A couple of years ago, I planted two black currant bushes in my garden. The location is at a forest’s edge, partially shaded in the morning and late afternoon. It is too shady for most other plants, but the black currants thrive. So far this year I have picked about 4 cups of the blackest, ripest berries, and far more than that are still ripening in clusters under the leaves.
Fresh black currants are rather sour and strong tasting and they are not for everyone. I remember my dad’s excitement over a black currant bush he planted when I was about six, and I remember my disappointment and bewilderment when I first tasted the tart berries. I could see from the dreamy expression on his face that he connected the taste to some childhood memory. He grew up on a farm in Manitoba and his mother preserved everything that grew on their acres. He would remember his mother’s homemade black currant jelly served on thick slices of homemade bread. And thinking of that, he would be reminded of his mother, who cooked for over 20 farmers every day, three times a day.
I have since discovered the thick, boozy syrup that is cassis, which is delicious on its own, and even more so as Kir Royal (when mixed with champagne), and I love black currant jelly almost as much as my dad does. My dad may never have had cassis, but my first taste of it, when on assignment at Clinton Vineyards, made a strong impression. And later, when photographing Amy Thielen‘s cookbook, I learned that you can make cassis quite easily. I will get around to following her recipe, but for now you can buy it from France, and I love the one made right here in the Hudson Valley.
Black currants are also exceptional as a savory jus to accompany red meat, or in any mixed berry pie. As an adult, I even eat them fresh off the vine. Although, as I eat them, I reflect on how far they would be transformed with the addition of a little sugar and heat.
This July 4th, on a spontaneous decision to make dessert for our guests, my toddler and I picked a bowl full and made a galette. The currants needed more sugar than I gave them. A scoop of sweet vanilla ice cream would have been perfect. But despite being tart enough to make us laugh, it was kind of perfect, anyway.