Black Currant Tasting & Varietal Comparisons

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Upon first taste black currants fascinated my palate and they’ve succeeded in doing so ever since. Over the years I’ve increased my collection to a dozen or so varieties. With white pine blister rust being a prevalent issue in Michigan my selection criteria has been narrowed down to only varieties which exhibit partial or full resistance to WPBR. I started with Consort and since then the collection has grown to include Crusader, Titania, Blackdown, Minaj Smirou, Ben Sarek, Belaruskaja, and various others that aren’t bearing yet like Kirovchanka, Vertti, Otelo, and a few that aren’t coming to mind.

There is a wide variation amongst varieties in both bush habit and fruit quality/flavor. That to me is very exciting as I love subtle nuances in flavor and its a fun way to broaden the palate. For the 2014 season I’ve taken tasting notes for the seven cultivars previously mentioned in an attempt to compare and assess the different traits of each and acquire first hand varietal information–

Crusader

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Large shiny jet black berries of Crusader.

Crusader was an early introduction from the Central Experiment Farm in Ottawa, Canada. It was released in the 1940’s as a rust resistant variety for North America. For me it has been a very consistent producer of medium sized fruit. They tend to be thicker skinned and very sharp(high acidity)…not one of my favorite for eating out of hand but still enjoyable, especially when dead ripe. Crusader holds onto its fruit for a long time and the thick skin slows down their perishabilty which is a nice quality. The bush itself, like all of the others developed by A.W.S. Hunter, is upright and open compared to some of the more dense varieties, particularly those from the Scottish Research Institute.

 

Consort

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Consort was released from the Central Experiment Farm to replace Crusader as a commercial variety in the 1950’s. Why,  I’m not sure…as I tend to prefer Crusader. Consort fruit are small and relatively poor quality in my opinion. They’re sharp and have that characteristic ‘musky flavor’ but lack depth and seem inferior to Crusader. Consort does produce long strigs that tend to ripen pretty evenly. Consort is entirely WPBR resistant. Coronet is another one from the Canadian breeding program that I’ve yet to try.

 

 

Titania

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Titania is a Swedish variety that was developed in the 1980’s using Consort as one of the parents. This is the first season I’ve had a substantial crop from Titania and so far it seems similar to Crusader and Consort both in fruit quality and bush form. It was very productive this year and is a vigorous grower; thus far it seems rather quick to mature compared to other cultivars that have been in the ground 1,2, and 3 years longer. Titania is reliably resistant to WPBR.

Minaj Smirou

Stem density on Minaj...always have to remind myself to prune more than less because of its vigorous nature.
Stem density on Minaj Smirou…always have to remind myself to prune more than less because of its vigorous nature.

I haven’t been able to find much information about this variety besides that it was developed in Bulgaria and is a more recent introduction. This has been hands down the most productive variety for me. Also the most vigorous grower that requires aggressive pruning. The branches tend to lodge when holding big crops and are more laterally dominant than varieties like Consort and Titania (conducive for layering). The berries ripen over a long period starting early in the season (need to take more notes on ripening times*); generally its the first to ripen here. This is a great variety for somebody new to black currants or for the more tamed palate as it is very mild. Thick skin can be a turn off for some folks, Minaj scores well in this department with the thinnest skin of all. It lacks the tart punch that almost all black currants have which makes it nice for eating out of hand. However, if you’re after that traditional black currant flavor than Minaj is probably not for you. I enjoy the berries because they ripen first and I always realize its blandness when compared to some of the later ripening cultivars. Minaj is reliably resistant to WPBR.

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I know— 5th grader hand writing, maybe worse.

Blackdown

Blackdown is an English variety that is reportedly not 100% rust resistant, however its never showed any signs in my trials. The bush is more compact than most with very close leaf nodes making the canopy dense. So far it has been a little less productive than the other varieties but produces the highest quality fruit in my opinion. The flavor of blackdown is outstanding– they have the same acidity thats common with varieties like Crusader except they’ve consistently had a higher sugar content which really supports the sharpness and makes for an overall more pleasant mouth experience. The berries are medium sized with moderatly thick skin. Higher sugar content would make Blackdown more acceptable for the average American palate I think. I am going to plant a lot more of this variety because I like it so much.

Ben Sarek

Ben Sarek is very compact and good for small spaces.
Ben Sarek is very compact and good for small spaces.
Large berries and signs of the unusual rot that hits even unripe berries sometimes. Any insights?
Large berries and signs of the unusual rot that hits even unripe berries sometimes. Any insights?

