I was delighted to be a guest blogger for Lady’s Baker Tea in PEI. I stumbled across their blog after finding mention of their beautiful teas on a friend’s post, and then I was thoroughly impressed with the care and expertise that goes into their curated offerings, especially the house blended teas. I begged them to allow me to develop a recipe using my favourite, Lady’s Slipper.
Little did I know that black currants are native to North America. Why are they so popular in England, France, and the rest of Europe, but an imported food in North America? The US of A made them illegal in many northwestern states, because their thick foliage interfered with pine tree logging. A few farmers across Canada are trying to reignite the domestic black currant market, but they need a little promotion to put them back into the hearts and minds of Canadians. Here’s my two cents worth:
Lady’s Slipper and Black Currants
Black currant has been a favourite of mine since childhood, like many Canadians with some British heritage (Scots, Irish and English on my mum’s side). We had it mainly as a jam, and it made me feel a little closer to the Enid Blyton novels I read as a child. It was at once exotic and comforting, cozy, yet refined. I grew up loving black currant tea, as well, although I thought of it as a family preference, not something I thought to serve to friends.
On a family trip to France last summer (remember those?), I was surprised by the presence of black currants everywhere: in the ubiquitous cassis liqueur, as a savory sauce for pigeon or duck, or in cakes, puddings and of course, as a spread. This should not have surprised me, as the north of France would have similar growing conditions to England.
Little did I know that black currant is also native to Canada. It lost its early popularity among Canadian and American settlers when several American states banned the black currant bush as a nuisance that impeded the logging of pine trees. Since then, it’s been seen mainly as an import, a quaint reminder of British teatime. Black currant, however, is as Canadian as the Lady’s Slipper flower, and every bit as deserving of being in this lovely tea blend as any other local berry.
Earl Grey has also long been a favourite of mine, either on its own or in a vanilla-infused London Fog. So I was delighted to discover this precious flavoured tea, Lady’s Slipper. A hint of bergamot, reminiscent of Earl Grey, a touch of black currant, and vanilla to tie them both together. This fragrant, unique flavoured black tea seems quite fitting with shortbread or plum cake in the afternoon but is gentle enough that it is welcome at my breakfast table, too.
I have paired the Lady’s Slipper tea with black currant jam and infused it into cream for this icebox cake, so as to best appreciate all the different notes at play. Adding the black currant jam, made into a syrup with the addition of tea, hints at a trifle, the more complicated British version of an icebox cake. Add some cassis liqueur at your own discretion, if you please, on top of the cookies, but don’t whip it into your cream. You want to savour the delicately balanced flavour profile of the black currant, bergamot and vanilla—as well as the tannic undertones of the Yunnan black tea leaves – in your whipped cream. Bright and familiar strawberries are a welcome addition here, and blackberries fit nicely if you can find them.
The glory of an icebox cake is that you make it a day ahead. It is so easy as to be the culinary version of child’s play. The presence of sugar and vanilla extract in the cream is very low, because there is already enough of each in the tea and cookies. The only trick here is that I ask you to infuse the cream for a few hours, then wait again overnight as the cookies meld and bloom into their layers of jammy tea-syrup, berries and cream. But I promise it’s worth the wait. This sophisticated flavour profile makes a homey dessert once again seem fancy, like the elusive but homegrown black currant itself.
Lady’s Slipper & Black Currant Icebox Cake
4 cups whipping cream
2 tbsp Lady’s Slipper tea leaves
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla
2 tbsp Lady’s Slipper tea, brewed
1 cup black currant jam or syrup
3 pints strawberries
2 pints blackberries
½ box vanilla wafers, such as Nilla brand
Infuse the whipping cream with 2 tbsp of dry tea leaf overnight, if possible, or 8 hours. You can pop them right into the container in the morning and reach for them in the evening when you are ready to construct your dessert.
Bring brewed tea to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off heat and stir in jam until thoroughly blended. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Reserve one pint of whole strawberries and one pint of blackberries for the top layer.
Rinse your berries. Slice 2 pints of strawberries and toss with one pint of blackberries. Stir in jam mixture to coat thoroughly.
Strain the whipping cream with a fine mesh strainer. Add the sugar and vanilla and whip into soft peaks.
Using a clear glass bowl, place a thin layer of cream on the bottom of the dish. Lay cookies over the cream, fitting a few broken cookies into any big gaps. Scatter berries over the cookies, then top with cream. Smooth whipped cream gently to fill in any large air bubbles. Follow the layers in the pattern of cookies, berries and cream until you reach a final layer of cream. Top with whole strawberries and blackberries, and chill overnight.
Serve with a sprig of black currants, if you can find them. Enjoy with a cup of delicious Lady’s Slipper Tea.