|Black Currant Photo by mwri|
The first fruit bushes I ordered when I moved here 5 years ago included 3 black currant bushes and 2 gooseberries. Soon thereafter, I also planted several red currant seedlings, and a couple of "buffalo" currents from a friend. Slowly but surely they have all withered away. (Not sure what that's about, but that's not the focus of this post either.)
The compelling reason for growing black currants is my love of currant scones, and the very healthy benefits of currants. Black currants have some amazing properties... high in antioxidants (almost 2X most fruits), potassium (one cup has more than a small banana) and Vitamin C (one cup has more C than 3 oranges), plus iron, calcium, magnesium, and manganese.
Finding I had less than a cup of black currants from this year's pitiful harvest (I finally trashed the bushes) saved in my freezer, I picked up a box marked "Zante Currants" in the local grocery store so I could make some Christmas scones.
Well, Pooh!! It turns out that Zante Currants are NOT currants at all, merely a very tiny dried small grape (a seedless variety of Vitis vinifera named Black Corinth), containing very few of the healthy properties of real currants, which are a Ribe. Now I wonder about the "dried currants" I buy in the health food stores since misnaming is so common.
There is a semi-legitimate reason for all the confusion in the name. A hundred years ago (1911), the US government outlawed growing currants (and gooseberries which are in the same family). It was believed that the White Pine Blister Rust threatening the pine lumber industry needed to have currants or gooseberries to complete it's cycle, and that the disease would wipe out the white pine lumber industry if those fruits were not banned. The ban was actually lifted in 1966 but few were ever aware it was lifted. (Regardless, the belief that currants are the cause persists even today.)
So, for a hundred years, almost no one in the US grew currants, and now we in the US really don't know much about currants at all. Very few are grown today, although there are improved varieties that have eliminated any possible connection to the pine disease. Happily, NY state is now seeing a few currant farms spring up. Well over a century ago currants were a huge cash crop in NY, and may be again!
The confusion about Zante Currants started about 90 years ago when a small Greek island named "Zante" exported a tiny dried grape called Black Corinth to the US. It was 1/4 the size of a normal dried grape (aka raisin) and accidentally named a "currant" due both to similar size and to language barriers at the import docks that changed the word "Corinth" into "currant".
Almost any American recipe originating in the last hundred years calling for "currants" surely intended "Zante Currants" and not real currants, since that's all that were generally available. I encourage you to try the real thing! (Besides, earlier this year a report out of Tuft’s University announced that “Black Currants may thwart Alzheimer’s.”) Source