Category Archives: currants

Currants – Worth Their Weight In Gold

I briefly mentioned currants in my recent post Pickin’ and Preserving and wanted to share my thoughts about this wonderful fruit. The following paragraphs were taken from a post I wrote last summer.

IMG_4282“You are a better person than I am,” my husband said to me as I was picking currants. “These berries are worth their weight in gold,” I told him. It has only been in the last year that I have come to really appreciate the value of currants. They are indeed a super food. http://www.madaboutberries.com/health-benefits/health-benefits-of-blackcurrants-and-redcurrants.html In the past I have made currants into jelly and wine. Last summer I began making juice from them and found this to be like an energy drink. In order to preserve the vitamin C I make raw juice. I simply wash the berries then blend them, stems and all, with some water in my nutri bullet blender. I then pour the blend into a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds.  My husband likes the juice with nothing added, but I like to sweeten mine with a little bit of our raw honey. We have been drinking the juice regularly, but I have also been able to put some in the freezer.

Picking currants can be a long and monotonous chore, but currants are not something that I can just pick up at the grocery store, and if I was able to find them at a farmers market I’m sure they would be priced beyond my budget (have you checked the price of gold lately?).  Fortunately currants will stay ripe on the bush for quite a while so I can pick a quart or two a day and go back for more a day or two later. We also grow 4 different varieties which ripen at different rates, so while I am about finished picking two varieties, one variety is coming into it’s prime and the last one is just beginning to ripen.

I have had a couple of readers mention that they love currants and now I am curious. Have you ever had currants? Where do you get them? How to you eat/preserve them? I would love to hear from you.

Pickin’ and Preserving

I just thought I would do a quick post about what we have harvested in the past week.

Strawberries – Since we began picking strawberries we have harvested nearly 50 quarts of strawberries. After I froze enough to keep us in homemade jam through the year we began offering them to family and friends. We have had a lack of rain so the berries are not big this year but they are delicious.  Due the dry conditions we are not certain that the plants will continue to produce berries much longer.

Garlic Scapes – Several people who visited the farm this week went home with some garlic scapes. We cut, bundled and delivered scapes to a local retailer and are having scapes for dinner tonight.

Oregano – It was time to start picking oregano before it blossoms. Oregano is a very prolific herb that is spreading throughout, and making a nice ground cover in our prayer garden. Since I will not be ready to can spaghetti sauce for at least a month I will dry the herbs as I harvest them and they will keep well until I am ready to use them. When it flowers the bees are very attracted to it.

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I find that air drying herbs works well. I have a couple different methods for doing this. One is to tie the herbs in a bunch, like I have done with the oregano in the above picture, and hang then where they will get good air flow until the leaves completely dry. Once they are completely dry I remove the leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container.

Basil – Basil is another herb that I use in my spaghetti sauce. It is an annual so we plant a few plant each year. It is not very large yet but picking some of it now will encourage it to grow more and discourage it from flowering too soon. Since the basil stems were pretty short I decided it was best to dry them on our drying screen (shown in the photo below).

The drying screen is simply made of a wooden frame with screen stapled together. The frame that we used actually came as packaging from a table that we had purchased. I saved it because I knew there was a better use for it the just throwing it away. The screen that we used was part of a roll of screen that I had picked up for a couple dollars at an estate sale.

Since the drying screen does not have legs I usually put a box under each end so there is good air flow all the way around. Depending on the temperature, leafy herbs will usually dry in a few days on the drying screen. They are then stored in air tight containers until we are ready to use them

Plantain Leaves –  When you see plantain you may think of a fruit similar to a banana that grows on trees (Musa paradisiaca) but we can’t grow that here. Apparently plantain trees grow best in zones 8 through 11 and require 10-15 months with temperatures above freezing to bear fruit. That doesn’t happen in Michigan.

The plantain I am referring to is know as common plantain (plantago major) and common it is. It pops up seemly everywhere and you would probably recognize it even if you don’t know it’s name. Along with not knowing it’s name you may not be aware that plantain had many health benefits and is often included in list of the top weeds that we should be eating. Although we have not yet included plantain in our diet I have been harvesting it for medicinal purposes for several years. The following website includes a photo and information about plantains medicinal uses https://usesofherbs.com/plantain.

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Marshmallow Leaves On The Drying Screen

 

Marshmallow Leaves –  If you are not familiar with the wonder benefits of the Marshmallow plant you can read about it here https://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-marshmallow.html.

We have been growing marshmallow for several years now and in the fall I harvest some of the roots as I use it in my Hair Care soap. Last year I also harvested some of the leaves, dried them and stored them. I enjoyed marshmallow tea a few times and have begun harvesting and drying the leaves so I can replenish my herbal “medicine cabinet”.

