The genus Ribes includes Currants, Gooseberries, and the hybrid Jostaberries. These berries ripen in midsummer and are universally juicy and refreshing, with a pleasant sweet-tart flavor. The flavor of Blackcurrants is described by the New Zealand Blackcurrant Cooperative as “A sweet earthy taste unlike other berries. Fresh gooseberry and passion-fruit flavour-aromas and hints of raspberry, combined with the floral aromatic notes of carnations and roses. An underlying tannic structure adds complexity and balance to the blackcurrant’s acidity and sweetness. The aftertaste is fresh and sharply cleansing, with no residual sweetness.” Note that the “Currants” sold in grocery stores are not members of the genus Ribes at all. Rather, they are dried Black Corinth grapes.
All Ribes tolerate diverse soils, from harsh red clay to rich loams. Wood mulch provides an ideal blend of acidity and organic material. They prefer shade during the hot afternoons. Many currant-growers in Virginia report some die-back of the upper leaves during the summertime, but other than looking a little ragged, this does not appear to adversely affect the plant. Most wild Ribes are plants of forest clearing and meadow edge- places that experience a wide range of temperatures, shading, and soil types over the course of a berry-bush’s lifetime.
Many Ribes are carriers for White Pine Blister Rust, a Eurasian fungus that has decimated pine forests across North America. Unless the variety you select is specifically identified as rust-resistant, please, for the sake of the trees, don’t plant it. Reliably rust-resistant varieties include the Consort Blackcurrant, the hybrid Jostaberry, and the Black Velvet Gooseberry.
All Ribes are forgiving on the home harvester. They ripen over a long period, keep well without tricky preservation methods, and, in some cases, actually improve in flavor with storage. Kept in a paper bag in the refrigerator, the berries will stay fresh for up to a month. Blackcurrants are best when the skin begins to soften, and fruit begins falling off the plant of its own accord. Gooseberries, on the other hand, can be picked at the edge of ripeness, and allowed to sweeten up in storage. All fruits benefit from chilling soon after harvest and storage at 33°-38°F. Ribes tend to produce on one-year-old stems. To ensure a bountiful crop, prune out canes older than three years after they have fruited for the season.
Blackcurrants are best dried, made into liqueur, or cooked down and added to savory dishes. Red Currants and White Currants are fantastic on ice-cream and in salads, but can also be preserved or made into jam for enjoyment well into the wintry season.
Enjoy this recipe for a Blackcurrant Jus (sauce) for any roast meat dish:
Recipe for Blackcurrant Jus
- 1 cup Blackcurrants
- 1 cup Pinot Noir or other dark red wine
- 3 Juniper Berries, lightly crushed
- 6 Fresh Thyme stems
- 2 Cups Stock: beef, vegetable, or duck
- 1 Tsp. Fine Cornmeal or Arrowroot flour
- Combine wine, 1/2 cup of Blackcurrants, the Juniper berries, and the Thyme, reduce over low heat by 2/3
- Add the Stock, hold at a simmer
- Reduce by half, and add the Cornmeal or Arrowroot
- Strain through a fine sieve
- Season to taste, and add remaining 1/2 cup of Blackcurrants
- Serve over roast turkey, venison, chicken, beef, etc.
Recipe from Jason Dell & The New Zealand Blackcurrant Co-operative