Recipes

Edirne Eggplant

I never ate eggplant growing up. It was just not a vegetable we used. But when I lived in Turkey for a few years, I was surrounded by eggplants. I learned to appreciate these versatile vegetables… technically a fruit, and even more accurately, eggplants are berries! Actually, I really fell in love with eggplants. They are delicious!

Most people are familiar with the common “Black Beauty” or “Black Bell” varieties. These are very good eggplants, which is why they are so common, but there are so many other varieties from around the world. They range in shape from small and round, to long and thin, to large and bell shaped. They come in shades of white, green, orange, red, purple; striped and solid.

We lived just off Edirne street when we lived in Turkey, and so I thought I’d love to try this Turkish variety in our garden. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds describes the Edirne Eggplant this way:

Originally collected in Edirne (Adrianople), Turkey, in 1948, and stored by the USDA ever since, until we grew it out in 2008! Gorgeous 6-8 inch fruits are richly striped in purple and off-white. May be even superior to Listada de Gandia in appearance due to its deeper luster, and actually preferred over it in our trials! Vigorous plants, very productive.

I made a version of Turkish fried eggplant (Patlıcan Kızartması) yesterday. Just slice the eggplant, fry in oil, and serve with a garlic-yogurt sauce… very heavy on the garlic! Simple and sublime!

I’ve made variations of this dish in the past with the common Black Beauty Eggplant, and this version was way better. I can’t say that it was entirely due to the Edirne Eggplant versus the Black Beauty, as it may have been the freshness of my eggplant. But for now, I think it may be my new favorite!

 

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First Autumn Hard Freeze and Making Sauerkraut

Technically, a “hard freeze” is when there are at least 4 consecutive hours of temperatures below 25°F (-4°C). This is important to gardeners, because a hard freeze will kill most annual plants.

Autumn temperatures here in East Tennessee are not very predictable. We had a few mild frosts over the past couple of weeks, but no hard freezes. Then we had a forecast for temperatures dropping to 19°F (-7°C). I noticed this with only about 1 hour left of daylight.

So our current WOOFER (Jacob) and I went out to the garden with baskets and scissors and knives to harvest what we could before the cold could destroy it.

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Sunset and the hard freeze was fast approaching, and I just didn’t think about taking any photos of the garden before we started harvesting. In fact, this is the only photo I took while outside.

We have been at our farm for about 18 months, and we finally put in our first annual vegetable garden late this Summer. I say “we” very loosely, because although it was done with my guidance, almost all the work was done by one of our other WOOFERS, Marianne.

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We piled the harvest on the kitchen table.

 

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We had numerous varieties of cabbages we were testing.

Our hope is that this annual garden will be in place for many decades, maybe longer depending on how many generations use it. It was a project we wanted to get done last year, but so many things got us distracted. As with many things on a homestead and farm, late is better than never.

We finally got the garden in place, but it was just a bit later in the season than we were initially planning. The kale and Swiss chard did just fine, but our broccoli and cauliflower and Brussels sprouts did not have enough time to mature before our cold weather started slowing their growth. Our cabbages didn’t have enough time to develop a full head, but that’s okay… even a partially formed head of cabbage is still edible. It may not be great for long term storage, but it is plenty good enough to make sauerkraut!

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None of our broccoli, cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts had a chance to mature due to late planting, but all the other plants did really well.

 

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We had some loss due to caterpillars, specifically the cabbage looper (Trichoplusia ni), but this was pretty minimal.

 

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We also had a couple of varieties of kale and Swiss chard. We blanched and froze most of the chard and the Nero Di Toscana Cabbage (aka Tuscan/Lacinato/Dinosaur Kale). Here is my mom about to be buried in greens!

I’ve written about making sauerkraut in the past:
My First Attempt at Making Sauerkraut and My New Sauerkraut

Since these first attempts, I have made many batches of sauerkraut. Here is how I make it…

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We started with the entire plant. We separated the cabbage leaves from the main stem. We did not have any tight heads of cabbage. This was due to planting too late before cold weather set in. We removed the central vein from the large leaves (like the one pictured in the bottom right).