I actually started this post last week intending for it to be a short summery of our weeks efforts but as the time passes we are harvesting more and more produce. Before I wrap it up I will quickly add –

Blueberries –  We are picking fully ripened blueberries and not having to worry about the birds getting them first. If you aren’t sure why click here to read about our blueberry patch update.

and last but not least

Currants – I have been waiting for months for these little berries to be ready. In my opinion they are a superfood and I intend on doing a separate post on them and how I am preserving them.

I am going to wrap up this post now before the list gets any longer. As I head to the farm to pick berries I wish you all a blessed day.

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A Berry Good Year

Strawberries aren’t the only berry that we have an abundance of this year. Home grown cherries, blueberries, and currants have also found their way into our diets.

Although our cherry tree suffered quite a large fruit drop, and we split the crop about 50/50 with the robins in the neighborhood, I was able to harvest enough to make a cherry crisp and today’s dessert, a cherry pie.

Once our blueberries started to ripen they were disappearing faster than we could pick them. The robins have an advantage of being able to sit on the fence and wait until each berry turns just the right shade and then pluck it from their stem and enjoy it as a meal. We on the other hand show up once a day to pick whatever berries might be ripe, then save them in the refrigerator or freezer until we have enough for a meal. Thus we decided early on that netting the bushes would be necessary if we wanted to harvest any blueberries.

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My husband pulled out this roll of netting that he found in somebodies trash a couple years ago. Last year we were happy to have this stored away, when we found it necessary to net the entire squash bed to save them from the deer. We have since fenced in the field gardens, so the deer eating squash, pumpkins, corn, etc. is not a concern. Cutting up the netting to protect our blueberries was a no-brainer.

The blueberry bushes are small enough that we could drape the netting over the whole bush.

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Even as I wrapped the bushes these thieving little robins attempted to steal our bounty.  Although it appears that this bird is trapped under the net, it is really sitting on the outside on the opposite side of the bush. IMG_1523

Since netting the bushes, we have picked and frozen nearly 4 quarts of blueberries and they are still coming on. There will be blueberry pancakes this year.

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Unlike the robins that seemed to be deterred by the netting, there are a couple of these little birds that keep going at it. They are pretty clever, as they can find a small opening and are not afraid to go in under the net. I’m not sure what type of bird it is but I think it looks like a female Orchard Oriole. http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/564/_/Orchard_Oriole.aspx

You might not think of a couple quarts of cherries or blueberries as being an abundance but where the term really applies is currants.

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Right now we have two red and one white currant bushes that we are harvesting. We have harvested an estimated 12-15 lbs. Currants are not a very popular fruit in our area and I suspect the following reasons. Currants are very tart. Although they are very productive, they are a chore to pick. They are very seedy, and they are a chore to clean.

I also think that people are unaware of the nutrition they offer, http://www.livestrong.com/article/444249-what-are-the-benefits-of-red-currant/    most notable their vitamin C content, and I think that people don’t know what to do with them.

IMG_1554Since the currant wine I made last year was a hit, I started with making wine with white currants and strawberries.

I then made juice with the rest of the white currants and put it in the freezer. I have  also been making juice with the red currants that we have picked, but rather than cook the currants before mashing and straining the juice, I put the raw currants in my Nutri-bullet, blended them up, then strained them. (the chickens love the remaining seeds and pulp) I did this because heat kills the precious vitamin C. I sweeten this juice with honey and we have been enjoying this with our breakfast.

I also made a batch of currant jelly.

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Currants have enough pectin that it is not necessary to add any when making jelly. I ended up with 5 1/2 pints (or so I thought). When you make jelly, that does not require pectin added, testing the jelly for doneness can be tricky. Using a candy thermometer is not an accurate measure, as I found out. 24 hours after I made this jelly it still had not set up. I let it boil for quite a while after it reached 220 F  on the thermometer because it did not appear to be sheeting on the spoon yet, but I was also afraid of it burning.

So a few days later I poured all of the (almost) jelly back in the pan and cooked it down some more. This time I left the candy thermometer in the drawer and decided to use the spoon test, and watch for the jelly to “sheet” off the spoon.

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After I got it to a boil I started doing the spoon test. It was coming off the spoon it drops.

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As it boiled it became thicker and darker in color. It was still dropping from the spoon and I was still concerned about it burning or getting too sticky. So I was continually raising the spoon and letting it drop off. Doing this with my right hand and trying to snap pictures with my left (just as it was dropping from the spoon) was a bit of a challenge.

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At this point the drops were getting wider, more “sheet-like” so I let it go for a couple more minutes and then decided it was ready. I put it into jars, put the lids and rings on and gave it a 5 minute water bath.

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I ended up with 4 pints. After 24 hours they were much more jelly-like. I do think they could have cooked even longer though. I guess I should have follow the advice of one of the blogs I read that said,” when you think it’s ready, keep cooking it.”

I have certainly learned that there it an art to making jelly. I say “Kudos” to anyone who has mastered it, and while our jelly slides off  our PB&J sandwiches this year I will affirm my vow to get it better next year.