Thai Basil + Red Currant Jelly !!!

Red currant jelly is highly regarded in European cuisine and for righteous reasons. In the Lorraine region of France you’ll find the sought after bar-le-dec jelly which is specially prepared with currants that have been deseeded by an epepineusesIn other traditions red currant jelly is served with lamb and different meat dishes. I relish red currant jam and thats what I’ve been making the past few years. In fact I still have some jars stored away from last season’s crop. However this time I wanted to make jelly instead. To me jelly is a bit more of a ‘premium’ since the seeds and skins are removed and it takes considerably longer to make. I was looking to spice it up by adding a flavoring herb; I decided on Thai basil. This is one of my favorite basil varieties because I love its strong anise flavor and aroma. This needed to be a low-sugar recipe as I cannot buy into the ridiculous amounts of sugar suggested for most jam and jelly recipes. It would be an awful shame to mask the complex tartness of the currants.

Here’s what you’ll need for this simple recipe:

  • 8 cups destemmed currants
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar
  • 1 handful of thai basil leaves and flower tops
  • 2 tbsp powdered pectin
Step 1: Rinse currants and place in large sauce pan with 1/2 cup water. Crush currants with potato masher or berry crusher if you have one. Cook on medium heat for 10-15 minutes.
I added one whole sprig of basil at this stage to begin the flavor infusion…
Step 2: Strain the fruit through cheesecloth, jelly bag, or foley food mill to separate seeds and skins.  I used a foley food mill and it worked wonders. Just don’t go all epepineuses on me and start removing seeds with the butt end of a feather!
Discard left over seeds and skins and add to compost…
Step 3: Add strained mixture back to sauce pan and dissolve sugar on medium heat. Add finely chopped Thai basil and let cook for 8-10 minutes.
Step 4: Bring to rapid boil and stir in pectin. Let boil for 1 minute and take off heat.
By now it should have jelled fairly well and will continue to as it cools. Fill jars and store in refrigerator or for long term storage place jars in boiling water bath for 15 minutes and then store in pantry.
The sweet anise flavor of Thai basil complements the tangy currants wonderfully! Yum…

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Currant Affairs 7/9/12

After being gone for a few days up north I was disappointed to return and find my ‘Rovada’ red currants and ‘Primus’ white currants had almost entirely disappeared. I’d been waiting to harvest them at their peak ripeness, but apparently I waited too long and the birds beat me to it. Even with the red currants being haphazardly netted the birds still found a way to devour. Bummer. Can’t stress it enough when it comes to harvesting: TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!

All that was left of my ‘Rovada’ and ‘Primus’ currants…those robins! 7/4/12

Fortunately mother nature had a back up plan and the local ‘U-Pick’ red currant put on a bumper crop which the birds haven’t bothered (yet). ‘U-Pick’ is a bush I found a few years ago at a friend’s house and have been trying to uncover it’s origin. It was planted some 27+ years ago by the previous homeowners. For not being pruned and fending for itself, she’s managed to produce a bountiful crop for the past several years. Stay tuned for an upcoming red currant jam recipe. In the meantime check out how my friend Mark has been using red currants in some gourmet fixins!

What I refer to as ‘U-Pick’ is an unknown cultivar of Ribes rubrum…possibly ‘Red Lake’ or ‘Red Dutch’? 7/6/12

Thankfully I was smart enough to pick the last of my ‘Pink Champagne’ currants before I went on my trip north. Otherwise they too would have been gone I suspect. Guests ate the currants and everyone enjoyed their sharp tanginess! I juiced the left over berries and mixed up a currant cosmopolitan with vodka, currant juice, lime, and a touch of sparkling water. Twas a lovely cocktail.

My not-so-pink ‘Pink Champagne’ currant harvest… 6/30/12
Herbal tea infused with fresh red currants…about 95% of the taste tests were positive! 6/30/12

My everbearing golden raspberries are ripening their first flush of fruit for the season. I have been eating a generous handfull daily for the past week. There has been a lot of interest in golden raspberries at the Clarkston Farmers’ Market lately. Its always fun to show people an unusual version of a food they’re already familiar with.