 

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We grew Tronchuda or Portuguese Kale (Couve Tonchuda). This kale was mixed with the outer, thicker leaves of the cabbage to make one batch of sauerkraut.

 

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We used a food processor with the slicer attachment to speed up the slicing! Here is a photo of another batch of sauerkraut using the inner cabbage leaves (what would have been the heads of cabbage).

 

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I used to measure my salt based on the amount of cabbage I used; however, now I just sprinkle a small amount of salt on the sliced cabbage as I go and adjust based on taste.

 

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After I sprinkle the salt, I then mix and squeeze the sliced cabbage until the juice is literally squeezed out of it. This is a third batch of sauerkraut made from only Hilton Chinese Cabbage, a Napa-type cabbage that grew great for us this year.

 

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The sliced, salted, and smashed cabbage is added to a crock. This sauerkraut is made with Aubervilliers Cabbage, Charleston Wakefield Cabbage, Glory of Enkhuizen Cabbage, and Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage.

 

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The cabbage is pushed down level and then covered with some whole cabbage leaves… remember to save these at the beginning!

 

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Cover the whole cabbage leaves with a plate or lid or, if you have it, a specifically made crock weight. This allows for even distribution of weight to push down/compress the sauerkraut.

 

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I use a gallon bag of water to weigh down the lid and sauerkraut. This weight pushes down the sauerkraut forcing the cabbage below the brine.

 

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The crocks of sauerkraut fermenting! I usually check the next morning to make sure the fluid has some bubbles in it… showing signs of fermentation. Then I let it rest for about 5 days before I start taste-testing it. Once it is as tangy as I like, then I will transfer the sauerkraut into mason jars and put them in the refrigerator. 

 

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Rendering Duck Fat

I wrote in my previous article on Bone Broth about how I save the fat that rises to the top of the cooled broth. I scoop this out and put it into a dutch oven on the stove. The fat is rendered down and put into jars, and I use it for cooking. Duck fat is considered one of the most prized cooking fats by chefs and foodies for its flavor and cooking qualities, and is becoming more popular of late because it is high in monounsaturated fat, the “good” fat.

All the cooking fat we render on our farm comes from our pasture-raised, grass and organic-fed chickens, ducks, geese, and sheep. We use it mostly for roasting, sauteing, or pan-frying vegetables, and it is delicious.

I have also prepared this fat by rendering the skins of the ducks we have processed. I’ll be honest. I have processed our ducks and geese many times, and trying to get all the feathers off is almost impossible for me. I have tried every combination of dry and wet plucking, by hand and with an automatic plucker, with single and multiple dips into wax, and I have yet to come up with a system that is effective and efficient. I can get all the feathers, but it takes so long, that it is almost not worth it. I end up doing the best I can, which is pretty good but not good enough for sales, and then I skin the bird. But I save the skin. There is so much great fat in the skin that I just can’t waste it.

Duck skin cracklings

Duck skin cracklings

Rendering fat from the skins is easy. Just add all the skins to a cooking pot; I prefer a dutch oven. I add a little bit of water to prevent the skins from burning at first. Then I put the pot on to simmer. As the skins heat up, they release the golden fat. Eventually, the water all boils off and we are left with the rendered fat and the cooked skins known as cracklings. We eat the cracklings if the skin is cleaned well, and they taste great sprinkled with a little salt.

The image at the top of this article is the duck fat I most recently rendered from the skins… beautiful, liquid gold! There are a number of ways to get this great cooking fat, and if you have the ability to produce or procure it, I highly recommend it.

 

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Making Bone Broth

I love bone broth.

Bone broth is the flavorful liquid produced when bones from poultry, fish, beef, lamb, etc. are simmered for hours to days with vegetables, herbs, and spices.

Here is our 62-quart stock pot... the Bone Broth Pot!

Here is our 62-quart stock pot… the Bone Broth Pot!

It tastes great. Seriously. Bone broth has a rich flavor that reawakens the sense of what food is supposed to taste like. It also can contain a lot of gelatin which is a natural thickening agent useful in soups, stews, sauces, and curries. I use it in many meals that I cook as one of my “secret ingredients” because it imparts a difficult to describe depth or layered flavor. I think this may have to do with how nutritious it is.

