Summer treasure 3: Blackcurrants

16/7/2018 Until recently, I had almost forgotten the delights of blackcurrants. They are not a fruit I would ever think of buying in a shop (if indeed they are sold in shops – I have never looked for them), and many years passed between visiting ‘pick-your-own’ farms during childhood and tasting them again about five years ago, when a friend generously gave me a few of his small and precious crop. Putting one in my mouth instantly transported me back to childhood summers. Their flavour was uniquely wonderful; their sharpness sweat-inducing. In that moment I decided to grow my own.

This is the first year that my three bushes – two blackcurrants and one redcurrant – have grown large enough to produce a decent crop: a punnet or two, rather than the handful or two of the previous years. But my first few fruit picking sessions were undertaken reluctantly: many gardening jobs became urgent all of a sudden a few weeks ago, when lack of rain, the planting of vegetables and ripening of soft fruit all coincided. Instead of revelling in fruit picking as I usually would, it seemed like a chore; yet another job requiring completion within a very limited time frame which did not easily fit into my evening leisure hours without depriving me of time to cook supper and sit down before bedtime.

The reluctance was soon joined by frustration at the slow progress I seemed to be making, and extreme irritation with various aspects of the job: the painful spikes of the gooseberry bushes, leaving me with numerous splinters; my poor planting layout and fruit cage design; and the necessity of sitting on the ground to pick the currants, where the pain of plant spikes was replaced by that of new thistles and nettles starting to emerge from the ground. It was not a comfortable experience.

By the time I got to the third or fourth picking session, however, and headed to the blackcurrant bushes with the intention of finishing the job, I had realised that my mind-set needed to change. Picking fruit ought to be a meditative and satisfying activity, not a chore, and I needed to enter into the spirit of it. It should be just as freeing as going for a walk.

I started earlier in the evening, when advancing tiredness and hunger wouldn’t contribute to my irritability, and found a way to sit comfortably next to the currant bushes without getting stung or prickled. Having by now picked all the gooseberries, I reminded myself to appreciate the currant bushes’ lack of spikes. Then I began my task without haste, and continued until all the remaining berries were in the punnet. And, of course, I enjoyed it.

Picking blackcurrants is a ‘life in the slow lane’ kind of activity. Life has become rather fast-lane in the last few months, at a time of year which I especially need to savour. As well as loving their flavour and its association with childhood fruit-picking excursions, I have finally learnt to enjoy picking blackcurrants at home. They have taught me a lesson of which I may need to remind myself at the beginning of each season, especially as the time required to pick them will increase annually.

By the time I have enough blackcurrants to make jam, perhaps fruit picking will have become as essential a space for my creativity as walking is. And I dream that my version of blackcurrant jam – actually tasting of blackcurrants instead of sugar – will be worth waiting for.