It’s taken more than 30 years to make my first summer pudding.
I first tasted this classic British dessert at a Mississauga dinner party. Though the ingredient list is absurdly simple — a bucket of currants and other summer berries, sugar and sliced white bread — the result is an impressive red mound oozing rich, dark deliciousness.
Obsessed with finding the perfect pudding mould, my search led to the gloomy aisles of Dehillerin, the ancient and intimidating Paris kitchenware store, where I fingered a silver charlotte mould with heart-shaped handles before putting it down. It was a ridiculous expense, I decided and, besides, my suitcase was full.
That faux pas led to more pudding-less years.
The other challenge was finding a few pounds of local black currants, raspberries, blueberries and cherries ripe and ready at the same time. When all four turned up recently in local farm markets, I took it as a sign.
I then discovered a step-by-step BBC video of food celebrity Sophie Grigson making summer pudding. She simmered the fruit with sugar and poured it into a rather pedestrian-looking bowl lined with bread she’d dipped in the red juice.
Though my maiden effort doesn’t look as gorgeous, the incredible depth of flavour from the black currants, long popular in Europe, was a revelation, upstaging the other fruits.
These sturdy purple berries, more robust than their delicate red and white cousins, have a tutti-frutti aroma and tart, earthy flavour beloved in juice, jam, sorbet and Crème de Cassis liqueur from France, added to white wine to create a Kir cocktail.
Their dark skin also contains powerful antioxidants and phytochemicals known as anthocyanins that help preserve good health, and they’re rich in Vitamin C.
While most black currants are bred for processing into juice or jam and rarely eaten fresh, Laura Sabourin of certified-organic Feast of Fields in Jordan, Ont., grows a less tart variety from B.C.
“People used to walk by our stand and say ‘Ew, my grandmother grew those,’ ” said Sabourin, “but since we started sampling them we’ve sold a ton. I’d say 90 per cent are eaten at breakfast or blended in a smoothie.”
Sabourin and third-generation grower Clay Eborall of Eborall Farms in Beamsville expect to have black and jewel-like red currants at farmers markets for at least another week. Time for one more summer pudding, or two.
Buy & Store
- Local black currants are at their peak in July and August.
- Look for plump, firm berries with shiny, unbroken skin, free of mould.
- Red currants are also tart, while translucent white (albino) currants are sweet enough to eat raw.
- Refrigerate and use within several days.
- Freeze on a cooking sheet then transfer to bags.
- If you grow your own, ripe currants hold up well when left on the bush so you can pick them at your leisure.
- Strip currants from their stalks with a fork.
- Pick over berries and remove any bits of stem.
- Wash berries just before using.
- Black currants are often cooked with a little sugar and a splash of water to bring out their flavour.
- For jam and crumbles, use straight black currants or mix with red currants, raspberries, strawberries or blueberries.
- Serve black currant jam or jelly with soft cheese, rich meats and game.
- Make a black currant sauce for duck by sautéing in butter with shallots, thyme and a splash of red wine vinegar.
- Black currants pair well with lemon and mint.
My First Summer Pudding
Adapted from Sophie Grigson, this luscious dessert keeps two days in the fridge. Use whatever berries you like as long as you’ve got currants — as many as you can pick or afford! Serve any leftover fruit on the side or over yogurt for breakfast.
4-1/2 cups (750g) mixed summer fruit (stemmed black and red currants, blueberries, raspberries, halved and pitted cherries and/or blackberries)
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
8 to 10 slices day-old white bread (I used Cobs), crusts removed
2 tbsp (30 mL) Cassis liqueur or Ribena juice (optional)
Place fruit in large saucepan and stir in sugar. Bring to a boil gently over medium heat. When juices flow, raise heat slightly and cook 3 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in Cassis. Check for sweetness.
Cut one slice of crustless bread in a circle (or cut two half circles) to fit bottom of a 4-cup (1 L) bowl. Cut remaining slices into thick fingers or triangles as needed.
Dip one side of bread circle into berry juices and place, juice-side down, in bottom of bowl. One by one, dip one side of remaining bread pieces into juice and arrange around sides of bowl with no gaps, dipped side facing bowl. Don’t worry if bread sticks up over the edge. Plug any gaps with small pieces of bread.
Spoon fruit and juices into the bread-lined bowl. Reserve any extra fruit and serve on the side. Trim tops of bread to create an even rim around bowl. Top with more bread fingers (undipped) to completely enclose fruit.
Find a saucer that fits neatly inside the bowl and cover top layer of bread. Weigh down with a can of tomatoes, beans, bag of rice, etc. Let cool, then refrigerate overnight.
To serve, remove weights and saucer. Run a thin blade around the edge, invert bowl onto a serving plate and turn out pudding. To serve, cut into thick slices and serve with cream, if desired. I used the bread scraps for a bread pudding.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.