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All About Growing Currants

No need to feel behind the times with tart, easy-growing currants in your garden, and your pantry full of jewel-like jellies, jams, and preserves.

| May/June 2019

Photo by Adobe Stock/TwilightArtPictures.

When most people think about growing their own berries, the usual suspects come to mind: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. But suppose you’re looking for something different, something special, something a little more — refined? What berry conjures up visions of English teatime with biscuits and jam, or French cuisine with exquisite sauces and garnishes; proper place settings and etiquette, and maybe even restaurants with Michelin stars? What berry can bring posh distinction to your garden or orchard, and make it more sophisticated and more provincial all at once?

That would be the currant. Currants are beautiful little berries from Europe, closely related to gooseberries. There are a few American currant species, but they’re rarely cultivated, so I’ll focus on European black, red, and white currants. Species names get a bit complicated, thanks to extensive hybridization, but black currants are typically members of Ribes nigrum and R. ussuriense, while red and white currants belong to R. rubrum, R. petraeum, and R. sativum. Pink currants are hybrids of red and white currants, and may be found under any of their parents’ names. None of these are the dried fruit called Zante currants, which are small raisins made from the ‘Black Corinth’ grape.

Currants are relatively small plants that prefer partial shade to protect their delicate leaves. The fruits grow in glossy, drooping clusters, which will attract birds to the harvest. Photo by Adobe Stock/MarkusL.

Meet the Currant Favorites

Fresh currants are not for the faint of heart. Black currants are often described as “resinous” and complex — not a berry for casually popping in your mouth, although some people do. Red and white currants lack the resinous flavor, but they’re just as intense, with a tart, “sprightly” flavor. All owe their punch to generous amounts of vitamin C.

So if you’re not one for eating tart fruit out of hand, why should you grow currants? Much as with wine grapes, the magic happens when you do something with the fruit. Currants’ intense, complex flavors make for incredible baked goods (try our Currant Scone Recipe), desserts, and even wine (see Eva Blouch’s Currant Wine Recipe). Currants are practically custom-built for making preserves, with their high vitamin C levels and natural pectin, and their complex flavor profile. No other jelly can quite compare to the sparkling beauty of red currant jelly, and black currant jam with biscuits and tea tastes exquisite. Currant sauces often pair well with strongly flavored meats, such as lamb and wild game. The gem-like berries can even add beauty to the presentation of the plate when used as an elegant garnish.

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