Those of us fortunate enough to have outside space will be sitting in it the requisite 2 meters apart. I don’t know about you, but my ears have found it a baffling experience adjusting to unfamiliar sounds or the lack of any sound at all. First, the disappearance of traffic and overhead plane noise (particularly those wretched fighter planes that rip through the sound barrier without warning). The empty echo in the eardrums has felt not unlike tinnitus. And now the silence has been replaced by such a joyful cacophony of liberated birds, I can’t hear a thing unless whoever I’m talking to is illegally well inside the authorised isolation zone of self-protection. So I’m investing in two megaphones - one for me, one spare for guests who haven’t brought their own.
If you’re querying why I’m having guests on the premises at all, I assure you I am following all the requisite guidelines about not allowing them to come through the house and dusting it with the contaminating impurities of their exterior social connections. They go round the edge. If I had a balcony accessible only through an interior room, I would also have invested in a ladder, so my guests could perform a Cyranno or Romeo from the street.
These stalwart friends will be greeted, as is the season, with a kir. Lost for distractions, I have been making Crème de Cassis by the gallon in anticipation of a bit of garden social life. Blackcurrants are about to become available fresh in the markets. But you can generally find them frozen in most supermarket freezers all year round. They are a fine investment, not just for making Crème de Cassis, but for making blackcurrant sorbet which, along with lemon, is probably the most effectively refreshing sorbet flavour.
Kir was invented by Canon Felix Kir, a hero of the French resistance who died in 1968 aged 92. His goal was to improve the livelihoods of the blackcurrant growers of Dijon, where he lived.
Just in case you’re new to the uplifting experience, Crème de Cassis topped up with chilled white wine makes a ‘Kir’. Topped with Champagne or Crémant, it’s a ‘Kir Royale’. A spoonful of Crème de Cassis poured over blackcurrant sorbet or vanilla ice cream lifts both to a higher plane the Canon would surely approve of.
- 500g blackcurrants
- 570ml eau-de-vie, vodka, gin or brandy
- 340g sugar
Defrost if necessary and mash blackcurrants with a fork, or squeeze hard with clean hands. Mix ingredients together in a large bowl then ladle into bottling jars and leave in a warm sunny place for at least a month, the longer the better, so make it in twice the quantity for the months to come. Strain through doubled muslin cloth, squeezing out the juice, and re-bottle. While you can buy an eau-de-vie at the pharmacy, cheap vodka makes a perfectly good stand in.
To make blackcurrant sorbet, you need
- 500g blackcurrants
- Dessertspoon lemon juice
- 285g sugar
- 425-565ml water
- 2 egg whites
- 4 tablespoons creme de cassis (optional)
Puree the blackcurrants with the lemon juice in a blender or processor the sieve to remove the seeds. Make a syrup with the water and sugar. Cool then add enough to the puree to make a puree the consistency of an apple puree that isn’t too solid. Pour into a container and freeze. Every now and then, stir the frozen edges into the centre of the puree until the puree is firm all through but not a hard block.
Whisk the egg whites in a large mixing bowl until stiff, using an electric beater. With the beater running on a modest speed, add a large spoonful of the frozen puree and whisk in. Very gradually, spoonful by spoonful, whisk in the remaining puree and finally the Crème de Cassis, then scrape into a container and freeze till required. You can serve this with small sweet biscuits, like Langues de Chat or biscotti, and more Crème de Cassis poured over.
If you want to make a lemon sorbet, use 285ml lemon juice to 285g sugar and 565ml water and proceed as with the blackcurrant sorbet.
This column written by Julia Watson originally appeared in the June 2020 edition of The Bugle.