Category Archives: Berries & Currants

Jostaberry blossum – a rare sight

 

If, like me, you love winter, 2010 has been a vintage year in this soggy corner of Victoria. At Icy Creek, however, even I’ve been starting to hanker for some warmer weather.  And a week into October we finally got some – that is, before an Antarctic blast blustered up from the valley below us last weekend.

Spring has been slower to settle in than in previous years, but the jostaberry bushes are finally in bloom. As the plants themselves are still growing (quite vigourously too in the last year) and still very unusual in Australia (I’ve never seen the fruit on sale in any market) this is, by default a rare sight, even if not a particularly spectacular one.

Meanwhile, the blackcurrant flowers (below) are, to use an inappropriate yet strangely apt metaphor, are proving to be one of nature’s red herrings. Weirder still when you factor in that these are one of the jostaberry’s parents. The other is the gooseberry.

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Mulberries – an insanely sweet seasonal treat

And now for 2009's biggest sugar hit

Just when it felt that the last of the seasonal indulgences of the year were being processed by my increasingly stressed digestive system, we find that our mulberry tree is, for the first time, laden with deep purple fruit, thanks to the miraculous success of my net strategy (and no, I’m not talking Web 2.0 here).

Mulberries are relatively slow-growing trees, and our five-year old Hicks Fancy – which is suitable for cooler climes – is still more or less contained by the cage that surrounds it to keep out the deer and wallabies that are constantly marauding the block.  We scored a handful of berries last year, but it wasn’t until this week that I got to pick a whole punnet’s worth from the tree.

I’m always been told that the primary reason that you don’t often see mulberries in markets is because they’re notoriously hard to store. This might be true, but I know that for me such talk is merely hypothetical, because I can’t imagine why I’d allow even the smallest fraction of any yield out of my sight until I’ve consumed it. For despite the sinfully syrupy taste – imagine eating jam straight off a tree – there’s enough sharpness in these berries to ameliorate what might otherwise become, after a modest binge, an almost nauseating sweetness for all but the most ardent of dessert tragics.

Still, if you want to tone them down just a tad, combine them in a fruit salad with some genuinely tart berries – we tried this with our black currants and jostaberries and plain yoghurt – a concotion that can only be conjured for a few days at the end of the year. And perhaps that’s just as well.

Quince buds – an early sign of spring

It’s still the first half of August, and Icy Creek’s elevated enough to experience something approximating a period of winter dormancy. But today there were signs of spring, and not just the precocious daffodils and the exhuberant weeds. The budswell on our quince trees suggests that those awesome white/pink flowers might be about to unravel.

It must be spring - almost

It must be spring - almost

Also planted ten chesnut trees today  – an air of mystery surrounds the identity of the varietal, but I’m betting that they’re called Bouche de Betizac. I’m tagging the name, ever so hopefully, in case anybody else has heard of them.

Also planted this weekend, some Alinta strawberries, thornless blackberries (no, they’re not digital devices), and a couple of marionberry plants to boot.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and that’s partly because of the aforementioned dormancy (which I enjoy) and also because of a new publication a few of us have set up at La Trobe University called upstart – it’s an online magazine which is specifically designed to publish student and staff work, and to become a resource for emerging journalists. Our twitter address is http://twitter/upstartmagazine

Black Currant Affairs

Blackcurrants harvested on New Year's Eve, 2008

Blackcurrants harvested on New Year's Eve, 2008

Forget New Year’s resolutions. I can tell you with some certainty that 2009 is going to kick off much the same way that 2008 is coming to a close – with me extracting small and fiddly black currants from their billowing bushes. It’s been a bumper crop this summer, but with so much effort required to harvest these delicate morsels by hand (the berries you can see in the picture above were a whole morning’s work), I’m already seeking expressions of interest to “outsauce” next summer’s haul.

That said, I don’t think I’d go quite as far as the legendary Louis Glowinski, who begins his spray about them in his classic tome “The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia” with a damning dismissal. “Black currants are not decorative, they’re not a delight to have around”, he writes. “Their taste when fresh is unpleasant, and their smell is worse.” And they’re “obviously not for fresh eating”.

