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Gettin' my hands dirty

Jim Boxberger - Correspondent
Posted 3/20/20

The weather has been as crazy as the stock market over the past week or so, up one day and down the next. Fortunately, we know that the weather will get warmer as we get further into spring. With …

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Gettin' my hands dirty


The weather has been as crazy as the stock market over the past week or so, up one day and down the next. Fortunately, we know that the weather will get warmer as we get further into spring. With many people being stuck home due to the virus and the cabin fever starting to take over, plenty of people have been in for planting supplies.

Seed starting with the kids has suddenly become popular again and customers have been getting canning supplies well before the gardening season has even begun. It is crazy to think that it takes an event like this to get people back to basics. Hopefully with the warmer weather coming the virus will not last as long here as in China.

Getting ready for spring we have been busy planting in our greenhouse. Early this week we were planting the berry bushes and a couple of my new favorites are gooseberries and currants. Native to Europe, gooseberries produce an edible small fruits and are grown both commercially and in home gardens. When we first starting getting gooseberries in twenty years ago, only our Russian and Ukrainian customers knew what they were and bought them up quickly.

Gooseberries can be eaten as-is, or used as an ingredient in desserts, such as pies, tarts and turnovers. Early picking produces generally sour fruit that is more appropriate for culinary use. They are also used to flavor beverages such as sodas and can be made into fruit wines and teas. Gooseberries are also preserved into jams or dried fruit. I am excited to see a new black gooseberry that we are getting next week. The darker fruits are tauted their high level of antioxidants and other health benefits.

A close relative of the gooseberry is the currant family of berries. The fruit of black currant can be eaten raw, but it has a strong, tart flavor. It can be made into jams and jellies which set quickly because of the fruit's high content of pectin and acid. The black currant is native to northern Europe and Asia.

It was cultivated in Russia by the 11th century when it was present in monastery gardens. Cultivation in Europe is thought to have started around the last decades of the 17th century.

Black currants were popular in the United States as well, but became less common in the 20th century after currant farming was banned in the early 1900s, when black currants, a carrier of white pine blister rust, was considered a threat to the logging industry. A federal ban on growing currants was shifted to the jurisdiction of individual states in 1966, and the ban was lifted in New York State in 2003. Since then their popularity has grown once again.

The red currant has been the staple of the backyard gardener for the past 100 years. Native to Western Europe, the tart flavor of red currant fruit is slightly greater than black currant, but with the same sweetness. Also packing a nutrient punch, a three and a half ounce serving of red currants supplies 56 calories, 49% of the daily value of vitamin C and 10% of the daily value of vitamin K.

Similar in nutrient value to the red currant is their cousin the white currant. The white currant is actually an albino cultivar of the red currant but is marketed as a different fruit. White currant berries are slightly smaller and sweeter than red currants. When made into jams and jellies the result is normally pink. The berries of the white currant are a good source of vitamins B1 and C, and are rich in iron, copper and manganese.

Whether eaten fresh or turned into some other culinary delights, currants and gooseberries will put a smile on anyone's face and make an excellent addition to the garden.


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