So back in Cali, the main thing I knew about blackcurrants were that they were a strongly-scented European fruit that was used to make booze and Ribena. The main thing I knew about Ribena syrup was that it was really handy to use when mixing up blood substitute for film and TV productions. Never actually drank any of the stuff until a couple years ago, since it was usually relegated to some obscure specialty shelf.
First winter we were here, then, T’s grandmother merrily handed me a bottle of homemade blackcurrant juice and I thanked her, despite looking somewhat puzzled. We like juice, so why not? But when I asked later if we were supposed to use it like the normal cordials we get at the store, T explained that it was a special thing that you’re supposed to use mostly for when you’re sick or have a sore throat. Like we do with lemon and honey, only with berries. For the past two winters, one or two bottles was mostly enough, since we didn’t get anything serious and never were sick for long. Then the Flu From Hell hit last month.
That winter’s one small bottle was gone within a day or two and we were both unable to ingest practically anything BUT warm tea and juice. Getting lemons required far more effort and grocery shopping than we were capable of, and didn’t produce enough juice to keep up with the demand even when we had them, so I developed an addiction to hot blackcurrant juice. I ended up diluting and straining 3 jars of blackcurrant and redcurrant jam from my wedding jam-making binge (which I still need to post about, I guess) to keep up with the demand. At this point, I realized that I really needed to figure out a source for the stuff beyond generous in-laws.
We still had all of the 2012 berry harvest sitting dowstairs in the freezer, but I didn’t have the energy to spend an entire weekend boiling and straining and bottling. Time to invest in something more hard-core. I knew about steam juicers, sure. They vaguely looked like they belonged in a meth lab, but were usually found in the kitchens of Finnish grannies. (According to some quick research on the Google, Finnish-made varieties are still among the most reliable and go for obscene prices overseas.) You put fruit in the top and juice magically comes out of the spout. Still, they took up so much space and looked like fiddly to deal with, so I never seriously entertained the idea of getting one. Until now.
So last week, I purposefully marched to the counter of the nearest Finnish-store-equivalent-of-Target and requested a steam juicer. The girl had to go dig one up in the back because they’re typically only on display during the big juicing season in late summer/autumn. But I needed one now, dammit. As you can see from the above picture, we now have a new addition on the stovetop. I really have no idea where else to put it, since no single shelf is big enough to store the entire thing and the idea of having various components scattered around the kitchen so I have to scramble to find them every time I make juice is rather annoying. Still. There it is.
And then, juice was made.
Water goes in the bottom pan, where it is heated and sends steam rising to the upper layers. The middle pan is put in place to collect juice, then the fruit is put into the top pan for processing. Top right, you see about 5 1-liter ziploc bags full of frozen blackcurrants from the plants in our yard. They pretty much take up the entire top pan. The instructions said to put in some sugar but didn’t specify how much, so I went with 1.5 cups worth. This ended up being totally NOT enough, by the way, so mental note for next time. (I ended up having to sweeten each cup of juice before it was consumed, though that is probably better anyway because it can be tailored to the tastes of each individual.) Will have to step it up closer to the amount used for jam-making, I suppose, since the berries are very tart on their own. Bottom right, you see the results after steaming for 20 minutes — juice is building up in the collection pan and making its way through the hose. I’d already drained some off in the measuring cup there.
The instructions say to drain and pour the juice over the top pan of fruit a couple of times, to settle the fruit and help the juice blend better. So above left, you see me pouring onto fruit that had already settled to half its previous volume after half an hour of steaming. The finished juice is just drained directly into sterilized jars and you’re pretty much done. To the right, 1.5 hours of steaming later, you see the layer of raisin-like blackcurrant husks left over. Down to about 1/6 of what was in there at the beginning, I’d say. The pulp could have been ground to paste and used for fruit leathers, but once again, not so much with the energy currently. They went into the compost bin, where they will help feed future generations of garden produce, so it’s all good in the end.
The final result! 4 large jars and one Snapple bottle of blackcurrant juice, ready for making into lovely hot drinks for upcoming cold nights. I’ve still got tons more fruit in the freezer to process as well, so am excited to try some juice blends in the near future. These will definitely be consumed faster than the jams I made in 2011 and it’s awesome to finally be making something that is so constantly on our grocery lists.