All varieties with Ben in their name come from the Scottish Research Institute. Ben Sarek is a more compact plant making it nice for the home garden. It bears resemblance to Blackdown in bush form and holds its berries in tight clusters. For me it has been only moderately productive. The berries are larger than all of the other cultivars and tend to have a unique flavor that I’ve yet to figure out. Less complex and less tart and almost a mild dirty flavor…as if they’re slightly rotten. It also gets this weird rot where the berries become very soft with an unagreeable flavor, unlike any other cultivar. Aside from the compact nature and large fruit size Ben Sarek doesn’t have much going for it. It is partially resistant to WPBR but has never shown signs in my trials.

 

Belaruskaja

Young Belaruskaja with dwarf comfrey.
Young Belaruskaja with dwarf comfrey.

This is a variety I added to my collection per request from Lee Reich and I’m happy I did. I planted it in the spring of 2013 and cut the bush back to a few buds and it put on considerable growth last season and set a small crop for this first time this year. The berries are somewhere in between Blackdown and Titania in flavor with a nice sweetness as described with Blackdown. So far I’ve only sampled a few dozen of these and look forward to further evaluation. I see good prospects for Belaruskaja as a premier fresh eating variety.

Summary

It has been a joy to compare these different varieties and if it weren’t for the diversity than the contrast would be minimum and there wouldn’t be much to judge against. I hope to pay closer attention in future years to ripening times and pest resistance, primarily regarding currant borer and aphids. Also, further experimentation in the kitchen will prove which varieties are best for cooking, juicing, etc. All in all black currant has been one of the most successful, less-maintenance fruits in my gardening experiments.

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Fall Closure, Garden Update, & New Podcast

Winter is coming and you can feel it in the air. While Hurricane Sandy was wreaking havoc on the east coast Michigan got hit with serious winds, heavy rain, and some hail. That storm swooped away the remaining tree leaves bringing a conclusion to the beautiful display of fall colors. Now the bareness is kicking in. I’ve been struggling to find time to write amongst the busyness of closing down the gardens and getting everything ready for winter. You have to make hay when the sun shines- soon enough we’ll be snowed in.

A LOT has been going on, though. Many renovations  have been made in the garden/orchard as well as some new plantings. My company has been doing well this fall and we’ve hosted some exciting workshops and secured some enthusiastic new clients that are ready to take on and transform their own landscapes. The elections have just passed, thankfully, and obviously everybody has their different views on voting…but we can all use this time as a reminder that perhaps the most effective way to vote and cast your voice is with your everyday actions. ‘Vote with your dollar’ is a powerful saying. We all have an opportunity to be the change we wish to see. Make positive changes in your own community, small or large.

Thats a wrap for my political rant; this is after all a website about fruit and orcharding, not politics. I vote for apples. Speaking of apples, I just finished the latest episode of the The Fruit Nut Podcast with Michael Phillips, the author of The Apple Grower and The Holistic Orchard. It was a great conversation and Michael shared so much valuable information. We talked about holistic fruit tree care, community orchards, and more. CLICK HERE to listen to the interview. Unfortunately the past three episodes have been recorded with a low quality microphone so the audio on my end breaks up a lot and doesn’t sound that great. HOWEVER, I am investing in a new recording system to produce much cleaner audio. Look forward to episode 4 with Lee Reich.

Here are some recent photos of field trips, events, and happenings in the garden…

Spacing out blueberries for the new blueberry bed. 10/9/12
Planting potted blueberries in the ground. 10/9/12
Vibrant blueberry fall color. 10/17/12
Sheet mulched blueberry bed complete…ground level rose some 10″. Organic matter is the name of the game when it comes to blueberries! 10/27/12
Golden raspberries are best when the weather gets cold and sugar levels increase. 10/27/12
Giant daikon radish doing it’s work building soil at a client’s site in Plymouth, MI.
Mike Levine of Nature and Nurture sharing the remains of his hardy kiwi crop.
This was my first time eating fresh hardy kiwi…I’ve hard store bought but these put ’em to shame!
These little kiwis are extremely sweet with a complex flavor. They have smooth skin and can be eaten whole…much tastier then fuzzy kiwis in my opinion. Plus they can grow in zone 5!
Ken Asmus of Oikos Tree Crops shares a lovely presentation at a recent Roots To Fruits edible forest gardening weekend intensive. 10/20/12

 