We make stock from the animals we raise and process on our farm.

We make stock from the animals we raise and process on our farm.

It is healthy. There are numerous medical research studies showing that chicken soup really is healthy for you, but bone broth goes even one step further. The long, slow cooking releases many minerals making them bioavailable (meaning we can easily absorb them). It also provides a great source of gelatin, as mentioned above, which contains arthritis-relieving glucosamine and chondroitin.

Bone Broth simmers for a couple of days on the stovetop.

Bone Broth simmers for a couple of days on the stovetop.

It is easy to make… not quick to make, but it is pretty easy. This is slow food not fast food!

Let’s get to the specifics. On our farm, we freeze our poultry whole after we process them, but we rarely want to cook or roast the whole bird, so after we defrost them I break them down to breasts, thighs, drumsticks, wings, etc. This leaves us with the ribs, backbone, and other bones that are difficult to utilize unless we make stock. We freeze these leftover parts until we have enough for a large batch of stock… or until we start running out of room in the freezer! I also save the chicken feet when we process our birds. Chicken feet have a lot of gelatin it in, so these are a great addition to the stock. I throw in a few big handfuls of roughly chopped onions and carrots, a head or two worth of peeled and crushed garlic cloves, a few stalks of celery, a fennel bulb, peppercorns, and some fresh or dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, etc. Any other spare vegetables can be thrown in; I’ve used parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, etc. I also add a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar for every gallon of water. The vinegar helps extract the minerals from the bones.

Frozen, concentrated Bone Broth

Frozen, concentrated Bone Broth

I toss all the ingredients into my 62-quart stockpot (that’s 15.5 gallons or 58 liters), fill it up with cold water (I prefer the water from my Berkey filter), bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let it go for the next day or three. It fills the house with a wonderful aroma. Cooking time is variable, but I keep the stock simmering until the bones crumble when I squeeze them between my fingers. This may take 24 hours or 72 hours; it depends on the bones. I then strain the stock. I sometimes pick through and save the meat for fajitas or other meals, but everything else goes to our pigs. I put the strained stock into the refrigerator and allow it to cool. All the fat rises to the top, and I scoop this off for rendering (see my next article). The remaining stock is put back into a stockpot and simmered down or “reduced”… basically, some of the water is boiled off, and the stock gets thicker and thicker. This results in something like a demi-glace. I spoon this into ice cube trays and freeze them. I then dump the cubes into a freezer bag, and I have readily available, serving size, concentrated bone broth ready to go whenever I need it!

Bone Broth ingredients consists of things most people throw away nowadays.

Bone Broth ingredients consists of things most people throw away nowadays.

It uses things most people throw away. Specifically, and unashamedly, I am talking about all the bones, wingtips, necks, and feet of poultry, and the bones and joints of sheep and beef. These are parts of the animal that most people throw away, but our ancestors wisely saved. I have learned that when I raise an animal from hatch or birth, fed and watered it, checked on it once and sometimes twice or thrice a day, and then ended its life with my own hands, I have a strong desire not to waste anything.  We often use the word “process” to distance ourselves a bit, but the reality is that we are eating an animal that was alive. We treat every animal on our farm with the utmost respect. We give every animal the best and most natural life we can offer it. Our promise to our animals is that they only ever have one bad day. That respect continues after life, and we try not to “waste” any part of the animal. This was common sense a century ago. It’s how we make bone broth today.

 

Here is a great article about Bone Broth on the Weston A. Price Foundation website. It is written by Sally Fallon who I happened to briefly meet while visiting her farm a few years ago.

 

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Eggless Elderberry Flower Fritters

So I was a little giddy when I found a number of Elderberry bushes growing on our new farm. I saw the large, white, disks of flowers from a distance. I wasn’t positive until I got closer, but sure enough. We have Elderberry growing on the farm!

