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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Make your own Ribena

Did you know that Robinsons only use British blackcurrants to make Ribena? I admire them for that but puzzle about how they manage that when British blackcurrants are only available for about a month from late June to late July. Do they just make masses and masses of Ribena at that time of year, store it and dispatch it to the shops throughout the rest of the year? Or do they have massive freezers somewhere and gradually use up frozen blackcurrants through the year?

I don’t know the answer to those questions but for me I use some of my blackcurrants up fresh but freeze others to use through the year, mostly as jam of course. I do, however make one batch a year of blackcurrant cordial, which is, of course, pretty much homemade Ribena. Using lemongrass adds a citrus undertone and adds an air of sophistication to the cordial.

Blackcurrant & Lemongrass Cordial

2 lb 4 oz (1kg) blackcurrants
1 pint (660ml) water
13 oz (375g) granulated sugar
3 lemongrass stems, crushed

Put all the ingredients in a preserving pan and bring to the boil. Boil for about 5 minutes, using a potato masher to crush the berries to release the juices. Leave to infuse for about an hour then bring back to the boil then strain the liquid through a nylon (not metal) sieve. Bottle and refrigerate. Dilute as you would normally for blackcurrant squash. Use up within 3 months.

When I made this cordial last year I bought a bundle of lemongrass stems from the supermarket. The recipe called for 3 and the bundle, annoyingly, had 4 stems. So I decided to try growing the 4th stem. To get it going I placed it in a jar of water for a few weeks until it put out roots then I potted it on into a pot of multipurpose compost. It has sat happily on the windowsill in my conservatory ever since, gradually gaining height and then more stems as the year has passed. I was somewhat surprised to find, a year later, that the plant was actually big enough to stand me harvesting stems from it. Instead of 3 stems, I cut out 2 stems, figuring that fresh stems would probably have more flavour than the slightly dried out ones you buy in the supermarket. I also snipped up the attached leaves too, which although coarse, have a strong smell. Because they are stained out in the recipe the texture is not important. It was very satisfying to make the cordial in the second year from both homegrown blackcurrants and lemongrass.

I have kept one bottle of the cordial but donated another to my friend Clare. She told me she was planning to hold some daytime business events at the end of July and was wondering what refreshments to serve. The type of event would have lent itself perfectly to alcoholic drinks but she figured that most people during the day would not particularly want to drink alcohol, particularly as they would be driving. Good quality, sophisticated cordials seemed like a good alternative, particularly when diluted with a mixture of both still and sparkling chilled water, adding just a bit of fizz. One bottle of homemade blackcurrant & lemongrass cordial and another of elderflower cordial was a welcome gift.