Blackcurrants – A Taste Of Ireland I Miss In America

I love the intense tart flavor of black currants, a distinctive taste of the British Isles I have missed during the past twenty-something years spent living in America. 

Black Currants

Last week my sister’s backyard black currant bushes were laden with fruit ready for harvesting. I willingly volunteered to be her fruit picker for the day.

Blackcurrants remind me of my Granny. Her garden boasted many fruitful shrubs. During the last week of July each year her finger tips were stained purple as she picked thousands of black currants for jam.

Black Currants Close-Up

Few Americans know the taste of fresh black currants, or have ever even heard of the fruit.  I never understood why, until I decided to do a little bit of research for this post.

I was surprised to learn most states banned cultivation of black currants for most of the last century.  Brought to America by early English settlers, the 20th century brought a quick end to their earlier popularity.

Apparently the bushes can be carriers of a fungus lethal to pine trees. Identified as a threat to the vital logging industry in the U.S. black currants were simply outlawed in 1911.

Blackcurrant Bush

And over the next one hundred years the poor black currant was simply forgotten.  They faded from the American countryside, supermarket, and memory.

New disease-resistant varieties of currants were developed in the 1960′s. When the federal ban on growing currants was transferred to individual state jurisdiction in 1966, this lowly berry made no comeback whatsoever.

Not until recent years did a few states in the north east repeal the ban on their cultivation. Black currant growing is still outlawed in several states. I hope in years to come more and more Americans will welcome back the black currant, and farmers will start jumping on the currant cart so-to-speak.

Bowl Of Black Currants

With a deep and musky aroma, these dark berries are no where as sweet as the favored American blueberry.  Their distinctive mouth-puckering sourness mean they are best when tempered with a little sugar

Black currants grow in bunches of small, glossy, black fruit and are perfect for making jams, jellies and syrups.  Their perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, make them an ideal ingredient for sauces to accompany fattier meats.

Used in Europe for making juices and cordials, delicious purple sorbets, or compote’s for ice cream, the fruit is extremely popular in Ireland.

Growing Black Currants

The currants ripen fairly evenly, with harvest typically taking place during the last week of July. My sister’s berries ripened on cue this year, especially after all the wonderful sunshine enjoyed over this amazing Irish summer.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out black currants have four times more vitamin C than oranges, and twice the antioxidants of blueberries.

Are blackcurrants after all the berry best fruit for you?

And so I hope you have enjoyed my photos and ramblings through an Irish fruit garden where last week I spent some very relaxing hours picking the berries of my childhood, with happy thoughts of days gone by swirling through my mind.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

 

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Comments

  1. Elizabeth O'Connell says:

    Oh man. I miss blackcurrents too I found tea w/ blackcurrents, it’s bloody good. I haven’t found it since then. I was eating Wheatabix, bought @ WalMart, but they quit selling them at the store near me. :’(

    • Elizabeth – Do you remember drinking Ribena as a kid? I think it was a blackcurrant cordial. I could have knocked back gallons of the stuff if my mom had let me. I’m sure it was laden with sugar.
      I buy Weetabix at Trader Joe’s or at Meijers here in Louisville. Hope you find it again soon. It’s a great breakfast. My kids eat the biscuits dry as a snack.
      Take care,
      Mairéad

      • Elizabeth O'Connell says:

        Oh yes I remenber Ribena. I also remember Lucozade. I found an English store in Tempe Arizona, about 120 miles south of me. I would buy Digestives, Rebina, Lucozade & English sweets. They closed up 2 yrs ago. :-(

        I Googled Rebina & the article said because people & newspapers complained about the amount of sugar in Rebina that the company now makes it w/ less sugar.

        I think what I’ll do is go on line & order Wheatabix from the manufacturer. Hope it works. Have a good weekend. Talk to you later.

        • Elizabeth – I loved Lucozade when I was a child. My mom gave it to us whenever we were sick. Another favorite of mine was barley sugar sweets. Such tasty memories of growing up in Dublin.
          Take care,
          Mairéad

          • Elizabeth O'Connell says:

            Yeah. My mun too. When I found that English store in Tempe & found Lucozade I would buy 4 or more, put them in the fridge & drink it like water. Damn so good but the store closed down. :(

      • Elizabeth O'Connell says:

        Oh I forgot the net said Rebina is made of Blueberries, strawberries or Blackcurrents. I wonder if I could order a Blackberry plant & if it will grow here in Prescott, a mile high? Something to think about.