I did a quick search for Elderberry Flower Fritter recipes, and they all include eggs. That is not an issue for me, but one of my sons is allergic to eggs. So I set out to create a recipe for a Eggless Elderberry Flower Fritters! It was a huge success, so I wanted to share it. This recipe is great for anyone trying to avoid eggs, no matter the reason. I should also note that I really don’t like to use wheat flour, but I did so for a few reasons. First, when I am developing a variant recipe, I try to start with a more traditional recipe and make small changes. This allows me to catch mistakes/errors with more ease (Permaculture Principle Nine: Use Small and Slow Solutions). Second, once in a while, I do eat foods that are not healthy for me, because they just taste good! I will share results as I continue to experiment.

On a side note, we know my son is allergic to chicken eggs. He may not be allergic to duck eggs. Many people who are allergic to one species’ egg are not allergic to another species’ egg. Just something to keep in mind if you deal with chicken egg allergies.

When harvesting any “wild” plant, proper identification is vital. Following are some images of our Elderberry shrubs to help aid identification:

One of our Elderberry shrubs.

One of our Elderberry shrubs.

The flat flower heads are numerous.

The flat flower heads are numerous.

The tiny, individual flowers make a large flower head. The flowers have a soft, delicate fragrance.

The tiny, individual flowers make a large flower head. The flowers have a soft, delicate fragrance.

Elderberry leaves.

Elderberry leaves.

Note the tight, serrated edge.

Note the tight, serrated edge.

My daughter and nephew with our harvest!

My daughter and nephew with our harvest!

Collection

We harvested about 12-15 heads of Elderberry flowers.

There is always a balance to strike when harvesting flowers from a plant that also produces such amazing berries, but our harvest represented less than 1% of the total flowers from our collection of Elderberries. We harvested 12-15 heads.

drying

The flowers were rinsed in clean water and allowed to dry.

It is also important to wash the flowers before use. I knocked off numerous, little insects. I wish I could have gotten a photo, but there was a small spider that looked as if it was designed just to grow on Elderberry flowers. It was beautiful!

While the flowers were drying, I put together the batter recipe.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Coconut oil for frying – I heated the oil in a medium pan until hot. Don’t let the oil get too hot, or the batter will burn.
  • Honey and powdered sugar (confectioners sugar) for drizzling and sprinkling.

The fritter batter should resemble a pancake batter. It cannot be too thick, or you will have a hard time getting the batter to stick to the individual flowers. If it is too thick, then you can add some more milk to the batter. I didn’t take any photos of the battering process, but it is pretty simple. Hold the flower head by the stem. Drip it into the batter. Dunk it up and down a few times, then drag it clockwise and then counter-clockwise a few times. This distributes the batter over the whole flower head. What you end up with looks like a ball of batter with a stem coming out the top – the weight of the batter collapses the flower head. Gently shake the battered flower head over the batter bowl. The excess batter will drip off. I then blotted the battered flower head on a plate to get even more excess batter off the flower head. I also think that this maneuver distributed the batter more evenly over the individual flowers.

Next, gently lower the battered flower head into the hot oil. You can do this with tongs if you are not used to cooking/frying with hot oil. Make sure you use a pan with high walls. The batter causes the oil to bubble up, and you can cause a fire if the oil bubbles over.

Once the battered flower head hits the oil, the flower head opens back up to its original size. If the batter is too thick, this is less likely to happen. Fry until the batter is golden.

Frying

Elderberry Flower Fritters frying!

Drying

Elderberry Flower Fritters drying! (I starting to sound like Dr. Seuss)

Finished

Finished fritters drizzled with local honey and sprinkled with powdered sugar!

Devoured

This plate of fritters only lasted a few minutes before the kids devoured them!

 

 

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Photo References: All photos in this article are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them!

Permaculture Plants: Currants

Common Name: Currant, Blackcurrant, Red Currant, White Currant
Scientific Name: Ribes species
Family: Grossulariaceae (the Currant or Gooseberry family)

Blackcurrant harvest!

Blackcurrant harvest!

