I try to avoid alcohol from Monday to Wednesday (note the word try!) each week in an effort to give my poor liver a rest. This is sometimes honoured more in the breach than observance, but at least I make an effort. One major difficulty is finding a soft drink for grown-ups. I have never really liked any of the fizzy soft colas, oranges and other sweet concoctions, and water gets a little boring after a while. Over the last few years I have tried out various fruit syrups and cordials with some success. Now at last I may have solved my dilemma.
Last week I travelled down with a horde of scribes and foodies to the launch of Mr. Jeffares Irish Blackcurrant Cordial, a cordial with a difference – it isn’t sweet. Des Jeffares is the third generation of his family to grow blackcurrants on Ballykelly farm in Wexford. He is the only commercial blackcurrant farmer in Ireland. Until recently all of his crop was bought by the makers of Ribena; indeed those of you with good memories may remember him from various TV ads a few years ago. Two years ago, Ribena terminated the contract, so Jeffares had to make alternative plans. Mr. Jeffares cordial is made from 100% blackcurrant juice with no added sugar – a little stevia or sweetleaf extract takes the edge off, but it ‘drinks’ dry. It is available through various food retailers, so keep an eye out.
If fermenting cider is the nearest thing we can do to winemaking, growing blackcurrant is the closest we can get to growing grapes. I have met Des a number of times over the years (his wife Margaret is the driving force behind Good Food Ireland) and have been fascinated by the similarities that planting, trellising pruning, and harvesting blackcurrants have with viticulture. When we visited the farm, Des had a mechanical grape harvester hard at work garnering this years crop. This year’s vintage was looking quite healthy.
As for Mr. Jeffares cordial, there are all sorts of culinary uses to which it can be put; see their website mrjeffaresblackcurrants.ie for a few ideas. I tried out a variety of drinks and cocktails where it worked very well. As it isn’t as sweet as crème de cassis, it makes an excellent Kir (or cardinal with red wine) or Kir Royale and went down very nicely with another local product, Dungarvan Black Rock Stout. However, it is delicious drunk solo. I enjoy it at home with soda or sparkling water as a very delicious refreshing aperitif – three days a week!