        • Definitely something to consider, but you may have to do some research to see if black currants are still outlawed in Arizona. I think black berries are grown freely throughout the US, but I am no expert.
          Best wishes,
          Mairéad

  2. Ah, but isn’t life full of coincidences? Just today I was wondering what to do with our bumper blueberry crop. I checked my Ball Bluebook index for blueberries and found a recipe for blueberry/currant jam. I have plenty of blueberries but no currants. We grow gooseberries as well, but they’re no longer in season. I read your post, learned about the 1911 ban, its being lifted, and took note of your encouraging American gardeners to raise some black currants. I checked a west coast nursery I’ve purchased root stock from (pie cherry and quince). One Green World has a few varieties of black currants in stock. Our little acre boasts a variety of fruits and vegetables. Maybe it’s time to order a current bush to supplement the blueberries for jam? Interesting post. Thanks. TMJ

    • I love goose berries too, another berry that reminds me of Ireland. I first learned about the the U.S currant ban of 1911 when I started to write this post. I’m glad you enjoyed my little synopsis of the currant affair. It sounds like you have a wonderful garden. I’ll check out your blog to learn more.
      Best wishes,and thanks for stopping by,
      Mairéad

  3. Oh how interesting! Blueberries is a huge crop in Georgia now, but if I could just get myself a lot of land, convince people of the health benefits, I could become a rich woman with my blackcurrents! (Providing they are not against the law here!)
    I have fond memories of Blackcurrent Jam in England, but I must admit, the Strawberry Preserves are my favorite. (Is it called Conserve?, it seems like I remember it as that.)

    • Kay – I love all the jams of England and Ireland too. Even English marmalade tastes a little different to the American variety. Scones with jam and clotted cream are simply delicious with a nice cup of tea.
      Take care,
      Mairéad

  4. I adore blackcurrant jam, but have not eaten blackcurrants in any other form. I, too, would like to see this fruit produced in the U.S.

    Thank you for a very interesting article, Mairead!

    • Bonnie – Blackcurrant drinks are very popular in Ireland and Europe. Here you can get kids’ blackcurrant juice boxes. I loved the flavor when I was growing up in Dublin.
      All the best,
      Mairéad

  5. Thanks for the interesting info on black currants, Mairead. I’ve heard of them before but don’t believe I’ve ever tasted them. Now you’ve got me curious! :) Great photos!

  6. Adrienne Jarrell says:

    I just discovered your blog and am really enjoying it. I wonder if there is a way to find out which states they are legal in and also which states they would actually grow well in?

  7. Elizabeth O'Connell says:

    Ladies. Here in Prescott AZ., where I live, there is an extension of one of our state’s universities. I can go there tomorrow & see what they say.

    Liz

  8. What about our lovely state of KY? I did a little research and from what I found (http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/PDF/goosetalk02112010fin2ooo.pdf) I’m guessing they’re allowed? We are hoping to have a row of blueberry bushes planted sometime next year, but I may have to throw in some black currant bushes too, if I can! I’m not terribly fond of blueberries unless they’re mixed with other berries- mostly because of how sweet they are.

    • Aimee – If you find blueberries too sweet, then I think you will really enjoy black currants. It’s great to know they may be legal in Kentucky. Gooseberries, another favorite berry of my childhood were also outlawed with black currants, but I think it may also be ok to grow them in Kentucky now.
      Hope you are enjoying the end of summer.
      All the best,
      Mairéad

      • How fun to have the possibility to grow different berries! My husband and a few of my kids enjoy blueberries, but the rest of us will only eat them if they’re put into a smoothie. It would be fun to try these mystery fruits you love so much! This summer the weather has been very mild- weird but nice all the same. Hope you are having a lovely time with your family!

        • Aimee – This summer in Ireland, our weather has been lovely. Most days are in the low 70′s with only a smattering of rain showers every few days. We have been truly blessed by a rare, but much appreciated sunny,Irish summer. I have taken lots of lovely photos with clear, blue skies. I’ll get round to posting my shots in the next few weeks.
          All the best,
          Mairéad

          • Elizabeth O'Connell says:

            Hey Irish American Mum. I’m in the process of having a master gardener for University of Arizona find out what states can & cannot have Black Currents growing. So far the only state is California & they are allowed there. A requirement for growing currents is they have cold. I don’t know what state you live in, but I’ll get the info to you as soon as I get it. Bye.

          • Thanks so much for doing this Elizabeth. I live in Kentucky and after a quick search on the web, I found a page from the University of Kentucky where it said currants are legal to grow in the bluegrass state. I’ll be very interested to learn of any other states where they once again can be cultivated.
            Take care,
            Mairéad

          • Elizabeth O'Connell says:

            OMG! I followed you on Twitter just now & I didn’t realise you are IrishUSAMom. I’m glad you found tbat you can grow Black Currents. I hope I can too.I remember getting seed catalogs but the only name I have is Blurpees.

  9. Bless you for spreading the word! I have fond memories of Black Currants from my childhood in southwest Kansas, where I’m pretty sure they were legal. My mom also used them in muffins and made them into pie as well as jelly. YUM! I seem to remember seeing them listed years ago in a Henry Fields garden catalog along with a short list of states to which they couldn’t be shipped. So, I checked the Jung seed catalog website which lists rust resistant plants for sale with the following states restricted: AK;AZ;CA;CO;DE;HI;ID;MA;ME;MT;NC;NH;NJ;NM;WA;WV.

    • Alice – Thanks so much for this list of states where purchase of blackcurrants is restricted. Looks like Kentucky is just fine for growing them. They really are a healthy fruit so it’s nice to know there are plenty of states where they can be legally grown.
      All the best,
      Mairéad

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