Common Species: there are over 150 species in the Ribes genus. The Gooseberries were discussed previously in this article. The “flowering currants” are not discussed in this article. While there are a number of very uncommon edible currants, it is the common edible currants that are discussed below:

  • Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum): A more cold-hardy currant distributed throughout Europe with fair flavor.
  • American Black Currant (Ribes americanum): Our native Black Currant. I’ve never tried this species. Reports on flavor range from very poor to very good. This probably has to do with location, plant, and personal preference.
  • Golden Currant (Ribes aureum): Native to western North America, these currants reportedly have a good to very good flavor.
  • Blackcurrant or Black Currant (Ribes nigrum): This is the most widely grown currant with many varieties available.
  • Clove Currant or Buffalo Currant (Ribes odoratum): This North American native has clove-scented flowers and can produce small batches of very good flavored fruit. This would be a prime plant for breeding/selective improvements.
  • Rock Red Currant (Ribes petraeum): A less common European species.
  • Trailing Red Currant (Ribes procumbens): A very low-growing Asian currant with good flavored fruit.
  • Redcurrant or Red Currant (Ribes rubrum): There are a number of red-fruited currant species that all have the name “Red Currant”, but this species has had many names in its past. Ribes rubrum is sometimes called Ribes sylvestre or Ribes sativum or Ribes vulgare, and you will still see these names in older publications (or with writers who aren’t aware of the taxonomic updates). These fruits are more tart than Blackcurrant, but full of flavor. They typically can tolerate more shade than Blackcurrants.
  • Whitecurrant or White Currant (Ribes rubrum): this is actually an albino sport of the Redcurrant, and it has a mild flavor and a pale color. Depending of the cultivar, the fruit color can range from almost translucent white to salmon to pink to yellow. These other colors are often sold as
  • American Red Currant (Ribes triste): Our native Red Currant. Good flavor, very tart, with a lot of seeds.
  • Downy Currant (Ribes warszewiczii): A Siberian currant with very good flavor.
There are a wide variety of currants.

There are a wide variety of currants.

Description:
Currants are one of my favorite uncommon fruits in the United States. Many other countries know and love them, and I think Americans are just reawakening to this small shrub thanks to their high antioxidant content. But apart from their health benefits, they are quite tasty fruit, albeit a bit tart when eaten fresh. Currants are shade-tolerant, provide food and shelter to wildlife, and while their leaves are edible, they are more commonly dried and used for tea. In addition, many currants can be quite beautiful plants. Unless you live in an area that restricts their presence, then I would highly recommend the addition of currants to your property.

Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum)

Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum)

History:
The Blackcurrant is native to temperate central and north Europe and northern Asia. The Redcurrant is native to western Europe and Britain. The Blackcurrant was cultivated as early at the 11th century in Russian monasteries. It was mainly used as a medicinal for many centuries. In the UK during the 1940’s (and World War II), Blackcurrants were used as a primary vitamin C source, and the government distributed Blackcurrant syrup to children under age of 2 years for no charge. Historians make a good argument that this is the reason for the lasting popularity of Blackcurrants in Britain. Blackcurrants were also popular fruits in North America, but once the White Pine Blister Rust (see below) threatened the timber industry in the U.S., a federal ban was placed on growing this plant. The federal ban was lifted in 1966, and only a few states still have existing bans. The contemporary focus on antioxidants, along with Blackcurrants’ high antioxidant levels, have combined to bring about a resurgence in awareness of this fruit. Although, the Blackcurrants previous popularity has not yet returned.

"White" Currants

“White” Currants are really an albino form of the Red Currant (Ribes rubrum)

Another version of the "White" Currant

Another version of the “White” Currant

A pink or "Champagne" Currant

A pink or “Champagne” Currant, also a Red Currant variety.

The Golden Current (Ribes

The Golden Current (Ribes aureum)

Trivia:

  • Blackcurrant is very high in vitamin C and antioxidants.
  • Blackcurrant seed oil is being investigated for its health properties (similar to grapeseed oil).
  • Zante Currants or Corithian Raisins (often just called “Currants”) are dried, seedless grapes (a.k.a. Raisins) from the small ‘Black Corinth’ grape (Vitis vinifera). These are not related to the true currants of the Ribes genus. These are tasty little raisins.
  • Jostaberry (Ribes x nidigrloaria) is a tetraploid cross of the Blackcurrant (R. nigrum), the western North American Spreading or Coast Gooseberry (R. divaricatum), and the European Gooseberry (R. uva-crispa). These have a taste that falls somewhere between Blackcurrants and Gooseberries, and there are a number of varieties available.
  • Cider & Black is a drink that combines Blackcurrant cordial with hard cider.
  • Lager & Black is a drink that combines Blackcurrant cordial with lager beer.
  • Snakebite & Black (a.k.a. Diesel) is a drink that combines Blackcurrant cordial with lager and hard cider.
  • Johannisbeerschorle is a German drink made from Redcurrant syrup and soda water.
  • Bar-le-duc or Lorraine Jelly is a hand-made jelly produced in the town of Bar-le-duc, France using whole, seeded Redcurrants or White Currants. It is highly prized and considered an elite food product. The seeds are traditionally removed with goose quills, and Here is a great article about this culinary gem.
Whit Pine Blister Rust on Currants (left) and Pines (right).

