In most of North America, blackcurrants (and their red & white relatives) spent the most of the 20th century as forbidden fruits. However, since the ban on growing currants was lifted in New York State in 2003, the fruits have made a strong comeback and have brought this unique – distinctly European – flavor back to the tables of New England and New York.
The blackcurrant and other currants, like the smaller tart red currants, are members of the Ribes genus along with gooseberries. Gooseberries and currants were first brought to North America by English settlers. Unfortunately they brought with them a disease, white pine blister rust. White pines, with their very tall and very straight trunks, have long had an essential place in the lumber industry of the Northeast. In an attempt to protect the white pines from the blister rust, in 1911 the growing of black and red currants was banned in New York.
After nearly a century, the effectiveness of the ban was in question, since there are native members of the Ribes genus growing throughout New York’s forests that also harbor the disease.
So it has been just over a decade since farmers and backyard gardeners were again allowed to cultivate currants. Even so they are now a common sight at early summer farmers markets, and the jams are available year round. Humanity has a certain attractiveness to the forbidden (Genesis 1!), and I think the story of the blackcurrant has made it as popular as its taste!
All currants are extremely high in vitamin C and their dark color belies their rich content of antioxidants. However, these intense nutritional values also come with an intense flavor! Both the tartness of the red currant and musky flavor of the blackcurrant are hard to take raw. Both are used extensively in baking, and blackcurrants are especially used in making jams.
5 Loaves Farm is growing both the red and blackcurrants. Red currants ripen in late June to early July with the blackcurrant about a week behind them. We are happy to be cultivating these new, but no longer rare, and still delicious tastes to share with our neighbors. Our blackcurrant jam is becoming a staple in our Community Supported Agriculture farm shares each July, and the red currants are an instant hit at our farmers market stand. So pick some up from us either in your CSA farm share, at our first farm stand at the community BBQs held each Friday evening at the House of Grace (175 Potomac Ave), or at the Elmwood Village Farmers Market this Saturday morning, and enjoy this delicious, once forbidden fruit!