‘Fall Gold’ raspberries have a delicate flavor with tropical notes and a rich honey-like sweetness. 7/4/12
Golden raspberries and red currants spiraling atop damsons…

The black raspberry season has been unusual thus far; there appears to be a good fruit set but they’re taking their sweet time to ripen. So there has yet to be any golden opportunities to cash in on the harvest. However, when I was out looking the other day I came across a stunning patch of wild bergamot and some happy, happy bumble bees!!!

Monarda fistulosa AKA bee balm is a great nectar source for bees and other beneficial insects.

One of the biggest thrills yet has been the blueberry harvest. Highbush blueberries are ripe for the picking and I will dedicate an entire post to that SOON!

Walking the plank through the enchanted blueberry bog… 7/5/12

Basic Red Currant Glaze for Poultry, Meat, & Fish

I went fishing the other day and caught some large mouth bass, bluegill, and crappie. We ended up catching a fair bit and I needed to figure out what to do with the fillets. I remembered hearing my friend who lived in Sweden mention that they’d pair red currants with meat dishes. Often making a sauce that would top the meat; traditionally it was elk or reindeer, but it would go great with grass-fed beef or venison I’d imagine. Red currants have the perfect acid flavor to go with savory meat dishes. Traditionally, in Sweden at least, they usually don’t put red currant sauce on fish…BUT I figured it was worth a try. Especially after harvesting a nice container full of wild red currants earlier that day.

Wild harvested American red currants…

I made dill battered fillets with garden giant mushrooms and topped it with a lovely red currant glaze and served it with quinoa. You can experiment with using this sauce on any number of poultry, fish, or meat preparations. Here is the recipe for the glaze:

  • 1 cup red currants
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup organic raw honey

Step 1: Mix currants, water, and honey in medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil then let cook for 10 minutes on medium heat. Be sure to smash the berries to extract their insides into the mix.

Step 2: Turn off heat and run mixture through cheesecloth or fine strainer to seperate the seeds. I love to eat currants with seed and all but for this recipe I thought it’d be nice to not have seeds.

Step 3: Add strained mixture back into saucepan; add vinegar and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until sauce begins to thicken. Pour on top of your favorite poultry, meat, or fish. ENJOY!

Berries, berries, and more berries!

The heat of summer is in full swing, and the berry season is starting to pick up. With such a strange winter and spring the ripening times aren’t ‘normal’, or more accurately aren’t as they’ve been in years past. With that being said, tis the season for berry picking! Take it when it comes and do your darndest to best utilize mother nature’s abundance of nourishing and tasteful summer fruits! I’ve been doing just that…

Several days ago on a bike ride with my friend Paris Rae, we came upon a lovely patch of Ribes odoratum, or clove currant. This is a black currant species  indigenous to NA with large, shiny black berries that are highly aromatic with a wonderful spicey-sweet flavor. A truly delectable roadside find!

Antioxidant-rich clove currants…
Clove currant gets it’s name from the profuse, clove-scented flowers which perfume the air in early spring. A few years ago I found this large and in charge specimen LOADED with flowers, once again on a roadside…

For the past 3-4 weeks I’ve been consuming plenty of European black currants (Ribes nigrum) of which I absolutely indulge upon and relish their complex ‘foxy’ flavor! Five varieties grow in my garden which all ripen at slightly different times, and today I picked the last of ’em from ‘Consort’. The bushes hold onto to their fruit quite well for the duration of picking season, which is a nice characteristic. This cannot be said for softer fruits like raspberries. I was meaning to make a batch of black currant jelly, but instead ended up eating them all fresh out of hand and mixed in salads. I love to let visitors try the black currants and observe their reaction. Most people enjoy them.

Handful of mixed black currant varieties.

On hot days like today I like to make a refreshing iced berry drink. Today I made one with black currants. It is a simple recipe and you can alternate black currants with any other berry. This is all you’ll need:

  • 1 cup fresh berries
  • 1 cup crushed ice
  • A spoonful of organic raw honey never hurts

I use a magic bullet with the heavy duty blade; you can use a blender, vita-mix, or whatever you’ve got! Mix the ingredients and blend. Sometimes you’ll need to add a small amount of water or other liquid to get the blending started.