Whit Pine Blister Rust on Currants (left) and Pines (right).

White Pine Blister Rust:
This is a fungal disease that infects White Pine trees (Pinus, subgenus Strobus) and causes serious damage or death to these commercially important trees. The problem with White Pine Blister Rust is that it requires two host plants to complete its life cycle. One host are the White Pines. The other host can be one of a few genera of Broomrapes (small, flowering plants), but most commonly it is the Ribes (Gooseberries and Currants). The rust is native to Asia, and it was accidentally introduced to North America in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. Seedlings and young trees are the most susceptible. Alternatively, the infection on Gooseberries and Currants is usually minimal, especially in Redcurrants and Gooseberries. Also, there are a number of immune or resistant Blackcurrant cultivars now available. In infected Ribes species, the leaves may get chlorotic spots (light spots), and they may turn orange-brown and fall off early. But then the leaves fall off anyway in Autumn, and the infection is done. Many places in North America have banned the import and growing of Ribes species, and while some locations still have these policies (especially in New England), this management has not been very effective due to alternate hosts and wild Ribes species. I recommend checking with your local state’s Agriculture Extension Service/Department. Look to plant resistant cultivars especially if you have a lot of susceptible pines.

Baked desserts are one of my favorite ways to eat currants!

Baked desserts are one of my favorite ways to eat currants!

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Fresh eating – All currants can be eaten fresh, but many are very tart, especially Redcurrants. The tarter varieties are often used raw in small amounts in salads, fruit dishes, and as an edible garnish.
  • Cooked –  Preserves, jellies, jams, fruit leathers (may need to be mixed with more fibrous fruit juices/pulps), compotes, and desserts are significantly more common than raw currants and can be exquisite. Cooked currants also pairs with flavorful meats (lamb, venison, and other and game meats) or poultry (turkey, goose, pheasant, etc.).
  • Syrup – This is another common use of currants and can be used in salad dressings, desserts, and drinks.
  • Juice – This is a growing market as the juice is very high if vitamin C and other antioxidants. Typically combined with other juices before serving.
  • Primary or secondary/adjunct flavoring in wines, cordials, liqueur, and other alcoholic beverages, including herbal beers. Here is an interesting article on Blackcurrant Leaf and Nettle Beer.
Currant leaves are edible but most commonly used in teas.

Currant leaves are edible but most commonly used in teas.

Secondary Uses:

  • Medicinal Plant – The leaves and fruit are often used medicinally.
  • Tea Plant – The leaves can be dried and used as a tea or used with herbal tea mixes.
  • Edible Leaves – Young, tender leaves are edible, and most commonly used in soups, although I have yet to try this. I cannot find any source that states the leaves need to be cooked first, but all recipes use cooked leaves. I do not know if, for instance, the leaves contain any toxins that are destroyed with cooking, or if the leaves just taste better when cooked and used when mixed with other flavors. I’ve even seen a recipe for Blackcurrant Leaf Ice Cream!
  • Dye Plant – The leaves and fruit have been used as a natural dye.
  • Wildlife Food – many animals will eat the fruit, especially birds!
  • Wildlife Shelter – mainly birds and small mammals find refuge in the mini-thickets these plants can form.
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Hummingbird Plant – these plants have nectar for Hummingbirds
Blackcurrant Syrup!

Blackcurrant Syrup!