Ken talking chestnuts and explaining the benefits of ‘rough mulch’ in an orchard setting. This means leaving pruning in place beneath the tree they came from. Nutrient cycling at it’s finest…
Ken and I feeling accomplished after leading a successful edible forest gardening workshop. Beautiful hickory color in background. Photo courtesy PJ Chmiel
‘I-94’ American persimmons tree ripening at Nash Nursery in Owosso, MI. 10/13/12
Ripe ‘I-94’ American persimmons…this variety comes from the breeding work of the late James Claypool.
Beautiful stand of pure American chestnuts growing free of blight in Owosso, MI. These were planted some 30+ years ago. 10/13/12
Elegant variegated silverberry, E.pungens… 11/7/12
New seedling persimmon planting from a seedling tree grown from ‘Morris Burton’ fruit. The parent tree had lovely deep red, very sweet fruit. 11/7/12
Latest persimmon planting featuring several grafted D. virginiana varieties. More on this later…

New Moon: Ground Cherries, Orgonite, Black Currant Tincture, and More…

Its been a few weeks since my last post and I’ve been itching to release some fresh ideas and photos. Things have been a bit crazy lately with selling plants at the farmers markets and working on new Roots To Fruits jobs. Its all very good, just a bit tiring at times. So now, on this new moon, I’ve found some time to put out. Just as everything goes in phases and cycles so does my motivation to write, and with the waxing moon my energy towards writing and managing the blog is on the rise! So expect some frequent posting over the next few weeks.

Its mid-august and the groundcherries in my garden are starting to litter the ground once again. This has been a tradition for the past several seasons; in fact last year the garden was so inudated w/ self-seeded ground cherries, that access became an issue! But what are ground cherries? Being a member of the Solanaceae family they bear some resemblance to tomatillos or cherry tomatoes except with a much fruitier flavor. Botanically speaking tomatoes are technically a fruit, although  they’re often referred to as a vegetable…groundcherries, however, don’t fall short of the fruit category. The common ground cherry(Physalis peruviana), also called cape gooseberry, not to be mistaken with true gooseberries(Ribes spp.), is a self seeding annual that can become rather weedy. Physalis heterphylla is a perennial relative that grows wild throughout eastern NA. I have

Sea of ground cherries, 2011 garden.

found them growing a few times in MI, and Ken Asmus of Oikos Tree Crops now sells the perennial form. Even the annual forms seem to ‘perennialize’ in the sense that they volunteer each year and reliably come back. They’re called ground cherries because they fall to the ground when fully ripe. They can then be collected, dehusked, and eaten fresh. I’ve also heard them called husk cherries because they grow inside a papery protective husk. Nature’s wrapper. The flavor is like the sweetest of tomatoes with fruity-pineapple notes. They are about the size of a grape tomato and contain several small seeds which are barely noticeable. Ground cherries are great dehydrated and I’ve been toying with the idea of using them in salsa, jelly, and wine. Mmmm…

Deh
Dehusked ripe ground cherries…yum!

Now that summer has peaked and is waning, we’ve concluded most of the berry pickin’; cane fruits are pretty much done, besides the fall bearing raspberries, blueberries are dwindling but still available, and the Ribes, besides the latest of gooseberries, are now a distant memory. Fortunately they’re blessings are preserved in jams and jellies! The

Dead floricanes removed from golden raspberry bed…

changing seasons can be difficult to deal with, but its a righteous reminder of the impermanence of all things. Actually its a good way to practice non-attachment. I really, really, am enjoying all of these wonderful zucchinis, but they too will pass! Nothing lasts forever and thats the beauty of it. As small fruits  and berries are largely coming to an end, the stone fruits are coming in, and early apples are beginning to ripen. I was in Detroit two weeks ago and was

Apical flowering on raspberry…I love these ‘everbearing’ raspberries!

delightfully surprised to find the number of ripe apples. The odd season paired with the Detroit microclimate created super conditions for tree fruit. Even the peaches weren’t phased by the early season warm spells and late frosts. We even found peach seedlings setting fruit in alleys. Want to start growing fruit? Move to Detroit.

Beehives amongst fruit trees at Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, MI.
Students at the 2012 permaculture design course in Detroit sampling some early apples…8/2/12
Autumnberries ripening mid august…quite early for these guys. At The Strawbale Studio in Oxford, MI.

My peach trees didn’t set any fruit this year. Fortunately a few local growers managed to get a small percentage of the usual crop…just enough to bring to market. So the past two weeks I’ve been buying containers of peaches at the market. I belong to a goat milk share where I get a half gallon of organic raw goat milk each week. This week I decided to make some fresh cheese… I was left with a lot of whey. Today I made a lovely smoothy with one cup blueberries, two peaches, and one cup whey. No whey, yes whey… rich in flavor and rich in nutrients!

