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Why currant jelly?

Currant jelly is a gorgeous color, the translucent red of vivid dreams. It consists of currant juice and sugar and time. It will be great on toast or ice cream, I hear, and wonderful with meat. I’ve never made it before. I haven’t eaten it. So why?

First of all, there was the currant bush itself, a Red Lake so full of fruit that when the light is from the west it glows as though on fire. It is four years old and about three feet tall and wide – maybe four. The currants hang like earrings, strings of glowing red beads that adorn the bush and our orchard. I picked three quarts of berries from the one bush, trying to live up to its bounty, and stripped the berries from the strings with a fork. Four ½ pint jars of jelly later I’m wishing I had a back-lighted shelf to display them.

Currants are new to me, but not to humanity. Europeans eat red, pink, white, and black currants, and we Yanks have done so, too, following that heritage. Then, in the late 1800s (I believe) a link was observed between Ribes and White Pine Blister Rust. The plant was believed to be an intermediary host, and so was banned in those places that make good money from white pine. As time went on, the matter was studied further. It is now believed that the biggest risk is the black currant, and nurseries are developing resistant varieties of all kinds. Regulations are slow to change, but usually not enforced. Just sayin’. And the effort has given rise to Jostaberries (and maybe others I don’t know about) a cross between gooseberries and currants that is immune to the whole nonsense.

And why do I have a currant bush? It’s part of my quest to do several things with my garden. First, I’m looking for those perennial fruits and vegetables that really like to live here. As a lazy gardener, these fit well with my long-term ideal of a large garden that does not take constant attention and still feeds and delights us.

Berries are part of my quest to widen our diet. Some paleoanthropologists believe hunter-gatherers ate a far wider variety of foods than modern man. My internet source says that by eating many foods in smaller quantities, our ancestors minimized the risk of poisoning. They also maximized the different nutrients they were acquiring, and that’s what I’d like to do. I had never tasted gooseberries until I grew some; now I love them! Kale and pak choi and ginger (ginger!) burst upon my culinary scene after I was an adult, as did a vast array of flavors from around the world. A broader base of garden produce, each mining a slightly different palate of micronutrients, should help supply us with more of our “vitamins and minerals” or whatever we define as nutraceuticals.

Also, living in troubled times troubles me – more so now that I have three beautiful granddaughters to watch grow and help launch. “What if?” my busy mind asks, “What if?” And I want an ark.

So I will try to teach them, as I tried to teach my kids, to do the old things in the old ways as well as to live in the present. I can’t know what’s coming. I am a compulsive planter and lover of gardens. Why not make a demonstration garden of things that can be done to keep us going in the event of – whatever?

I look at my garden as a passionate pursuit that brings me pleasure, where the tomatoes to be canned rub shoulders with perennial vegetables like Good King Henry and asparagus, and where seeds are collected each year and become more and more acclimatized to our “whatever” climate.

And isn’t it lucky that it’s so beautiful as well?

 

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