[nafex] Currant Situation: Tangy Fruit Rediscovered by New Generations

Brungardt, Sam (MPCA) sam.brungardt at state.mn.us
Mon Jul 27 10:37:20 EDT 2015

[Twin Falls Times-News]<http://magicvalley.com/>
Currant Situation: Tangy Fruit Rediscovered by New Generations
July 26, 2015 2:30 am * JANE BURNS Wisconsin State Journal<http://magicvalley.com/search/?l=50&sd=desc&s=start_time&f=html&byline=JANE%20BURNS%0AWisconsin%20State%20Journal>
LA VALLE, Wisc. * The puns are endless, and there is a pretty good supply of food uses, too.
What there isn't, however, is much knowledge about a once-common fruit that is making its way back into dishes and drinks in Wisconsin and throughout the U.S.
Currants disappeared from American plates and palates for a few generations because of a blip of history. They're back now, with growers and gardeners finding places for them on their land and in their recipes.
"They're sort of your summer jewels," said Erin Schneider, who with Rob McClure owns Hilltop Community Farm near La Valle in Sauk County. The community-supported agriculture farm grows currants on its 1-acre orchard that is also home to other uncommon fruits such as quince, elderberry, seaberry and kiwi.
"Sometimes people will say of currants, 'Oh, my grandparents grew them' and it's almost like we're a generation removed from them," Schneider said. "There's some nostalgia, but also younger generations who are finding them as something they can grow that is healthy."
Currants come in three colors - red, white and black, each with a distinctive flavor. They're in the same genus as gooseberries - Ribes, which gives the popular British black currant soft drink Ribena its name. Currants are high in vitamin C and the black currants are high in antioxidants. The red ones are most common, and the white ones are the sweetest and the best-tasting for eating as is. Black currants have an earthier taste than the other two.
"Red currants, generally speaking, are the tartest and the ones people think about for currants," said Dale Secher of Carandale Farm in Oregon. Currants are among the "uncommon fruits" that Carandale Farm has been growing and experimenting with, and Secher and his wife, Cindy, have sold them at farmers' markets in the past.
Suitable Climate
Currants grow well in Wisconsin, their suitability for this area has never been a problem. It was their relationship to another plant, however, that sealed their fate in the U.S. The plant that had been grown in the U.S. since colonial times can serve as host to white pine blister rust, which led to a federal ban on currant plants in 1912 in order to protect the pine trees and the lumber industry. The ban was lifted in 1966, but by then currants had dropped off the culinary radar in the U.S.
Currants do well in northern climates, Schneider said, and they even can handle shade, which can make the 4- to 6-foot bushes part of a home landscape, too. The berries ripen in July.
"I think people are wanting to grow more fruit and currants are a good low-hanging fruit, if you will, both in terms of where they are in the landscape and in grower-friendliness" Schneider said.
Those curious about currants and other fruit have gotten a chance to eat them at Schneider and McClure's farm. In previous summers they held a festival called Currant Events, but this year hosted a picnic instead. If that's not enough word play, the fruit share at their farm is their "Fruit N Farm Currantcy Program."
"The puns are endless with currants, I've got to tell you," Schneider said.
Tart Fruit
Even though currants are now legal to grow, they still might not take over as a popular fruit, Schneider said.
"Maybe they're more widespread in other countries because in America we have such a sweet palate," she said. "They're a tart fruit."
Marc and Mary Ann Bellazzini of Campo di Bella Winery and Family Farm near Mount Horeb hadn't tried or even heard of currants until about three years ago. They met Schneider and McClure through an area group of farmers called Fresh Food Connection and went to the Currant Events festival.
"Currants are really tart, but it was kind of interesting," Mary Ann Bellazzini said. "We thought, 'What can we do with these that complements what we grow?'"
Campo di Bella hosts a monthly farm-to-table dinner, and last week created a menu that featured Hilltop's currants. The menu included roasted heritage breed pastured pork with a balsamic currant reduction, and a cheese and fruit platter with a currant jam.
Not Just Sweets
The owners of Humble. Sweet and Savory Pies tried currants for the first time last year and are exploring new ways to use them. They used some tart ones to top an almond cream pie and are planning to tweak a pie recipe they saw with cranberries, apples and sweet cherries to include currants.
The twist with currants, owner Shelly Cross said, is how the black ones can be used with savory dishes, too.
"Those black currants have such a different taste from the other varieties," she said. "It's almost a meaty flavor in the berries."
The shop's piemakers worked black currants into their mincemeat last year, too. The earthiness of the black currant's flavor makes them a good choice for chutneys or sauces, Schneider said. Cindy Secher of Carandale Farm likes to use black currant juice and berries to make ice cream and sorbet, as well as in baking. She also makes sauces for ice cream or pancakes.
Currants are common in Middle Eastern cooking, with rice or couscous. They're fine to toss into yogurt or cereal and make a good syrup to turn into drinks or spritzers. On the alcoholic side, cassis or crème de cassis is a traditional currant liqueur, and the favorite drink of famed fictional detective Hercule Poirot.
Besides currants' versatility, Cross said she likes them because they freeze well and are easy to work with. They come easily off their strigs, which is how they come to the shop fresh.
Not only do currants fit into a lot of recipes, they fit in with what many people want to do with their food these days, Schneider said.
"People want to eat more local and seasonal and healthy," she said. "I think currants fit all three of them."
"The puns are endless with currants, I've got to tell you." Erin Schneider, co-owner of Hilltop Community Farm

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