Peach-blueberry-whey smoothie!!!

As promised, here is the blueberry-lavender jam recipe…very simple, no fuss recipe. Give it a try!

What You’ll Need:

  • 8 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1.5 cups organic sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lavender flowers
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Process:

Step #1: Crush washed blueberries in large cooking pot. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes.

Step #2: Add sugar and lemon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add lavender and cook for 10-15 more minutes on medium heat. Stir consistently.

I used dried lavender from Yule Love It Lavender Farm, fresh flowers would be fine, too.

Step #3: Take off heat and fill jars; store in fridge or for long-term storage place jars in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Tips: some recipes suggest removing foam as the jam cooks; I’ve found blueberries to be low foam producers making this step unnecessary. 

Blueberry-lavender and blueberry-honey jam ready for the pantry…

I choose to plant based on the moon using the biodynamic calendar AKA the Stella Natura. I’ve found much satisfaction(not to mention great results) in following the solunar calendar for my gardening activities. I also make medicine preparations like tinctures and salves on the new moon as to foster the lunar energy put out increasingly from that time until the next full moon. Aside from food, I’ve been curious about the medicinal uses of fruiting plants. Strawberry leaf is a great astrigent used in skin care products, raspberry leaf is high in tannins and has a slew of medicinal actions, and lastly, what I’m concerning myself with today— black currant leaf.  Aside from the potent nutraceutical properties of Ribes nigrum fruit, the leaves also possess strong medicinal properties. According to one resource, “Black currant dried leaf is used for arthritis, gout, joint pain (rheumatism), diarrhea, colic, hepatitis and other liver ailments, convulsions, and disorders that cause swelling (inflammation) of the mouth and throat. Black currant dried leaf is also used for treating coughs, colds, and whooping cough; disinfecting the urine; promoting urine flow; treating bladder stones, and as a cleansing tea.” The leaves are astringent and have been used for treating skin blemishes like acne and eczema. Since the plants are just hanging out now and all the berries are long picked, I decided to harvest some leaves for making an alcohol extract.

Attractive ‘Ben Sarek’ black currant foliage… brush up against ’em and their foxy aroma will perfume the air!
Black currant leaves soaking in everclear…

The late Frank Cook talks briefly about the edible and medicinal uses of black currant…

An exciting new project recently sprouted forth after connecting with a local friend and fellow entrepreneur, Josh Cook. His company, Source Reality, offers products and service for facilitating individuals in connecting to their deepest nature, and reuniting with the source. They offer astrology readings, reiki healing, orgonite, and more. According to the Source Reality website: “Orgonite is the name given to powerful devices which attract negative etheric energy and transmute it into positive, life-giving energy.  This is done through a mixture of metals and crystals that are sealed in a resin and formed in specific molds…”

Small orgonite mold made by Source Reality…

Visit their website to learn more about these unique energy devices. We’re collaborating to do a research experiment using orgonite for influencing plant growth. I’ve conducted a small trial with two hardy kiwi vines grown in containers under identical soil, water, and light conditions… one, however, has an orgonite mold placed in the bottom of the 1gallon pot. We hypothesize that the energetic workings of the orgonite may effect plant growth in some way. Stay tuned for results.

Orgonite placed at bottom of container atop thin layer of potting mix.
Now lets see if the orgonite has any effect on the growth of these ‘MSU’ hardy kiwis…

The sun set is telling me to conclude this post and unwind for the evening. Please check back soon for more exciting posts, new articles, and upcoming audio podcasts! Happy growing…

When All Else Fails…The Blueberry Prevails!

Whats more American than blueberries? In fact, blueberries symbolize American fruit

Even ripening is a favorable characteristic which makes for quick pickin’…

culture more than any other fruit and they’re one of the few commonly cultivated fruits which hails from this continent. They’re not only indigenous to North America but also heavily populated in the state of Michigan. The west side of the state is known for its blueberry farms and just like Maine is known for its wild lowbush blueberries(Vaccinium angustifolium), so is northern Michigan for its wild highbush blueberries(Vaccinium corymbosum). Blueberries are unique and varied in their tolerances and habitat preference… with lowbush blueberries in the northeast flourishing on rocky outcrops and highbush blueberries in the midwest growing in boggy wetlands, all the while cultivated blueberries find their happiest home in well drained sandy loams. But when speaking of wild highbush blueberries growing in Michigan, we almost always refer to them growing in wetland ecosystems. They like the high organic matter and steady moisture supply. Another factor, too, is the soil acidity found in these environments. Any gardener or farmer who has grown blueberries knows they prefer a low PH. This is their neediest of needs and the one condition they won’t perform well without.