Blackcurrant Syrup:

  • Blackcurrant syrup has long been used as a treatment for sore throats and cough in children, but it can also be used to flavor soda or tonic water, teas, other juices, or mixed drinks.
  • Blackcurrant syrup is a pretty simple recipe. It consists of roughly one part sweetener, one part water, and two parts fruit. The sweetener is dissolved in the water over heat, and then the fruit is added. Boil for 5-10 minutes, then remove from the heat for a few minutes. Mash the fruit (a potato masher works well for this). Return to boil for another few minutes to make sure the juice is all extracted. Some people will add lemon juice or citric acid at this point. Strain the juice through a fine sieve, muslin, or jelly bag. Pour into sterile jars and keep refrigerated.
Red Currant plant in full fruit!

Red Currant plant in full fruit!

Yield: Variable, but an established Blackcurrant bush can produce up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) per year/3-5 quarts/3-5 liters.  Redcurrants produce a little less than Blackcurrants. Clove Currant can produce 4-8 pounds (1.8-3.6 kg) per plant. White Currants, being significantly smaller, produce even less.
Harvesting: Harvest in mid to late Summer. The longer the fruits stays on the plant, the sweeter they become. Although, this give birds more chance at eating them. The more “wild” species (ones with no varieties) will ripen more unevenly, so these plants may need to be harvested a few times.
Storage: Use within 1-2 weeks.

The Clove or Buffalo Currant has clove-scented flowers! (Ribes

The Clove or Buffalo Currant has clove-scented flowers! (Ribes odoratum)

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum): Zone 2-7
  • American Black Currant (Ribes americanum): Zone 3
  • Golden Currant (Ribes aureum): Zone 3
  • Blackcurrant or Black Currant (Ribes nigrum): Zone 4-8
  • Clove Currant or Buffalo Currant (Ribes odoratum): Zone 3b-8
  • Rock Red Currant (Ribes petraeum): Zone 5-9
  • Trailing Red Currant (Ribes procumbens): Zone 3-7
  • Redcurrant or Red Currant (Ribes rubrum): Zone 5-9
  • Whitecurrant or White Currant (Ribes rubrum): Zone 5-9
  • American Red Currant (Ribes triste): Zone 3
  • Downy Currant (Ribes warszewiczii): Zone 3-7

AHS Heat Zone: AHS Heat Zones have not been defined for most of these plants (that I can find!), but most prefer less heat-stress locations.

  • Blackcurrant or Black Currant (Ribes nigrum): Zone 7-1
  • Clove Currant or Buffalo Currant (Ribes odoratum): Zone 9-3
  • Redcurrant or Red Currant (Ribes rubrum): Zone 7-1
  • Whitecurrant or White Currant (Ribes rubrum): Zone 7-1

Chill Requirement: Blackcurrants need 1,200-2,500 chill hours/units. Redcurrants need 800-1,500 chill hours/units. The farther north the range of the native plant, typically the higher chill requirement.

Plant Type: Small Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available. This is a nice Cornell review of some popular Ribes varietiesand here is a very extensive list of cultivars available, also from Cornell. 

Pollination: Ribes are self-fertile, but Blackcurrant cultivars will fruit significantly better with insect-mediated cross-pollination of other cultivars. Clove Currant will also produce better with cross-pollination.
Flowering: Early to Mid Spring

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 3 years
  • Years to Maximum Fruiting: 3-4 years
  • Years of Useful Life: Not defined for most Ribes species, but Redcurrants can still fruit for 10-15 years, and Blackcurrants have been known to still be productive at 15-20 years of age.
Currants can be beautiful plants.

Currants can be beautiful plants (Ribes aureum)

Blackcurrant flowers.

Blackcurrant flowers.

Red Currant flowers.