Much as they’re hard work, I beg to differ. Our black currants taste just fine straight off the bush, and they’re certainly terrific in desserts or over pancakes. I do, however, see what Glowinski’s getting at when he points out that they don’t ripen evenly, which makes extracting them from their tiny trusses pretty tedious – I’m sure that most of the armoury of Vitamin C they contain is expended on removing them one by one, day after day, year out, year in. In this respect they’re a lot more fuss and bother than jostaberries, which were conjured up in the middle of the 20th century by crossing black currants with gooseberries.

Still, at least I know that when the sun goes down this evening, there’ll be a glass of Kir waiting for me.

I’d better get back to them. Happy 2009.

Jostaberry Icecream & Redcurrant and Gooseberry Sorbet

The jostaberry ice-cream fan club

The jostaberry ice-cream fan club

With jostaberries at the their peak, we finally got to do some experiments in the kitchen with them last night and the icecream was voted a big success. While the berries themselves are black when ripe, the mix turns a psychedelic purple once the fruit is blended.

RECIPE

2 cups of jostaberries.

1  1/2 cups of cream

3/4 of a cup of sugar (go up to a cup if you like your icecream really sweet).

Combine jostaberries and sugar and heat until the sugar is dissolved and simmer for no more than five minutes. Blend the jostaberries but do not put them through a sieve. Cool, and then churn with the cream in an icecream churn.

We also made a sorbet out of this bowl of redcurrants and gooseberries.

These redcurrants and gooseberries share a common destiny

These redcurrants and gooseberries share a common destiny

RECIPE:

One cup gooseberry and/or redurrants

1/2 to 2/3 cup of sugar

Simmer to dissolve sugar and continue until gooseberries are just tender (no more than five minutes). Blend, and pass through a sieve. Churn and eat immediately, as this one won’t keep all that well.

A Very Goji Christmas

Goji berry trees on the first day at their new home
Goji berry trees on the first day at their new home

Thanks to a seasonal spending  spree curated by our two Chocolate Labradors, Moose and Elka, our orchard is now home to a pair of goji berry trees. Yes, I know that I have only this week been ruminating about the joys of unfashionability, but every now and then there’s nothing wrong with giving the next big thing a bash, notwithstanding the scepticism that’s been aired about their alleged nutritional value and anti-aging properties (see, for instance, this 2008 Herald Sun article). I’ve never tasted a goji berry, but it the labels on the plant are true then we’ll be able to report back on the part cranberry part cherry-flavoured fruits of this endeavour in a couple of years. In the meantime, Happy Holidays.

Fooled by Gooseberries?

Spot the gooseberry

How may gooseberries can you spot?

If there’s one thing I love about having my own patch, it’s being able to revel in my unfashionable tastes. Chestnuts, quinces, blackcurrants, salsify, cider apples and turnips all have their place at Precipice. (Well, maybe not turnips). And yes, I especially enjoy watching my friends marvel at what they assume is the novelty of what are really just old fashioned fodder.

Take gooseberries. Almost unknown by anyone under 50 in Australia, these exquisite if often tart fruits have probably lapsed into oblivion because they require “handling” before serving. But do they? The variety we grow, known as “Captivator”, actually get pretty sweet if left on the bush until they turn red, yet I’ve never seen “red” gooseberries anywhere in markets. Maybe they’re just picked before they ripen, which might be fine if you’re planning to cook them, but this doesn’t do much to promote their qualities as fresh fruit.  To my taste, if left to ripen they are sweeter than blackcurrants, and just as sweet as ripe jostaberries, a relatively modern arrival engineered by crossing gooseberries with blackcurrants.

Harvesting presents challenges though. There’s no thorns on these Captivators, but I find it almost impossible to see the fruit before it fully ripens. The bush in the picture above, for instance, is jam-packed (if you’ll forgive the pun) with large berries, but only one is cleary visible, and it was promptly taken care of as soon as this photo was taken. Indeed I’d pretty much written off this year’s crop as disappointing until I did a close inspection this arvo.

I’ve read all about how growing gooseberries became a serious competitive sport in northern England (the bigger the better, of course) and a Scottish colleague of mine was a shivering wreck of homesickness after sampling a modest offering from a previous summer crop. Now I realise that I really have been missing out on their enigmatic charms. If you can grow you’re own, understanding their potential is clearly all about timing, and being able to find them before the birds get them. If they can spot them. As for the title of this post, if it doesn’t make sense, then check out this recipe.

Captivated?