When I was small, picking blackcurrants was a big job. My Nana had several large, old bushes in the orchard under her apple trees. Every year, little fingers were pressed into service to strip the bushes of their black bounty so that she could make, or supervise the making, of the pots and pots of blackcurrant jam that were to see the household through the winter.
Although I tried a couple of blackcurrants every year, at the time I didn’t much like them as they seemed too bitter to my childish taste. The jam was another matter, however. When we would call to see Nana and Grandad after school, a doorstep of bread, slathered with butter and spread with inky goodness kept us fed till suppertime.
When we bought the cottage, I was delighted to discover a threesome of blackcurrant bushes out in the back garden. We missed the harvest the first year, still living in Dublin and only at the cottage over the weekend. Last year we were in France so the blackbirds beat us to the berries so I was determined to get my share this year. Last weekend I started picking, getting well over half a kilo from the first of the bushes.
Observed with interest by Little Missy, sitting happily outside in her chair, I used Sarah Raven’s technique of picking and pruning at the same time. As I cut the fruiting branches, I stripped them of the blackcurrants but rain and grumpiness from LM sent me indoors before I could finish the job. And it seems that the blackbirds noticed. When I went back outside on Wednesday, to my annoyance the remaining berries had been plucked by beak.
Fortunately I had stashed the weekend’s pickings in the freezer and, although there’s not enough for jam this year, I do have enough for three of these cakes, much to the Husband’s delight.
Blackcurrant Almond Cake
This is easiest made in the food processor as you can whizz up the whole almonds in the bowl first before using it to process the rest of the mixture. You could use ground almonds but I love the brown speckled effect from the unblanched nuts and the cake is extra moist as a result. It can also be made in a rectangular 23 x 33cm Swiss roll tin and cut into squares or fingers.
Whole unblanched almonds – 100g. Alternatively, substitute ground almonds.
Plain flour – 100g
Baking powder – 1 teaspoon
Butter – 200g, at room temperature
Caster sugar – 200g
Vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon
Eggs – 3
Blackcurrants – 200g
Icing sugar to serve
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (170ºC fan bake). Butter a 25cm loose-bottomed tin and line the base with a circle of greaseproof paper.
Whizz up the almonds in a food processor for a few minutes until ground. Don’t worry if there are still small nubby bits in the bowl – they will just give some texture to the cake. Empty the almonds into a separate bowl and whisk with the plain flour and baking powder.
In the food processor, cream the butter and sugar until pale and light in colour. Add the vanilla extract and the eggs, one by one, beating in one-third of the almond/flour/baking powder mixture with each egg.
Smooth the batter into the prepared tin and scatter the blackcurrants on top. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes until golden, firm and cooked through when tested with a skewer.
Before serving, sift over the icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with some thick natural yoghurt. Serves 8.