Red Currant flowers.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

  • Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum): 3-4 feet (0.9-1.2 meters) tall and 2-3 feet (0.6-0.9 meters) wide.
  • American Black Currant (Ribes americanum): 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters) tall and wide.
  • Golden Currant (Ribes aureum): 3-8 feet (0.9-2.4 meters) tall and 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters) wide.
  • Blackcurrant or Black Currant (Ribes nigrum): 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and wide.
  • Clove Currant or Buffalo Currant (Ribes odoratum): 6-12 feet (1.8-3.6 meters) tall and wide.
  • Rock Red Currant (Ribes petraeum): 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters) tall and wide.
  • Trailing Red Currant (Ribes procumbens): 8 inches (20 cm) tall and 3 feet (0.9 meters) wide.
  • Redcurrant or Red Currant (Ribes rubrum): 3.5-5 feet (1-1.5 meters) tall and wide. Up to 7 feet (2 meters) tall on occasion.
  • Whitecurrant or White Currant (Ribes rubrum): 2-3 feet (0.6-0.9 meter) tall and wide.
  • American Red Currant (Ribes triste): 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and wide.
  • Downy Currant (Ribes warszewiczii): 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and wide.

Roots: For the species that have been defined, most have fibrous or heart-shaped root patterns, and the American species often sucker (produces new plants from underground runners).
Growth Rate: Medium to Fast.

Beautiful Red Currant esplier grown by Lee Reich.

Beautiful Red Currant espalier grown by Lee Reich.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers partial sun/shade to almost full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade and can grow in fairly deep shade, but fruiting is substantially reduced.
Moisture: Prefers moist soils. Can tolerate pretty wet soils, but does not tolerate dry soils.
pH: As a very general rule, European/Asian Ribes prefer more acidic soils, and the American Ribes prefer a bit more alkaline soils; however, both do well at close to neutral.

Special Considerations for Growing:
Ribes tolerate juglone, a chemical produced by black walnuts that can be toxic to other plants (killing or severely stunting them), so Currants can be used as a buffer plant between your black walnuts and your other forest garden plants.

Propagation:
Most common propagated with seed; needs cold stratification for 12 weeks. Can also be propagated via cuttings, and this is how cultivars are propagated.

Maintenance:

  • With many Currants, about one-third of all stems can be cut out at just above ground level after leaf die-back in Autumn. The first to be pruned should be older stems with the least new growth. The goal is that fruits will be borne on spurs of 2-3 year old wood. Redcurrants need to be pruned less, unless you want to trigger new wood growth.
  • May need potassium supplementation (aka Potash) to maintain good fruiting.

Concerns:

  • Susceptible to White Pine Blister Rust as noted above. If in an area of concern, then choose resistant varieties.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.leereich.com/2014/08/weeds-birds-pest-free-currants.html
  • http://store.isons.com/content/220634/product_images/Currants/Red_Currant_Hi_Res_SS.jpg
  • http://www.rougemagz.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/red-black-white-currants-wide-wallpaper-514833.jpg
  • http://www.plantandgardens.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/white-currants.jpg
  • http://www.ornamental-trees.co.uk/images/products/zoom/1309442907-03271300.jpg
  • https://fruitforum.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/champagne-hampton-c.jpg
  •  https://thefruitnut.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/p5128822.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/Ribes_rubrum_HC1.JPG
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-IFGz6wQkfQQ/Ta_TTEEHtRI/AAAAAAAAE98/ntYz27bZ3Fs/s1600/SAM_3978.JPG
  • http://plantillustrations.org/ILLUSTRATIONS_full_size/136900.jpg
  • https://thefoodieatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/blackcurrant-leaf.jpg
  • http://pharmeko.eu/wp-content/uploads/Pharmeko-Black-Currant-%E2%80%93-Ribes-Nigrum-wholesale.jpg
  • http://www.newplantsandflowers.com/wp-content/uploads/Ribes-aureum-Vierbeere-Fairberry-Orangesse-%E2%80%93-photo-Lubera.jpg
  • https://granadanativegarden.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/ribes-aureum-3-21-13.jpg
  • http://rootstofruits.biz/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/IMGP7987.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-bic0xItk6Nc/U85Sj3nHX_I/AAAAAAAADls/3lZCoXLx8MY/s1600/Black+currant+cordial+recipe.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-2t475likkzk/Tf6esr5TGqI/AAAAAAAAAs4/x3RmdKDMfs0/s1600/DSC_0297.JPG
  • http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/highelevationwhitepines/images/Education/rust_canker.JPG
  • https://extension.umass.edu/landscape/sites/landscape/files/news/images/Jostaberry_WPBR1.jpg