Along the pathway near my herb garden, right across from the chicken coop, is a long hedge of blackcurrant bushes. I planted them about 15 years ago and they have become so integral to my cuisine, I can’t imagine life without them. I use blackcurrant leaves steeped in teas and sauces. I cut big leafy branches off to decorate the bar for appetizers. I throw branches onto the fire of a barbecue for aromatic smoke. And, just about this time of year, I pick big fat berries to make jams and jellies. Or, if I am in a hurry, I freeze the berries on a tray and pop them into a zip-lock freezer bag for use later in the winter.
Blackcurrant bushes will be productive for decades, and if they survive in my garden, I bet they will grow in most places in Alaska. Blackcurrants are one of those berries that can be expensive to purchase in stores but easy to grow. The taste (and smell) of blackcurrants is complicated to describe. I think of a blackcurrant as tasting like a cross between an overripe grape and an under ripe raspberry. The smell is deep and dark, kind of like cabernet wine.
My favorite uses for blackcurrants are perhaps with savory dishes. I like to add blackcurrants to rich beef stock and a little bit of butter to make a delicious sauce to accompany meats, particularly pork. A heavy hand of blackcurrants, mint, and summer greens make an interesting salad. I like to spread creamed smoked salmon onto a toast point and top with just a dollop of black currant preserves.
To make a simple and sweet blackcurrant sauce, heat about 4 cups of currants in a small saucepan. Add in two cups of sugar or honey and mash the mixture up with the back of a wooden spoon until the mixture is thickened, about 10 minutes or so. This is good poured over vanilla or chocolate ice cream, either hot or cold. I don’t think it needs to be strained, but you can do so if you don’t want any seed bits included.
Some flavor combinations that go well with blackcurrant are cinnamon, nutmeg, dark chocolate, vanilla, clove, cardamom, and chili.
This week, I decided to make a rich chocolate brownie using black currants from the garden and a drizzle of crème de cassis added for flavor. Cassis is the French term for blackcurrant. Crème de cassis, or blackcurrant liqueur, is a luxurious ingredient both to drink and to cook with.
Brownie recipes can be oddly tricky in finding a good one. Some people like cake-like brownies and others like fudgy truffle-like brownies. I’m a cake-like person. Mandy, my baking assistant, is a fudge-like person. We settled on a recipe we found in a Donna Hay magazine (a beautifully photographed Australian cooking magazine we buy occasionally). We used half the butter the original recipe called for and added in our own black currants and crème de cassis. The results — a cake-like and fudgy brownie we are both happy with.
It’s nearly last call for any berry picking in Alaska. All our blueberries and currants are picked and in. We might have a week or more of finding cranberry and red currant bushes hidden along our walks through the woods. All the work we put into berry picking now will make the long winter ahead a little sweeter.
- 7 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
- 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1¾ cups lightly packed brown sugar
- ⅓ cup cocoa powder
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 4 eggs
- 1½ cups fresh blackcurrants
- 1 tablespoon crème de cassis
- Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Place the chocolate and the butter in a saucepan over low heat and stir until the mixture is melted and smooth.
- Place the brown sugar, cocoa powder, flour, and baking powder into a bowl and mix. Mix in the eggs. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the sugar mixture and combine. Pour the batter into a buttered 9-inch by 9-inch square cake pan. Sprinkle the blackcurrants over the top of the batter and drizzle with the crème de cassis. Bake for 50 minutes. Allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting out into 2-inch brownies (we always trim away the crusty edges first).