A currant affair

Now I know how it feels to be caught red-handed.

red currant bush

red currant bush

While it’s true my neighbour gave me permission to pick his currants — suspended like thin strings of red pearls from a scruffy old bush more than a metre wide — I hadn’t warned him that I might need more for recipe testing.

Emerging from his house on a weekday morning, he didn’t  appear shocked to find me in his backyard picking a second bowl of berries, but I just about died of embarrassment.

He said his mother made jam from her currant patch in Iceland. He now makes it for his own family (if I’ve left him enough!) though he’s too impatient to remove the hard little seeds.

I doubt if Bert Andrews sees many Icelanders at Andrews’ Scenic Acres in Milton, one of about 30 Ontario farms that grow currants, some pick-your-own. However, he sees lots of Eastern Europeans, primarily from Poland and Ukraine, who come for a taste of their homeland.

Andrews and his wife, Lauraine, planted their first rows of black currants — beloved in juice, jam and Cassis liqueur — in 1980, and now have five acres (just over 2 hectares) of the crop.

Tart red and translucent white currants barely register among the Andrews’ abundant strawberry and raspberry fields, but they sell the specialty berries at their farm store and at local farmer’s markets along with homemade red currant jelly.

The family even sells red and white currant bushes to plant at home, which I’m definitely considering. They also make white currant Regal and ruby-coloured Kinky Keltic wine at their Scotch Block Winery.

If the weather holds, Andrews says we should be able to pick currants for another week or so. I also found red and white currants at Longo’s, which is closer than Halton Hills.

I’ve sent the neighbours a batch of gorgeous red currant sorbet, and hope they’ll invite me back next year. In the meantime, I’m staying in my own backyard.

History

Currants grow wild all over Europe, and were first domesticated in Scandinavia around 1600. The cultivated varieties came to North America after taking root in England.

Nutrition

Black currants are an excellent source of Vitamin C and also contain fibre and iron. They’re used in cordials and remedies to ward off colds.

Buy & Store

  • Choose plump, firm currants with glossy skins. Refrigerate several days and wash just before using.
  • Sweetened or unsweetened currant purée freezes well in rigid containers.

Prep

Here’s the best trick! To quickly separate currants from their stems, hold up a bunch and strip off berries with the tines of a fork.

Black

  • Fragrant black currants have tougher skins and a tart, luscious flavour.
  • Combine with red and white currants to make a classic summer pudding.
  • Simmer into jams and jellies to spoon on soft cheese or serve with rich meats and game.

Red

  • Too tart to eat raw, these jewel-like berries make a gorgeous garnish, jelly and sauce for lamb or venison.
  • Make an Olde English Cumberland sauce for game, ham or rich meats by heating red currant jelly with lemon and orange juice, zest, port and mustard powder.
  • Red currants are delicious in creamy desserts such as crème brûlée.
  • Red Refresher: Purée 2 cups (500 mL) red currants with 1 cup (250 mL) water and add sugar to taste. Press through a strainer placed over a pitcher. Serve with sparkling water or soda water, or add a dash of vodka or gin.
  • Adding a scant cup of red currants, crushed and strained, to four cups of raspberries makes an award-winning jam or cobbler.

White

  • Translucent, with a silvery-gold colour, white currants are an albino strain of red currant. Andrews says the two bushes look exactly the same.

Check out Ontario farms that grow currants and other specialty berries by visiting harvestontario.com.

Red Currant Sorbet

red currant sorbet

red currant sorbet

 Capture the fresh tart flavour of Ontario red currants in this beautiful frozen sorbet. It’s fat free and easy to make with an ice cream maker. Glucose, also found in corn syrup, gives sorbet a silky texture and can be used for any fruit sorbet. It’s sold at bulk food stores or cake-decorating supply stores.

1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar

2/3 cup (160 mL) water

2 tbsp (30 mL) white corn syrup or glucose

4 cups (1 L) red currants, thawed if frozen

In small saucepan, bring sugar, water and corn syrup to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Let cool.

In a food processor, purée currants until soft. Pass through a fine mesh sieve set over a large bowl. Using the back of a wooden spoon, press berries to extract every bit of juice. Discard seeds.

Whisk currant juice with sugar mixture and blend well. Refrigerate until cold, up to two days.

Stir and pour red currant mixture into an ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. Transfer to an airtight container. If necessary, place in the freezer for several hours to complete freezing. Let sorbet soften for a minute or two before scooping.

Makes 4 cups (1 L).

Published in the Toronto Star July 25,  2013        

6 thoughts on “A currant affair

  1. Well, I learned something new…I did not know there were white currants! I used to love English black currant jam when I was a kid.

  2. Hi there.  Will be in Toronto as of Friday and will give you a call.  Hopethat you and Sandro are both well.  My Aunt Edna had a great large plot of black currents  in her back yard and it made the best jelly in the world.  Much love.

  3. Growing up in Victoria, B.C, we had a neighbour from Iceland who grew black currants. He was a gruff, unpleasant man but his only daughter was my best friend. He not invited us, but made us at age 6 pick the currants which for 10 cents a pail was an arduous task but we had to do it for fear of reprisal. He caught me sampling a few and I was banished to my home so I actually was smiling at the punishment! I have never eaten them since, but after reading your sorbet recipe I am tempted to try.

  4. Pingback: “Black Over Bill’s Mother’s …” | Muck, Line and Thinker

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