Ripening black raspberries. July 14, 2020. Photo: Judy Isacoff

NATURE’S TURN: Bountiful berries in the garden and kitchen – powerhouse food

Traditionally, currants and gooseberries are prime fruits for making jams, jellies, baked goods and sauces for meat and fish. I have read that gooseberry tarts and black currant elixirs are the pinnacle, respectively, of gastronomic and health-promoting consumables.

July 27 – August 9, 2020

Mount Washington — Perched atop an 8-foot fencepost, a gray catbird took his position as a family member arriving on time for the annual banquet. Bunches of ripening red currants dangled on bushes below the personable gray bird. I looked appreciatively at his long tail, black eyes and cap and straightforward attitude. Wary of his appetite, I fastened a net over one bush and left another for the bird and I to share.

Easy to grow, red and black currant and gooseberry bushes, all of the genus Ribes, produce an abundance of berries that are widely recognized for exceptional nutritional value. They are traditional favorites in old and new world gardens. My original red currant and gooseberry bushes were offspring from a neighboring garden to the south of my house while the black currant came from a garden to the north. The abundance generated in a garden encourages neighborly generosity. I, in turn, have given progeny of these bushes to other gardeners. Various cultivars are usually available at local nurseries.

A Mark Rothko-inspired painting: Here, the medium is red and black currant puree. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Red currants are tart and have a relatively large seed: not ideal for eating more than a few right off the bush. Traditionally, currants and gooseberries are prime fruits for making jams, jellies, baked goods and sauces for meat and fish. I have read that gooseberry tarts and black currant elixirs are the pinnacle, respectively, of gastronomic and health-promoting consumables. Much more simply, for many years I have prepared an enhanced pancake topping by briefly cooking handfuls of the berries in maple syrup, then mashing them with a potato masher.

I recently uncovered a food mill in my attic that is equipped with a Berry Screen. The hand-operated device has opened up more possibilities for including these desirable fruits – without the red currant’s hard seeds or black currant’s tough skin – in food preparations. Last week, after milling and freezing the final picking of fresh red currants, I pulled a pint bag each of last summer’s red and black currants from the freezer. (My gooseberry and black currant bushes are bearing just a nibble this summer.) The photograph to the left shows a Squeezo with Berry Screen and a container of red currant puree, pressed first, framing a batch of processed black currant berries. The smoothie pictured below consists of equal parts of this mixed berry puree; homemade, unfiltered almond cream; coconut milk and water to desired consistency. No added sweetener necessary.

Black and red currant dessert smoothie in frosted glasses. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Early last week, after the conclusion of the Ribes season, I ran into the vivacious Gray Catbird perched atop a fencepost across the garden from where we met weeks before. He had a commanding view of a 30-foot black raspberry border, the berries at the peak of their very short season. Black raspberries are reported to surpass even black currants in their nutritional value. I looked up to the catbird, who appeared rattled by my appearance. Sensing that he was not invited to this feast, he turned and took flight.

Resources

Gray Catbird
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/gray-catbird
Popular nutrition
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/black-raspberry-vs-raspberry
Ribus
https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/438/438-107/438-107.html
Food Mill possible sources, no endorsements
https://www.gardeners.com/buy/squeezo-strainer/8587400RS.html
https://www.lehmans.com/search?w=food+mill
http://www.squeezostrainer.com/Product/squeezo-strainer-parts/squeezo-strainer–alternate-screens/32128
Black Raspberry
http://www.leereich.com/2017/07/blackcaps-and-pruning.html
Almond “milk”
https://www.motherjones.com/food/2014/07/lay-off-almond-milk-ignorant-hipsters/

Opportunity to participate

Register now for very accessible, extremely informative, ongoing virtual conference
Northeast Organic Farming Association Summer Conference, July 20 – Aug. 9
https://web.cvent.com/event/17258fee-4773-480a-a306-b9bfa282ea35/summary