April 2010

My mom has grown red currants for several years, but I never really understood the appeal. They’re tiny fruit that take forever to harvest and the bushes attract aphids like no other plant I know. And for some reason I had convinced myself that I didn’t even like the taste of the berries.

Then, last year, I went raspberry picking with a friend of mine and the farm also had black currants, so we laboured for over an hour to get two baskets of the tiny berries. I brought them home and made black currant jam… and decided currants are my new favourite fruit. So I called my mom and asked her to set aside some of her red currants for me. Those precious berries sat in my freezer until I pulled them out to make this month’s Can Jam recipe. I won’t make the mistake of leaving them unused for that long again!

After my great black currant jam experience, I thought I’d love to add a currant bush or two to my fruit collection, but figured they’d have to go in the ground and I’m pretty much out of room, so I didn’t obsess about it too much. Then one day, while Googling my way around the internet, I learned that currants will grow just fine in containers. So I started keeping my eye out for a black currant bush. I ended up with a “Ben Conan” black currant that is happily growing on my deck in a big plastic container.

Then, yesterday, I went to Humber Nurseries with my mom, and somehow ended up with this little guy in my cart:
Currant "White Pearl"

It’s a “White Pearl” currant. You can see Ben Conan in the background. From the tag:
Ribes sativum “White Pearl”
Height: 125cm
Spread: 100cm
Zone: 3
Growth/Yr: 30-60cm
Clusters of medium-large sweet green-white fruit. Currants grow on 1 and 2 year old wood. Three year old wood should be removed. Ripens late July. Plant in moist well drained soil. Full sun.

So hopefully in July I’ll be canning up a whole rainbow of red, black, and white currant jams and sauces.

Now if I could just figure out how to keep the aphids away…


Tigress’ Can Jam April Featured Produce: Herbs!

Rosemary, Cranberries, and Red Currants

This month’s ingredient was herbs. Not any specific herb, just… “herbs”. It’s been a beautiful, warm spring here in Toronto, but we certainly don’t have much for herbs growing around here right now. So I went into my basement and pulled this off my grow-op:

It’s a rosemary from the release party for Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail. Which means this is the first month I’ve managed to actually use local produce as the featured ingredient – you can’t get much more local than what’s grown right in my own house!

Then I went into my deep freeze and pulled out some cranberries and red currants. The red currants were grown by my mom in Bruce County. She always has way more currants than she can use and gave me a bag of berries that’s been in the freezer since last summer. The cranberries were picked up at a farm stand off highway 400 in the Orillia area and were grown not far north of there. That’s two more local ingredients!

So maybe I can be forgiven for the non-local orange? 😉

This recipe is loosely based on a Raspberry & Red Currant sauce in The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. I went on a few tangents from there. There were a few little things I’d change for next time. For one, I’d cook and strain the currants on their own and then make the sauce from there with whole cranberries (they should be cooked just until they burst, like you would with cranberry sauce). I’d also add a bit more rosemary, although the rosemary may shine through more after the sauce has had a few more weeks to blend.

Cooking the Sauce

Herbed Cranberry & Red Currant Sauce
Yield: 3 1/2 cups
Level: Intermediate

4 cups red currants (fresh or frozen)
4 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
juice of one orange (about 1/2 cup)
zest of one orange
2 1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary

1. Combine red currants, cranberries, and water in a medium stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat and boil gently, covered, for 20 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine sieve or cloth (you may need to let it sit for a few hours to drip); discard pulp.

2. Return sauce to pan, add orange juice, and return to a boil. Slowly add sugar, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Stir in orange zest and rosemary; boil gently for 5 minutes.

3. Remove hot jars from canner and ladle sauce into jars to within 1/2 inch (1 cm) of rim. Process 15 minutes for half-pint (250mL) jars. [Don’t know how to do this step? Check out the Tigress’ great Canning 101 post for a great primer.]

Herbed Cranberry & Red Currant Sauce
(the half-filled jar went straight into the fridge after this photo!)

One final thing: this sauce is delicious… but I have no idea what to use it on. It’s both sweet and tart, with a nice hint of citrus. The rosemary seems to complement the fruit very nicely. It’s quite runny but, judging from how it looked when I canned it up, it may thicken slightly as it cools. So… any ideas?

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