Black currants (ribes nigrum) are my favorite fruit right now! I am growing 3 big bushes – Titania, Consort, and an unnamed variety from the local farmers market.
The unnamed bush gave me 1.5 gallons/ 8 pounds of fruit yesterday. The Titania was a little overripe already, but I got 3/4 of a gallon that hadn’t fallen and rotted yet. The Consort is less ripe and I’ve only picked about half a gallon off of it, but there are more to pick. It is also in the shade and currently (hah! get it!) has some mildew problems.
I like black currants because they are vigorous and hardy and produce a lot. They grow well about anywhere I plunk them down in my yard in Anchorage – right under an apple tree’s shade, out in the sun, wherever. They are a great permaculture guild plant; I have a corner with an apple tree, black currant right next to it, white currant next to that, and arctic kiwi twining through the whole thing. Red clover surround this dense mix, and everything produces well and catches just about all the light before it gets to the ground! Unlike my red and white currants and gooseberry, they don’t get touched by the totally defoliating currant worm. They get a few leaf rollers (or tent moths or whatever you call them) in a bad year like this, but nowhere near as much damage as apple and other fruit trees. They are very easy to propagate. The branches that touch the ground root and can be clipped off, pulled up and replanted elsewhere. If no branches have done that yet, you can always pin one down to root, but most of mine have a very sprawling habit and are rooted all over the place.
They are pretty easy to pick, the fruit is on stringers that can be plucked or cut off as a cluster. They are less of a pain to pick than strawberries and raspberries, where the fruit are a bit more separated and ripen over a longer period (I lose a lot of straws and rasps by not going out every day in the season to pick). They are harder to pick than my apples since my apples are bigger, at standing height, and less hidden under leaves, but for small, easy fruit they win! Generally, I can pick some into my mouth for a couple of weeks, then choose a good day, like yesterday, and go out and harvest almost all of the crop and process them in one day. And be done with black currants!
I tend to like to eat them fresh – they have very very high vitamin c content and are quite tasty. You may need to develop a taste for them, they are a little skunky, but that grows on you more and more! I’m sure it is this spicy skunkiness, that is also in the leaves, which keeps the chewing insects at bay. I love brushing by the leaves in the spring and getting a whiff of that wonderful perfume! I also can juice concentrate for italian sodas with them. This is more likely to be consumed by my son than jam, and I think most people would find it tasty…mellowed by sugar. I’m going to try to make a little fermented soda this year by throwing some yeast in a bottle of juice concentrate and water and see what happens…hopefully not a broken bottle! My roommate makes a good black currant fruit leather. They can also be frozen for later use if you can’t decide what to do with them, or want to throw them in baked goods or something in the winter.