Earlier this year, as my husband cleared some trails through our wooded property, I ran anxiously ahead of his equipment flagging bushes NOT to mow down. I was protecting our hidden treasure, the wild currant shrubs growing in the cool shade of old trees. It was a comical scene, and my adult sons later asked about the random pieces of surveyor tape dotting the woods. It is easy to explain how much we enjoy the tart taste of this lovely berry. It is harder to explain the catch in my throat each year when sunlight passes through the berry’s red translucent globe. It is harder to explain how currants represent memories through four generations of our family.
I first tasted currants in Germany where my mother and I were born.
She married an America soldier and followed him to the States, but she never lost her taste for the food of her childhood. She adored the tartness of the berries on tortes and in Christmas Stollen. On the occasions that we traveled with my mother back to her homeland for a visit, we ate currants with appreciation bordering on reverential. Currants certainly were not available in the North Dakota prairie town where I grew up. The best Mom might find was an occasional jar of currant jelly on the shelves at Red Owl grocery. We ate it on toast with sour cream and she reminded us to be prudent in our portions. This was a treat to be savored.
When our family moved to Alaska, I was delighted to discover wild currants growing in damp forests near streams and tangles of fallen trees. My two young sons loved picking berries, and we spent hours on the slopes of Baldy and Bear Mountain, filling our buckets with blueberries. Currants were always harder to come by though. We found them in wet, buggy places. It took long sleeves and copious amounts of mosquito spray, but we went after the treasure anyway. We noticed that currant berry patches were spent in about three years, and we would have to search for another place to reap the harvest. I always felt fortunate to find enough to make a batch of jelly and especially blessed when I could make two batches. That meant we would have enough to give away as gifts.
My sons grew up, and Erik and his wife, Ashlee, picked wild currants to make jelly to give as thank you gifts to the guests at their wedding. What could be sweeter or more Alaskan?
Now, fifteen years later, Erik and Ashlee’s three children pick berries on the same hillsides they did. They don’t have to go searching for currants though. Erik raises currants in his garden and propagates enough to share through his small business, Alaska Fruits and Berries in Peters Creek. The legacy lives on.
I have some of Erik’s currant shrubs in our garden here on the ranch, and this year they are bearing fruit. I’m also thrilled to have the wild berries in the forest nearby. In the full ripeness of summer, the currant harvest is just as beautiful in my memory as it is on the shelf. And my husband was thoughtful in where he cleared those trails in the woods.
- 6½ cups currant juice
- 1 package powdered pectin (1 ¾ ounces)
- 7 cups sugar
How to Extract Juice: Combine 14 cups currants and 1 cup water. Crush currants and bring to simmer. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Place in a jelly bag or in layers of cheesecloth in a colander. Let the juice drip into a bowl. For clear juice, do not twist or press jelly bag or cheesecloth. For long-term storage, the juice should be frozen or canned.
For Jelly: Sterilize pint or half-pint canning jars and prepare lids. Measure sugar and set aside. Measure prepared juice into a large saucepan and add powdered pectin. Place on high heat; stir constantly and bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. At once stir in sugar. Again, bring to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and quickly skim off foam. Immediately pour jelly into hot canning jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Wipe jar rims and add prepared two-piece lids. Process in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes. Yield: 9 cups
Recipe courtesy of the University Cooperative Extension Service. Identical recipes are also found on most fruit pectin boxes.