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Red Currants: Tiny Translucent Beauties

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Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

Today: red currants are closely related to gooseberries, hang in clusters called strigs, and are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Red Currants from Food52

Currants just look fancy. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence, then, that they are used in the world’s most expensive fruit preserve, la confiture de Groseilles de Bar-le-Duc, made in France. For each jar, the currants are painstakingly hand-seeded with a feather quill (yes, really) to maintain the berries’ shape and consistency. The resulting jam is stunning, the suspended tiny translucent berries look like oversized jewel-toned caviar. You won't need a quill or an entire afternoon to enjoy currants at home, though -- we promise

Currant Confusion
White currants aren’t a different fruit -- they’re classified as the same species as red currants, just a colorless cultivar. Blackcurrants, on the other hand, aren’t simply a darker version of the same berry. They're in the same family, but an entirely different species. Dried currants are especially perplexing, as those actually aren’t currants at all: they’re small dried grapes called Zante currants. With that straightened out, now’s the time to look for currants at a farmers market near you. 

More: Not sure where the nearest farmers market is? Find one on Real Time Farms. 

Red Currants from Food52

How to Store and Prep
Currants don't last long, so use them within a few days and always wait to wash them until you're ready to use them. To maximize their shelf life, Elizabeth Schneider recommends storing them in the refrigerator, spread out in a single layer on top of a dish or tray lined with paper towels. No need for topping and tailing with currants -- the individual berries (1) can be used whole, once you’ve separated them from the strig (2). To do this, either gently pull the berries off one at a time, or rake through the clusters with the tines of a fork if you aren’t opposed to a few crushed berries.

How to Use
Like gooseberries, red currants are often used in desserts. Try them in a crumble, a tart, or a pie. Turn them into a sorbet or swirl them into ice cream. Have you ever enjoyed frozen grapes on a hot summer day? You can do with same thing with red currants. Add them to cakes and muffins, but don’t limit yourself to sweet applications -- use red currants in a saladsalad dressing, or a chutney. If you're a little more adventurous, eat them with a roasted loin of deer and chestnuts. Pop a few berries (or a tiny strig) in a beverage for a refreshing splash of color and get ready to enjoy red (and white) currants all week long:

Friday: Vanilla Panna Cotta with Red Currant and Raspberry Coulis
Saturday: Red Currant Jam (No quill feather de-seeding required.)
Sunday: White Currant Tart
Monday: Red Currant Samosas with Maple Syrup Custard 
Tuesday: Red, White, and Blue Quinoa Berry Salad 
Wednesday: White Currant and Whisky Semifreddo 
Thursday: Lemongrass Vanilla Almond Poppyseed Red Currant Teacake 

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: Currant, Long Reads, Sustainability, Ingredients, Down and Dirty, Diagrams