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There’s a simple way to find out which summer berries are worth growing: eat them! Everyone has different taste, so what appeals to one person may not to another, which is why on the weekend of the 3-4 July, RHS Wisley is inviting visitors to taste summer berries at the RHS Wisley Berry Weekend.
Wisley is home to a national collection of gooseberries. It has around 170 varieties, although thankfully you’ll only be asked to try around 20 of them.
“I didn’t even like them when I came to this country” says Mario de Pace, the Italian gardener who looks after the Model Vegetable Garden at Wisley. “Then I tried the different kinds here and I found there are some wonderful ones.”
Jim Arbury, who is responsible for all the fruit at Wisley has some personal favourites:
“Yellow Champagne’ is a lovely variety, along with ‘Golden Drop’, he says. “They are both quite sweet”.
“‘Red Champagne’ has an attractive colour and ‘Langley Gage’ is reckoned to have one of the best flavours.” Prune gooseberries early in the year and make sure you keep the middle of the plant open – the idea is to create a sort of goblet shape to allow plenty of air to circulate through the plant to prevent mildew.
If redcurrants are what you’re after, there are around 40 types grown at Wisley, which form a redcurrant National Collection. Home-made redcurrant jelly is easy to make and its flavour is a revelation – you will never return to shop bought again. If you’re short on space, redcurrants can easily be trained to grow on a single stem which will provide you with a very good yield.
There will also be 20-30 varieties of blackcurrant to taste during the weekend. Some new varieties like ‘Big Ben’ are large and sweet and can be eaten raw in summer puddings, as can the late variety ‘Boksoop Giant’. ‘Ben Garin’ is a good choice for smaller gardens. Blackcurrants grow on new wood. When I harvest the currants I also prune at the same time, cutting out a third of the plant each year.
This tangy, mouth-watering recipe for blackcurrant cream is not only delicious, it looks beautiful too. If you want to be very extravagant, buy a bottle of fizz and use the crème de cassis to make Kir Royale.
My thanks to Valentine Warner. This is taken from his book ‘What to eat in Spring and Summer.’ I’ve shortened the instructions here and included imperial measurements for those who need it:
500g (18oz) fresh blackcurrants, plus a handful to decorate 100g (4oz) caster sugar, plus extra if needed 3 tbsp water 3 tbsp crème de cassis 6 sheets of gelatine (12g) 350ml ( ½ pint, just over) double cream, plus extra to serve 350ml (½ pint, just over) whole milk
Gently cook the blackcurrants with the sugar and water for 10 minutes or until well softened. Remove from the heat and press through a fine sieve to make a smooth purée. Stir in the cassis and set aside. Put the gelatine sheets in a bowl and cover with cold water for 5 minutes to soften. Heat the cream and milk in a saucepan until it almost comes to a simmer and immediately remove from the heat.
Lift the gelatine sheets and squeeze out the excess water. Plop the gelatine into the cream, stirring until it dissolves into the warm liquid. Rinse a 1l jelly mould or basin with cold water. Stir the cream into the puréed blackcurrants until smooth and sweeten with a little extra sugar if needed.
Pour carefully into the mould. Cover with clingfilm and chill for 7-8 hours until set. To serve, remove the clingfilm and dip the mould into a large bowl of just-boiled water until it reaches nearly all the way up the side. Count slowly to 5, then lift out and press your fingertips around the edge of the cream to break the seal. Invert directly on to a serving plate. Give the mould a hard downwards jerk and the pudding should release itself with a satisfying slurp. If not, repeat the process. Take care not to leave the mould in hot water for too long or you’ll end up with a melted blob. Serve decorated with fresh blackcurrants – and some leaves too.
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