My fellow guide buddy, Dennis Fischer, flagged me down as I floated the Bighorn River on Thursday. I thought that Fischer had some hot fishing tip to give me, or he wanted to inform me of a big fish that his client had caught.
In an excited voice, Fischer exclaimed, “The black currants are doing so well this year. I have managed to pick a couple of gallons of them a couple of days ago. See that bush over there? It had some of the tastiest black currants I have ever sampled.”
I was rather taken aback that Fischer had discovered just what great berries currants are. I thought I was the berry expert for the area, but he sure had me aced for this season at least.
Well, I can't blame Fischer for being excited about currants because they make some of the best jelly and syrup that I can think of. I think black currant syrup is the penultimate topping for vanilla ice cream or Belgian waffles. Black currant jelly makes a jelly roll that is a culinary treat.
The mild spring we had enabled the currants to blossom and set fruit without being damaged by frost. Currants have a floral arrangement called a raceme (just like chokecherry). A raceme has a number of sequentially flowering blossoms. Some currant racemes might have as many as ten blossoms, and in a good year, all might mature and ripen. (I have found that the first blossoms produce the biggest currants while those ripening last are small).
The scientific name for black currant is Ribes aureum. Aureum means golden and, indeed, golden currant has the same scientific name because they are the same species, just different color phases.
Currants as a group of species are rather easy berries to recognize because they have three features that are pretty near foolproof for berry pickers. Number one currants have three lobed leaf—like a small maple leaf. Number two currants have a globular fruit. Finally, currants have “pigtail” of dried flower at the tip end of the fruit. These three features tell me that the berry is safe to eat—it won't kill me. Many currants are pretty unpalatable and I can't think of making any jelly or syrup from them, but if I were in a survival mode, I know I could stomach them.
Black and golden currants prefer to grow along river flood plains, in woody draws, and on the edge of water. The bushes seldom exceed five feet in height. The currants are savored by many birds including red-winged blackbirds, grackles, catbirds, and robins.
Golden currants are sometimes dried and used in various recipes such as sweet breads and muffins.
As I stated previously, black currant syrup is a great topping for ice cream, waffles and pancakes. It is quite simple to prepare. For every cup of juice, add one cup of sugar, and a half cup of corn syrup. You probably should have at least four cups of juice to start off. Place the ingredients in four quart pot, stir well, bring the mixture to a full rolling boil, then lower the heat and boil gently for ten minutes. Pour into sterilized cup or pint jars, add lids and screw bands. Place in a canner filled with water, bring to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes.
Well, the currants will be ripe for the next couple of weeks at least so get out and pick a gallon or three. I know you will enjoy the jelly and syrup. Happy picking!