Currants in Abundance

I am lucky to know someone who has several currant bushes and is eager to have them picked and used. Red, white, and black currants, so plentiful, I couldn’t possibly use them all. With gratitude, I ventured down the path of learning about and preserving these stunning little fruits.

Currants were cultivated in Scandinavia centuries ago and were domesticated in Europe during the mid 1500s. The term “currant” was used because of the fruit’s resemblance to dried currants from Greece made from small seedless grapes. Currants are anti-oxidants and are Vitamin C powerhouses. Black currants provide 338 % of daily Vitamin C requirements. During WWII, the extreme shortage of citrus fruit in England prompted Winston Churchill to encourage people to grow black currants to stave off scurvy!

Currants are excellent as jams and jellies. They are exceptionally high in pectin and acid which make them perfect for jams and jellies. Black currants are the base of the liqueur called “Cassis” which can be made at home. Black and white currants can be added to a fruit salad or baked goods, but red currants are too tart to be eaten raw. Still, red currants have a long history of being used as a jelly, sometimes solo or sometimes mixed with port, citrus, and mustard (Olde English Cumberland Sauce) and used with game or other rich meats. All currants can be frozen or dehydrated.

If you are making jams and jellies, there are a few helpful tips. Unlike black and white currants, red currants are tarter and have large seeds which generally should be removed using a food mill. I made a jam of black and red currants without seeding the red ones and it worked out nicely because of the balance between red and black. But I also made a raspberry-red currant jam where I cooked the red currants first and passed them through the food mill creating a puree. It’s really a matter of personal taste. Because currants are so high in pectin, do not be tempted to add commercial pectin. A nasty hard mass will result! Remember also, currant jams and jellies will continue to firm-up for 24 hours after they are removed from the canner.

There are many recipes from reputable sources, but for a flexible batch format, I like the recommendation from chef David Lobovitz who suggests a 1 to 1 ratio of currant puree to sugar. Once the mixture comes to a full rolling boil, boil hard for about 8 minutes. Check the gel point. If desired, add a teaspoon or two of Cassis or Kirsch. For long-term storage, process in a water bath or steam canner for 10 minutes. Rest for five minutes and remove to allow the jars to rest undisturbed for 24 hours.

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