Tag Archives: Blackcurrant

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.


Lucky to be at Icy Creek

The view of the house from the blackcurrant patch

The view of the house from the blackcurrant patch

Driving through the smoke haze in Melbourne on our way to Icy Creek this morning, exactly one week after hell descended on our corner of the world,  it was obvious that the potential hazards of this most tragic of summers aren’t completely  behind us yet. And then no sooner had we turned off the highway at the Robin Hood exit, we could see the Bunyip fires still burning. It’s only thanks to the superhuman efforts of the CFA that the situation is under control, for now at least.

Still. the weather forecast is reassuring in a qualified way: there’s no sign of the deluge we so badly need, but there are at least a few showers promised in the forecast period, and nothing over 30 (that’s 86F for our North American friends) in the week ahead.

The whole farm is covered in a thin layer of ash, as is the house, and much of the area looks predictably parched. But remarkably, the orchard trees are mostly holding up well, and there are still tinges of green in the freshly mowed paddocks. There’s fruit on the blackcurrant bushes, nectarines under the net waiting to be picked, ripening tomatoes bulging on their trusses, and the chestnuts are building up their prickly armoury.  

It’s hard to feel anything but lucky.

The orchard after its mandatory haircut today

The orchard after its mandatory haircut today

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.