Wild blueberries have the sweetest, most pronounced flavor notes, that not even the tastiest of cultivated blueberries could compete…

This season has been magical when it comes to blueberries. One of my clients who lives just minutes away has a beautiful wooded site with several acres. On the back part of the property a maple forest transitions to a boggy wetland and Chris(the homeowner) took me on a walk back there last year and pointed out a nice patch of blueberries that her and her kids had been harvesting from for the past few years. She invited me back to come picking and this year I took her up on it. My business partner and I made our way back there for the first time a few weeks ago and we spent a couple days picking. It was wonderful. A 2″x12″ plank meanders far enough above the ground as to keep one’s feet dry(in a wet year at least)while walking through the bog. We were grateful that she allowed us to pick from her spot. Many days ago when out picking we decided to explore the area more thoroughly. Through our exploration we came upon a much larger stand of wild blueberries. When I say large I literally mean 4-5 acres of almost entirely highbush blueberries! The expansiveness leads me to believe that the ecosystem is relatively stable and could’ve likely been this way for 50-100+ years. This is something you’d only dream of. For the first day or so I could hardly fathom the reality. Hundreds of mature, fruit laden bushes— waiting to be picked by some hungry birds, bears, or…humans! The blueberry gods blessed us indeed.

High plant density makes it difficult to truly depict the magical nature of the blueberry bog…
Fruit cluster with berries at varying stages of ripeness…

The thing that fascinates me most about these types of systems is the incredible amount of diversity. Since its an entirely feral ecosystem, all of the bushes grew from seed. This means each plant is genetically different from one another and represents a totally unique set of genes. Plant size, fruit size & color, flavor, disease resistance, and ripening time all vary drastically. On the contrary, in an agricultural setting clonally-propagated cultivars grow independently. We must remember, though, diversity is the spice of life, and every single cultivated blueberry variety ever developed was either selected or bred from these wild ancestors. If you’ve ever harvested wild blueberries then you probably know that the berries are smaller then the cultivated ones. My friend pointed out the other day how she’s thankful for modern agriculture because of the improvements made in berry size and productivity. I agree with her, but at the same time I treasure what these wild ones have perseveringly brought to this world. Plus, picking their fruit is a good practice in patience and allows one to become more in-tuned with nature. I love wild blueberries.

This specimen boasts particularly large berries…
A diverse gene pool makes for wide variation in berry color…

You may be wondering why this post got the title it did. Well, if you’ve read my previous posts then you realize that its been an odd year in regards to weather patterns. Early flowering, late frosts, and extended drought have caused some of my favorite fruits like cherries, mulberries, serviceberries, and black raspberries, to have very poor seasons. So, even in the roughest of years, the blueberries prevail (amongst others like currants and blackberries)! This attests to their adaptability and reliability. I recall Lee Reich mentioning in one of his books that blueberries, out of all the fruit crops, were one of his all-time favorites for this very reason. Currently I don’t have any blueberries planted in my garden, however they’re an up and coming addition! This spring I purchased six cultivars from Hartmann’s Plant Company in preparation for fall planting. Its smart to prepare your blueberry bed a few months in advance; this allows time for any appropriate PH adjustments to take place, unless of course you already have acidic soil.

Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi  mummifies immature berries and is one of the few fungal disease which blueberries are susceptible to.
Blueberries ripen over an extended period allowing for many weeks of picking…
My buddy Mark picking from a wall of blueberries!!!

I fancy fresh blueberries. Eating them out of hand is perhaps one of my greatest pleasures. The light semi-acid, yet complex, fruity flavor is something to write home about. After I eat blueberries I always feel energized and fully satisfied. This must have something to do with their high antioxidant properties. They’re also very cooling on a hot summer day.  I’ve been eating fresh handfuls daily for the past 2+ weeks but I’ve also processed ’em into ice cream and more recently into blueberry-lavender jam(stay posted for recipes)!

Good genetics give this variety darker fruit and a lovely-aromatic flavor…

Golden raspberries, wild blackberries, and wild blueberries…BERRY NICE!

