[NAFEX] Black currants discovered by NYT

mIEKAL aND qazingulaza at gmail.com
Wed Jul 22 10:35:03 EDT 2009

A Tart Berry Reintroduces Itself


FEW Americans know the taste of fresh black currants: deep and musky
with a slightly funky aroma, and a mouth-puckering sourness that needs
to be tempered by sugar.

For much of the last century most states banned commercial cultivation
of black currants, which were brought here by early English settlers,
because the bushes can carry a fungus that is lethal for many pine

But since New York’s ban on black currant cultivation was lifted in
2003, a few farmers have started growing the dark purple berries,
which are available in some farmers’ markets for the next week or so,
and some chefs have been cooking with them.

At Dressler in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the executive chef Polo Dobkin
braises pork belly, slices and grills it, and then simmers the
braising liquid with house-made black currant preserves. The browned
meat, with a sumptuous ribbon of melting fat, is served over a frisée,
arugula and orange salad, and drizzled with whole black currants in a
savory meat reduction.

“It lends itself perfectly to pork,” Mr. Dobkin said of the black
currant sauce, which echoes flavors he remembers from childhood visits
to his mother’s family in Austria.

 Austrians often serve currant sauces with game, just as the British
serve roasts with Cumberland sauce — currants, or currant jelly,
stewed with port, orange juice and zest. Red currants are usually used
in Cumberland sauce, but black currants have a deeper flavor.

“It’s perfectly balanced,” Mr. Dobkin said of the fruit. “It has a bit
of sweetness and tartness to it, which cuts through fattier meats.”

Dalia Jurgensen, Dressler’s pastry chef, uses the berries to make a
gorgeous purple sorbet. She simmers them with sugar and water and then
strains them through a chinois before cooling and churning the liquor
into a smooth tart ice that the restaurant serves as a refresher
between courses and with pistachio biscotti for dessert.

Customers have responded well to the black currant dishes on
Dressler’s menu — “plates come back clean,” Mr. Dobkin said — but many
are not familiar with the berry.

Black currants and their juice have been used around the world for
medicinal purposes. They are extremely high in vitamin C and other
antioxidants. But despite their popularity in Europe, black currants
are rarely seen in the United States, other than on backyard bushes,
or in the liqueur crème de cassis. Black currant cultivation is still
banned in several states.

But Mr. Dobkin said that even if black currants become more common,
they may not be a taste that is easy to acquire. “I’m not sure how
much it appeals to the average American palate,” he said. “It might be
too tart.”

Indeed, even when black currants were more widely grown in America,
some regarded them to be “of a stinking and somewhat loathing savour,”
according to a 1925 book, “The Small Fruits of New York.”

Red and white currants, the less tart, less complex and less
nutritious siblings, were more popular. Still, red and white currants
also lost their footing here over the last century.

In 1919, New York produced 3.3 million quarts of the nation’s
7.6-million-quart annual currant production. Now the United States
currant crop is too small to be reported by the Agriculture
Department, said Danny L. Barney, a horticulture professor and a fruit
breeder at the University of Idaho who has been working to promote a
currant industry in America. “People simply forgot about them,” he
said. “There’s ignorance about what they are, and there are so many
fruits available from all over the world at the supermarket.”

Dressler buys 5-pound bags of frozen black currants from Greg Quinn,
an upstate farmer who lobbied successfully to overturn the black
currant farming ban in New York. Mr. Quinn, who has 10,000 black
currant bushes at his farm in Staatsburg, N.Y., along with almost
7,000 red, white and pink currant bushes, touts black currants’ health
benefits and hopes they will become a high-value niche crop.

“What I’m trying to do is create a crop that farmers can actually make
some money on,” Mr. Quinn said as he strode along his rows of black
currant bushes.

He has helped other farms start black currant crops. And he imports
black currants for his nationally distributed juice, CurrantC — a way
to “prime the pump,” he said, by introducing Americans to the charms
of black currants.

Mr. Quinn sells his own currants to restaurants and ice cream
companies, including Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream in Brooklyn, and he
sells bags of frozen red and black currants by mail year-round from
his Web site, currants.com. Five-pound bags are $15, and home
winemakers can buy 50-pound bags for $275.

Red Jacket Orchards, a farm in the Finger Lakes region, has been
growing red and black currants since the New York ban was lifted. The
farm sells fresh currants at its farmers’ market stands, and buys
black currants from a neighboring farm for an apple-black currant

Another farm, Prospect Hill Orchards in Milton, N.Y., has been selling
black, red and white currants at Greenmarkets in TriBeCa, at the Port
Authority Bus Terminal and at Columbus Avenue and West 66th Street.

“I find that people don’t really know or understand them,” Joe
Nicholson Jr., chief executive of Red Jacket, said of currants. “But
every year we gain ground here.”

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