Currant Affairs – Growing & Cooking with Currants

Growing Blackcurrants
Blackcurrants have remarkable health benefits and are easy to grow.

Our region grows a lot of blackcurrants and this Sunday we celebrate the 7th annual Sarau blackcurrant festival and country market.    For $5 entry you’ll experience the best the Tasman region has to offer.   Not to mention quite a few blackcurrant inspired competitions and products.    I’ve heard local chef Miles Drewery has created special blackcurrant marshmallows this year.   Here’s a link to the festival website.

Not a sight you see everyday.
After the machines have harvested the Leith’s open their front paddock to the public.

People have known that blackcurrants have medicinal qualities for centuries and science is catching up to confirm that they have high levels of vitamins C, B6 and E, antioxidants and omega 3.   And not just the fruit but the leaves can also be used to preserve vegetables and make a tea that is not unlike green tea.

Blackcurrants grow well in climates with hot summers and cold winters and are not difficult to grow.    The fruit ripens during December and January and freezes very well.    Prune blackcurrants by thinning out old canes periodically.

Some people are put off growing currants because of the tedious business of topping and tailing stems from the fruit before cooking.    This isn’t necessary, cook them all up together and sieve it if you’re fussy but I guarantee you won’t notice them.

Red and white currants are less common but equally easy to grow.   They ripen at the same time as blackcurrants but you prune them slightly differently.   Instead of removing old canes you prune them back  periodically.    They fruit on 2-3 year old wood so you just need to give it a haircut every now and then to encourage some new wood but ensure there is plenty of old wood left for fruiting.

White currants are similar to redcurrants in pruning but the fruit is a little sweeter and very delicate in flavour.     A mature currant bush, well pruned, will yield between 3kg and 4kg of fruit per year.   They only grow to around 1m so are easy to net for birds and they are relatively pest and disease free.

Growing Redcurrant
Redcurrants make a wonderful savoury jelly.
Whitecurrants are like jewels.

Some of my favourite recipes for cooking with currants include:

Blackcurrant Syrup

Gently cook 1.5kgs of blackcurrants with a pint of water until soft and squeeze it through cotton muslin.   Then add 500 grams of sugar to every 600 mls of juice and cook gently for 10 minutes.    Allow it to cool and pour it into sterilized bottles.    You can add citric acid as a preservative if you’re keeping it out of the fridge.

Dilute with soda water for a refreshing cordial or hot water for an excellent tonic if you are suffering from a cold.

Blackcurrant and Rhubarb Jam

Boil 2kgs of blackcurrants and 1kg of rhubarb in 2 liters of water for 30 minutes, mashing it up.   Stir in 2.5kg of sugar and boil it for 15 minutes or until the jam sets on a saucer.    Pour into clean dry jars, warmed in the oven on a low heat and seal.

Blackcurrants are also a great freezer standby for throwing into tarts, smoothies, salads and making intense purees for serving with desserts and red meats.    They also make the wonderful Creme de Cassis liquer with vodka and red wine.

If you would like to grow currants in your garden click here to see the varieties we have available.

Much of my blackcurrant cooking comes from a wonderful cook book called  “The Mighty Blackcurrant Recipe Book” published by the Sarau Festival as a fundraiser.  It is out of print now but if you want them to do another print run contact them and if they get enough takers they may well.


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