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A Currant Event!

Sydney Jordan Brown
Latest posts by Sydney Jordan Brown (see all)

 

Are Zante currants really currants or are they raisins?  The confusion abounds! 

It is likely most Americans know currants as dried fruits found in a box or bulk-food bin (and not fresh from the garden) and labeled “Zante Currants.” They have no idea any other currants exist.  However, Ribes nigrum, the genuine black currant, is the real hero in this story. Although only recently returning to US soils, this nutrient-rich powerhouse berry is something to seriously consider. 

Native to Central and Eastern Europe as well as Northern Asia, wild black currants have been growing since ancient times.  The earliest cultivation records date back to the 11th century at a Russian monastery. By the 17th century, they were planted on commercial farms and home gardens across northern Europe.  Initially harvested for medicinal purposes, then later for culinary uses, they became a very popular flavoring (especially in England) for sauces, beverages and especially desserts.

Twelve thousand acres of black currants were commercially cultivated in the US when introduced in 1899. However, the early 20th century saw their demise because they were a secondary host for spreading “white pine blister rust” fungus.  The disease nearly wiped out the US white pine logging industry, so the government banned further cultivation of black currants – hence the decline in the species popularity. Fortunately for us, in 1966 federal bans were lifted from select states, allowing them to cultivate virus-resistant varieties while other states still enforced the ban.  Thanks to Greg Quinn and his CurrantC Company, states lifting the ban in 2003 were New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and Oregon! 

Why bother cultivating black currants?  They are prized for their intense earthy, tart-fruity flavor, but also for their nutritional value.  By weight, these powerhouse berries pack up to five times the vitamin C of oranges, twice the potassium of bananas, twice the antioxidants of blueberries, and contain iron, calcium, magnesium, and manganese.  Typically consumed dried, they also make tasty juices, jams, confections, and syrups; complement meats and poultry; are a welcome addition to breads, cakes, pies, and cereals; and can be made into Cassis liqueur. 

Black currants (mildew resistant are best) grow easily in most well-drained soils amended with good vegetative (manure is for vegetables) compost in zones 3-8. Many are self-fertile, but those that aren’t need another pollenizer for fruiting. Maintain 3’ to 5’ tall and wide bushy shrubs.  They need 8 hours of sunlight and afternoon shade in our area.  Beginning 1 to 2 years after planting, mini star-shaped yellow blooms occur in March and April.  Fruits mature from early to late summer.  Harvest berries when fully ripe (intensely black) with an earthy-sweet flavor.  Then indulge in your own “genuine” black currant event.  

About those “Zante currants” — 

Vitis vinifera Corinth grapes originating in Greece from Zakynthos and Corinth are marketed as Zante currants or Corinthian raisins. The confusion arose with their arrival in the US in the 1920s. The Greek writing on the shipping boxes was mistranslated from Zakynthos and Corinth to Zante currants, as they are still falsely labeled today. They are not in any way related to genuine currants. So, if you want true black currants, you will need to grow them. 

 

Resources: 

North Dakota State University 

https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/carringtonrec/archive/northern-hardy-fruit-evaluation-project/northern-hardy-fruit-evalutation-project 

 

CurrantCTM 

https://www.currantc.com 

 

Specialty Produce 

https://specialtyproduce.com/produce/Black_Currant_Berries_20071.php 

 

Raintree Nursery 

https://raintreenursery.com/pages/growing-fruit-trees-currant 

 

Sources: 

One Green World 

http://www.onegreenworld.com 

They have a large variety of black currants that are self-fertile and resistant to mildew and white pine blister rust.  

 

Raintree Nursery 

http://www.raintreenursery.com 

They have numerous selections similar to One Green World. 

 

Shooting Star Nursery 

https://roguevalleynursery.com/ 

3223 Taylor Rd, Central Point 

541-840-6453 

They have Crandall black currant.  Call for available stock. 

 

Recipe: 

Fresh Black Currant Scones 

2½ cups organic whole oat flour 

1/3 cup organic coconut or date sugar 

1 tablespoon baking powder 

1 teaspoon baking soda 

¼ teaspoon salt 

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

1/3 teaspoon ground nutmeg 

zest of one organic lemon 

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 

1½ cups fresh black currants, calyx and stems removed 

2/3 cup buttermilk 

1 tablespoon fresh organic lemon juice 

 

Preheat oven to 375°F. 

Cover baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly oil the surface.  

By hand or pulsing on-off on food processor about 1 minute, mix oat flour, coconut sugar, baking powder, soda, salt, spices, and lemon zest until well blended.  Mix in the oil – by hand or another 30 seconds in the processor – until it resembles coarse corn meal.   

Pour dry mix into a large bowl. Gently work in buttermilk and lemon juice just until dough forms together. 

Transfer dough ball to parchment-covered baking sheet and pat out to about 9” round. Score into 8 wedges, then sprinkle with cinnamon. 

Bake in a preheated oven for about 16-18 minutes until lightly browned and done in the center.  Remove from the oven and let cool on baking sheet. 

Makes 8 to eat warm from the oven or freeze for later.