Perennial fruit bushes play a key role in my garden, producing an abundance of delicious berries during summer months. These I preserve, to enjoy year round: jewel coloured jams, cordials, liqueurs, chutneys and other delicious additions to my homegrown larder.
In my back garden you will find…raspberries, tayberries, boysenberries, cranberries, strawberries (wild and cultivated), blackcurrant, whitecurrants, redcurrants, thornless blackberry, Japanese wineberry, cranberry, lingonberry, different coloured gooseberries and blueberries (including a pink one)… I think that’s everything! There are also a lot (for such a relatively small space) of fruit trees and some grape vines, and annual fruit too (melons, etc) but in this post I am going to concentrate on my soft fruit bushes.
I would like to add cape gooseberry to this list, which I usually grow in my polytunnel, but I can’t find it! I have a feeling that I may have forgotten to sow the seeds… The past few months have been incredibly busy and usually some things do get forgotten. Last year it was carrots – I would sow them for my clients but forgot my own! Fortunately Charles shared his with me, and I did remember to sow the overwintering polytunnel ones, and this year I have remembered to sow my carrots.
Most of these bushes were cuttings from fellow gardeners, bought at local plant sales, in the garden when I moved here or picked up as forlorn rejects some years ago, bought for 50p and nurtured back into life, so I can’t share varieties.
The fruit has been cropping for a couple of months, starting with strawberries and some unusually early raspberries, then delicious dark boysenberries. Most of the soft fruit is uncovered for practical reasons – where it grows it is practically impossible to cover it! – so I was concerned that birds would strip my boysenberries before I got a chance to eat them. However, except for the odd nibble, the fruit on all three bushes were mostly untouched.
When they start to change colour and ripen, I do cover an area with redcurrants and gooseberries with a huge sheet of enviromesh *, otherwise I would not be left with any redcurrant harvest. This is pegged into place (using laundry pegs) and acts more of a deterrent than a total protective layer, as the birds can access it from the bottom where it doesn’t quite cover everything. It is however effective enough to ensure I get plenty of redcurrants for my needs and then, when my harvest is done, the mesh is removed so the birds can strip the rest of the fruit.
(*I use enviromesh because it is too fine for birds and other creatures to become tangled in. Much safer for wildlife in a situation where it can’t all be securely pegged down).
The boysenberries, like all of my climbing soft fruit, grows up and along a 6 ft fence which runs most of the length of one side of the back garden, making an otherwise empty vertical space productive, diverse and beautiful. This polyculture continues underneath, where grow flowers for bees, wild strawberries, dwarf comfrey (in one area), herbs, some annual veg and an unintentional escaped soapwort that has decided that an especially spikey gooseberry is its life’s companion and is therefore impossible to weed out (I bear the scars of trying!) All of my fruit is grown as a kind of domestic forest garden, which increases biodiversity and maximises growing space.
Some of my soft fruit
There are so many blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes that I am happy to share my harvest with the birds.
At this time of year I am so busy with the billion and one different gardening tasks that it isn’t humanly possible to preserve everything that I want to right away, so much of the fruit is de-stalked, weighed and frozen, ready to be transformed at a later date.
Tip #1 – destalk and freeze currants as soon as you can. They will survive a few days in the fridge but can become squishy if left longer which makes an already fiddly job trickier.
Tip #2 – weigh the fruit, writing the contents and the weight on the container or freezer bag. This is really helpful when making preserves etc at a later date as you can defrost the right quantity.
Tip #3 – tell those you live with what you have done and what the fruit is for. I discovered that my smoothie loving sons were helping themselves to my carefully weighed bags, so now I have no idea how much is in there. Decided to rejoice that they were being so healthy, will have to improvise with the remaining contents (assuming there will be any left!)
I’ve moved the blueberries into my greenhouse for now, otherwise I will lose the entire crop to birds and this fruit is special and precious – the harvest is handfuls rather than kilos.
Before I come to the recipes, I just want to add a gallery of some of the other fruit so far this year, including a melon, Malaga F1, along with a fuzzy baby fruit. It isn’t ready yet, so I have put it on an upturned flower pot to ripen. This will hopefully help deter woodlice from nibbling.
I love blackcurrants; can happily nibble them raw from the bushes and they make one of my favourite jams. I’ll also be making chutneys, sauces, cordial and vinegar at a later date. For now, I have blackcurrant wine and cassis brewing in my kitchen.
I base my wine on a recipe in this book, which I have owned since I was a teenager. Full of wonderful natural recipes for making alcoholic drinks from all manner of fruit, veg and herbs, my copy is stained, falling apart and has my own recipes handwritten into empty corners of the book.
I prefer not to use chemicals when making my home-brews, happy to use scalding water and brushes but you may wish to use other sterilising methods. I do make sure that everything is very clean.
You will need:
- fermentation bucket or similar container
- demi john
- fermentation lock and cork
- spoons, weighing scale, jug, funnel, sieve or muslin
- wine bottles and corks
and the ingredients…
- 4 lb (1.82kg) blackcurrants, destalked
- 4 lb (1.82kg) sugar, I use unbleached organic sugar
- 1 gallon (4.5 litres) boiling water (this is an imperial gallon, which I think is a different quantity to an American one)
- 1 packet wine yeast – follow the instructions on your packet **if you want to use this, otherwise it will ferment just fine using wild yeasts**
Pour the hot water into the fermentation bucket, add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Leave to cool until lukewarm. This helps to preserve the natural yeasts in the fruit when you add it.
Pour in the fruit and crush with a large wooden spoon or potato masher, just enough to release the juices. Place the lid on top and leave for 3 days, stirring every day.
Strain through a fine sieve or muslin into another container (I used a maslin pan), adding the fruit to the compost.
Stir and add the previously activated wine yeast, if using.
Pour into the demi john (I use a jug and funnel for this) and secure the lock and cork.
Leave in a warm place to ferment. When fermentation has ceased, decant into bottles and cork.
Try to leave the wine for at least 6 months and preferably a year or more before drinking.
You will need
- a large jar with a lid
- measuring jug
- muslin or jelly bag to strain
- large bowl
- bottles to store it in
- 1 litre vodka
- 1 kg blackcurrants, destalked and checked for bugs
- 300 ml simple syrup (made with equal parts of sugar and water, heated until sugar has dissolved and allowed to cool) – you won’t need this for a few months
Put the fruit into the large jar, pour on the vodka and leave for 4-5 months.
Then, either crush using a potato masher or whizz in a blender, to release all of juices. Strain through the muslin or jelly bag, suspended over a bowl. You can leave this for several hours to make sure it all drips through. Discard the fruit.
Add the simple syrup and stir throughly, then pour into the clean bottle(s). Label and leave for another 2-3 months.
It is very delicious!
This is mine, just the vodka and fruit at this stage.
There are more recipes for interesting homemade drinks and a multitude of different ways of using your home grown harvest in our book, No Dig Organic Home & Garden