Thursday, July 8, 2010

currants, the gem of the edible landscape

Your experience with currants may be those shriveled little black things in the scone you buy at your neighborhood coffee shop, or in preserves so laden with sugar that you can't even discern the flavor of the currant. But have you ever plucked a string of ruby-red berries off the bush and tasted the tangy-sweet juiciness of a perfectly ripe currant. Let me just tell you...it is like sunshine in your mouth!

A 'Red Lake' Currant was planted in the 2009 edible landscape, but since it was still too young, we didn't get any fruit last year. The plant was moved early this year to the new edible landscape, and though I wasn't sure of it's fate after the move, it proved to be resilient. The plant produced an abundance of these juicy gems.

The currant (and its cousin, the gooseberry) are great additions to the edible landscape. The currant especially, for two reasons I can think of right off the top of my head. One, the currant isn't quite as vigorous as the gooseberry, and while it requires regular pruning, will not become a scary thicket of prickly canes like it's more rugged relative. Second, come mid-June brilliant strands of glistening red berries will begin peeking out from within the dark green foliage. You'll have trouble resisting picking them too early - they're almost impossible to resist. But once you taste an unripe currant you'll understand the value of patience. Best to wait until they are deep red and look like they're about to burst. Then the sweet-tart, juicy explosion of each little berry will have you feverishly plucking the tiny gems from their stems. Oh, and I thought of a third! Currants are quite hardy in zones 4 and 3, and some cultivars are hardy to zone 2. Yay for Minnesotans! Another fruit we can successfully grow!

Three species of currant run the range of color from red-pink-yellow-white. These are Ribes rubrum, R. sativum and R. petraeum. The black currant (Ribes nigrum) has not been widely grown in the US due to it's susceptibility to White Pine Blister Rust. However, some cultivars have been bred with rust resistance. The red and white species tend to have more resistance. 

There's some great info out there if you're interested in adding currants to your edible landscape. The U of M Fruit website has a nice fact sheet to get you started, and has a long list of available cultivars. When looking for plants, I always check locally first, then check online if there's a cultivar I can't find here. There are several nurseries that carry many interesting cultivars. Just do a search for the cultivar name and 'nursery' to find a source.