of a knife. 

Meanwhile, make the pickle. Dissolve the sugar in water, bringing it to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled sliced (diced or cut into wedges) beet and leave to cool. Add the blackcurrants bring back to the boil and then turn off the heat.

[Note: The onion can be omitted if desired.]

Allow the pickle to cool completely.

To serve: surround the plate with blackcurrant leaves. Pile the salad into the centre, decorate with flowers and serve. 


Redcurrant or Whitecurrant Jelly

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, proceeds as below.  You can use white currants – which will be difficult to find unless you have your own bush. The white currant version is wonderful with cream cheese as a dessert or makes a perfect accompaniment to lamb or pork. 

Makes 3 x 450g (1lb) jars 

900g (2lbs/8 cups) redcurrants or white currants

790g (1lb 12oz) granulated sugar 

Remove the strings from the redcurrants either by hand or with a fork. Put the redcurrants 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. Redcurrants are very high in pectin so the jelly will begin to set just as soon as it begins to cool.  


Blackcurrant Fool

Serves 6 

350g (12oz) fresh or frozen blackcurrants

200ml (7fl oz) stock syrup (see recipe below)

600ml (1 pint) very softly whipped cream 

Cover the blackcurrants with stock syrup. Bring to the boil and cook for about 4–5 minutes until the fruit bursts. Liquidise and sieve or purée the fruit and syrup and measure it. When the purée has cooled, add the softly whipped cream. Serve with shortbread biscuits. 

An alternative presentation is to layer the purée and softly whipped cream in tall sundae glasses, ending with a drizzle of thin purée over the top. 

Note: Frozen blackcurrants tend to be less sweet. Taste – you may need

to add extra sugar. A little stiffly beaten egg white may be added to lighten the fool. 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. 

Stock Syrup - Makes 825ml (20fl oz)

450g (16oz/2 cups) sugar

600ml (1 pint) water 

Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes, and then leave it to cool. Store in the fridge until needed. 

Variation: Blackcurrant Ice-Cream/Parfait

Leftover fool may be frozen to make delicious ice cream. Serve with coulis made by thinning the blackcurrant purée with a little more water or stock syrup. 

Blackcurrant Popsicles

Add a little more syrup.  It needs to taste sweeter than you would like because the freezing dulls the sweetness.  Pour into popsicle moulds, cover, insert a stick and freeze until needed.  Best eaten within a few days.



There are currently no comments

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment
Not a member? Register for your free membership now!
Or leave a comment by logging in with: