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Currant Affair

What you see in the photo here are what are referred to as black currants, one of the members of the ribes family (which also includes red and white currants and gooseberries), which are a woody flowering plant native to Central and Northern Europe. Red currants are much much smaller (which makes them tedious to pick) – some of these on our bushes rival reasonably large blueberries in size. Currant root and seeds (and the fruits are really, really seedy) are high in alpha and gamma linoleic acid. Currants themselves are very high in Vit. C and have high levels of phytochemicals which have shown anti-inflammatory properties.

One small item: The currants you buy in a box so-called ‘Zante currants’ are not currants at all – they are a dried grape.

A long time ago, currants were a very popular crop in the United States, but fears of pine blister rust using the plants as a host basically shut down the currant growing industry in certain parts of the country. For the longest time, we could not buy black currant bushes here in New York State, but we have them at Chez Siberia now and in their third year, they are producing up a storm.

Yesterday, the DH and I picked everything we could find off the bushes. I washed them in the sink in cold water and then pulled out what I consider one of my most valuable processing tools, the fruit and veggie strainer for my KitchenAid(tm) mixer. Now, you can find hand-operated equipment that will basically do the same thing. Squeezo Strainer

But if you already have a KitchenAid(tm), then taking advantage of the ‘power take-off’ feature of the mixer is a really good deal, especially if you have a lot of something to process, like tomatoes or blueberries. KA strainer

Now, this does not say that the KA strainer is the answer to all your fruit and veggies processing issues. As I have noted before, the screen on the strainer can’t handle regular grapes (that is, grapes that have seeds). At all. Mine blocked up and exploded before I could stop the mixer and we have to go out and buy a whole new strainer set, which was annoying. But for us with the amount of kitchen produce and ‘u-pick’ we do, it is worth it. KA is Busted

Now, here is how this works: Once you’ve cleaned up your fruit (and if you are using something big like peaches, you’ll want to take the pits out for sure), you attach the strainer unit per the directions on the front of the KA mixer. You will want two bowls – the tall KA bowl should go under the strainer hopper unit (where the fruit comes sliding out the bottom — see the photo here), and something else like a baking pan or plastic salad box at the other end. This is where all the seeds and skins will be coming out.

Frankly, we refer to what comes out this end of the KA unit with a rather rude word, but you get the idea. Now, you can just compost what comes out of this and let it go at that, but the DH and I have found, over the years, that what comes out is actually rather loose and wet and we run that through the unit as well to squeeze out every last drop of goodness.

Now, one of the things we noticed about the processed fruit which came out of the strainer unit, before we put it into a big pot on the stove to turn it into jam, is that currants are very much like blueberries (which actually makes them even more healthy for us). There seems to be a huge amount of pectin in them naturally, so you don’t have to use very much sugar AT ALL to get the fruit to set up as jam. As a matter of fact, for a whole huge dutch oven of processed fruit, I only put in about 1.25 cups of sugar, which as anyone who has made jams out of fruit such as strawberries can tell you is basically not even appearing on the radar as far as the amount of sugar needed goes.

Some of you might be asking yourselves, “Well, why did she bother to go through all of this? Why not just mush up the fruit and heat it up with sugar and let it go at that?”

Well, there are a couple of minor issues with currants that made me decide to haul out the KA:
1) Getting all the little stems off the fruit is not that easy, actually and they are easy to miss. I for one do not want my jam with little stems in it.
2) The berries retain the dried up little bits of flowers at the bottoms. They are rather nasty and I wanted to get rid of those.

The easiest way to take care of both of those problems was with the KA strainer unit.

We heated up the processed fruit in the dutch oven with sugar and then filled up washed, heated glass jars and capped them off with lids and bands. Over the evening, we heard the very pleasant ‘pling’ of the lids being sucked in, letting us know that the jams had been processed successfully. Looking forward to using the jam this winter!

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