It looks like the blueberry season will go for another 1-2 weeks and blackberries are coming into full swing. Fortunately the blackberry crop this year is looking mighty fine. More to come on that soon. I’m still harvesting what appears to be the last ripening flush from the primocane crop of golden raspberries; be on the lookout for golden raspberry jam!!! Until next time…

Rubus Diversity and Obscurity…Batology!

Today is special for two major reasons. It is a new moon and we’re receiving a much-needed steady rainfall… atlas bringing a halt to the desiccating drought. These rainy days are so pleasant; its a good time to be indoors and bring order to things within. I want to share some recent thoughts about caneberries, brambles, or to be more taxonomically correct— the Rubus genus. Being apart of the Rosaceae family the Rubus genus is a  widespread group of plants with species found growing on all continents. Rubus spp. have been used for food and medicine since ancient times and some very prominent fruits like blackberries and raspberries are members of this genera. Most folks are only familiar with black raspberries and the two previously mentioned, but there are many other interesting Rubus species worthy of examination and cultivation. There seems to be a term for just about everything… it turns out there’s even a term for the scientific study of members of the Rubus genus— batology. No, not the study of bats. In exploring batology you’ll find that the most commonly cultivated brambles come from a complex lineage…

Rubus phoenicolasius, or Japanese wineberry, is a species native to Asia that has

Japanese wineberry cluster…
Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

naturalized in much of eastern North America. Wineberries are sought after fruits, which like most caneberries, are born on second year canes (floricanes). Apparently the canes can reach 3-6 feet in height and are notorious for spreading quite rampantly. Wineberries are regarded as ‘gourmet raspberries’ and can be processed into jams, jellies, and pies just like regular raspberries.  I’ve yet to try fresh wineberries, although last year my friend and colleague, Kevin Brennan, was kind enough to send me a jar of wineberry jelly. Kevin lives on the east coast and loves wineberries. Here is a post he wrote about them a while ago on his blog, The Suburban Trip. Kevin sent an email explaining wineberries and this is what he said:

“The best thing about wineberries is that they are just so abundant. The almost furry berry clusters contain up to 10 berries each and they are super easy to pick in large quantities. I once picked 2 gallons in 15 min. The wineberry produces fruit on 2 and 3 year canes and layers it self and creates large patches. Some spots I go to are in full shade and are still producing a ton a berries, I would really like to try to promote the growth of wineberries in wild gardens for selling to restaurants and farm stands because of the ease of picking. I would like to try saving seed from jelly making and then just throwing them out in slightly tilled areas, or even shitting the seeds like the birds to make patches.”

I love Kevin’s last statement about seed propagation. In fact, he sent me a bag full of seed last year, and I sowed the seeds earlier this spring after a few months of cool-moist stratification in the refrigerator. For a while they didn’t do anything and finally germination occurred. Voilà! No sparse germination either, these babies came up with fury. Now I am potting them up and eventually will plant out my own wineberry patch!

Wineberry transplants and mother flat…
Like most members of the Rubus genus, wineberries sport thorny stems…
Wineberries and blackberries…
Photo Courtesy Mark Angelini

Another Rubus character of particular interest is R. ursinus × idaeus, or boysenberry. This is a complex hybrid which came about as a cross between European raspberry (R. idaeus), common blackberry (R. fruticosus), and loganberry (Rubus × loganobaccus). The hyrbid was originally developed during the late 1920’s in California by a farmer named

Boysenberries have a tangy sweet flavor.

Rudolph Boysen. He abandoned his farm and years later the hybrid was found and named by two horticultural explorers and berry enthusiasts, George Darrow and Walter Knot. Now nearly 90 years later boysenberry plants are readily available in the nursery trade. I got my boysenberry from a nursery in Ohio and I’ve been growing it in a container. The plants are trailing and entirely non-erect, so they require a trellis if you intend to keep ’em off the ground. This year my plant has ripened a few handfuls of delicious berries which are best described as a combination of a blackberry and raspberry…with the tart blackberry flavor and more of the raspberry phenotype. Like all caneberries, boysenberries are an etaerio or aggregate fruit containing several drupelets. An aggregate fruit develops from the merging of numerous separate ovaries from one flower. On the contrary, a simple fruit, like a grape, develops from a single ovary. 

Notice the aggregation of drupelets and how some break apart…
Boysenberries grow in tight clusters which ripen unevenly.

Amongst the hundreds of caneberries some other obscure ones are thimbleberries, purple flowering raspberries, dewberries, and loganberries. I’d love to hear about your experience growing or harvesting these luscious drupes!

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…

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…