Category Archives: Jostaberries

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.

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.

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?

Farming with Labradors

Moose on high alert under the berry bushes

Moose on high alert under the berry bushes

Even harvesting summer berries can have its solitary side. But not if you have a couple of Chocolate Labradors ignoring your every command. While not as keen on eating redcurrants and jostaberries as his daughter, Elka, six year-old Moose (see above) still enjoys chilling out in the canopy between our redcurrants and blackcurrant bushes, providing welcome paws for thought and companionship, and, as far as can be meaningfully verified, keeps birds, snakes and vermin at bay. Of course, if we had any truffles lurking beneath our four hazelnut trees, they’d be onto them in a flash. In the weeks to come I’ll be posting  a few hundred of my favourite snaps of Moose and Elka hard at work at Icy Creek, but in the meantime, I’m sure you get an idea of how busy we all are from the “action” shots above and below.

Elka having a field day

Elka having a field day

Redcurrants, you’re pudding!

The don't realise this, but they're about to start swimming in a summer pudding

They don't realise this, but they're about to start swimming in a summer pudding

I’ve long believed that redcurrants were invented just to add a bit of a counterbalance to oversugared breakfast cereals. So this year, we’re keeping a few kilos of these frozen to give a bit of a kick to our muesli and pancakes.

On the bush they look better than just about any fruit I can think of, thanks in part to their almost translucent glow. They’re also a favourite with Elka, our two year-old chocolate Labrador, who can get manic after she eats them (even for a Lab). Could this be the canine equivalent of binging on raspberry cordial?  She won’t get too any of them today, in any case, as we have to get our stash down to the Outpost Retreat in Noojee, where you’ll almost certainly find them somewhere on the Christmas menu, along with our jostaberries.

Jostaberries on the menu

Jostaberries ripening at Icy Creek, December 2008

Despite the soggy start to summer, the soft fruit has come up trumps. The pic above is of jostaberries ripening on the vine (or is it bush? I need to check on that) this afternoon. While it’s tempting to pick them when they go purple, it’s best to wait until they’re black, and then they’re sweet enough to eat without adding sugar.

It turns out that our jostaberries, along with our redcurrants and gooseberries, are going to be on the Christmas menu at The Outpost in Noojee, providing that they’re not all eaten by our two year-old Chocolate Labrador, Elka, who has become a soft fruit junkie.