I like to add a few sprigs of fresh mint! Yum…

Blackcaps, or black raspberries, are reaching their peak season. They happily grow wild around here and if you know a good spot then there is usually never a shortage of berries. I like to freeze them for use in pies and smoothies during winter. They also make a delicious low-sugar jam.

Black raspberries at different stages of ripening…
In just a short period you can collect a considerable amount of black raspberries. They go well with oatmeal in the morning!

I expect the next two weeks to be the ideal time to collect a lot of these gems for freezing and preserving. Once you familiarize yourself with these fruits you’ll learn that its all about timing and it surely pays to keep a close eye on whose ripening!

A subtle mutation gives these black raspberries a golden color. This was exciting to find growing wild around here, somewhat of a rarity.
Interestingly enough golden fruited variants often times express golden tinged foliage and stems. For breeders and selectors this is one way to tell if you might have a golden-fruited specimen before fruiting occurs. As the wood lignifies on these black raspberry floricanes it too gains a yellow hue.

In my garden it is an ‘in-between’ year for strawberries. My strawberry bed was renovated this spring so it won’t be in production again until next year. Fortunately I have a lot of alpine strawberries still producing. Alpine strawberries are the wild european strawberry. Similar to the woodland strawberries you find growing here. Small fruit that packs a serious punch. Red and white-fruited varieties exist and their everbearing tendency keeps fresh berries comin’ all season! The ones in the image below were picked from a local edible landscape installed by Roots To Fruits. Stay tuned for a coming article on alpine strawberries

These ‘White Soul’ alpine strawberries have a pineapple-like flavor and are extremely sweet.
These clove currants were intentionally planted in this edible landscape with alpine strawberries.
A better view of the edible landscape featuring alpine strawberry, clove currant, and birds foot trefoil (a nitrogen-fixing groundcover).
Speaking of white and golden fruits, my golden raspberries are just starting to ripen their first flush of berries. These are a real treat…still a week or two off from any substantial harvest.

One of the nice things about white-fruited berries vs. red,purple/blue hues is that they appear to be less noticeable to birds. Birds tend to recognize red and purple as something to go for where white and yellow, from my experience- are left alone. White alpine strawberries and golden raspberries are great from that regard. Another nice white-fruited berry is white currant. Technically white currants are just a variant of red currant (R.rubrum). I have a few varieties in my garden and most of them are all gone by now as they ripen much faster then reds(which are just starting to ripen). However a later ripening variety by the name of ‘Primus’ lives in my garden, and she is just now starting to ripen her berries(no currants are not dioecious!).

‘Primus’ has firm berries which ripen evenly and rate high in flavor and productivity…
My espaliered ‘Pink Champagne’ currant is covered with ripe fruit right now. They dangle in clusters like little jewels with the sun shining through them! Beauty…
Although this plant was labeled as ‘Pink Champagne’ when I got it four years ago, I have suspicion that it was mislabeled as the berries never really turn fully pink. Hmm…

It has been a sad season for my gooseberries. I set out nearly 15 new bushes this year and they’ve had a rough go thus far. But its mainly my fault. They were planted in an area where horses and deer live and apparently the fencing system was not adequate. Aside from being trampled on a few times, there’s also been a serious outbreak of small green worms which defoliate a plant in a number of days. Not sawfly, still needs ID. If anyone knows please share.

Ripe gooseberries…but whats missing? FOLIAGE…yikes!
On a better note, about 95% of this seasons apple grafts have successfully took and are putting on oodles of new growth!
My ‘Frontenac’ grape vine wasn’t phased by the shifty spring weather. Nice fruit set…
BUT, the foliage is covered with these Japanese beetles…yikes.
Wild hazelnuts growing on the side of a dirt road…lets see if we can get them before the squirrels!
Beautiful image of  bumble bee ecstatically burrowed within a purple-flowering raspberry blossom…