Grow Your Own: Black Currants and More Great Stuff

Posted on Nov 1, 2012 in Drunken Botanist Plant Collection | Comments Off

Over the last few weeks I’ve been posting about the Drunken Botanist Plant Collection from the Territorial Seed Company and Log House Plants, a wholesaler grower supplying the collection to garden centers on the West Coast.  We’ve covered a lot of ground–you can see all the posts here–but here are a few more worthy cocktail garden plants I wanted to mention.

And if you’d like to know more about growing or drinking a particular plant, use the search box or check the tag cloud on the right side of this page and in the footer.  For instance, rhubarb is here, blueberry is here, and raspberry is here.    And don’t forget that everything is described in more detail in The Drunken Botanist.

 

Black Currant

We Americans don’t drink much cassis, and that’s a shame. This thick, rich, French liqueur, made from the fruit of the black currant bush, turns an ordinary glass of dry white wine, sparkling wine, or hard cider into something wonderful.  I’ve even heard tell of it being mixed with red wine, or with beer. A little dollop of it in sparkling water is not such a bad thing, either. (The fine people at Clear Creek Distillery make an excellent American version if you don’t want to bother growing your own.)

So why don’t we Americans grow black currants?  It was banned in the 1920s for its role in spreading white pine blister rust.  By 1966, the USDA realized that the ban was unnecessary and lifted it. Spores of the disease can only travel a thousand feet from black currant bush to pine tree, so keeping them out of pine forests is really pretty easy.  Besides, many new varieties are disease-resistant.  The ban remains in place in ten states on the east coast, but agricultural scientists are working with those states to educate them about black currant and persuade them to lift the ban.

So you can certainly grow them.  Ask at your local garden center, but if you can’t find them locally, Raintree Nursery in Oregon will ship them to you. The authentic French variety is ‘Noir de Bourgogne’, but it doesn’t turn up in garden centers much. ‘Minaj Smyriou’ is self-fertile and resists blister rust. ‘Ben Sarek’ was bred by Scottish researchers to resist frost and do well in backyards, where it reaches only 3 feet. ‘Hilltop Baldwin’ is a popular English variety.  They aren’t all self-fertile, so get at least two to ensure good pollination.

To make your own cassis, take a pound of black currants, wash well, and seal in a jar with one 750 ml bottle of grappa, grape eau-de-vie, marc, or good vodka.  (I’d choose Ciroc, a vodka distilled from grapes.) Mash the fruit to release the juice, and let it sit for a month, shaking or stirring the jar once a week.  Then strain into a new container and add simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated and allowed to cool) to taste.  One to two cups simple syrup should do it.  Give it a couple more months, and it should be ready to drink.

And yes!  There’s a video!

 

Sloe

Also known as the blackthorn bush or by its Latin name, Prunus spinosa, this large European hedgerow plant produces the small, tart fruit used to make sloe gin. It’s hard to find in these parts, but try Forest Farm nursery in Oregon or Lincoln Oakes nursery in North Dakota.  Sloes can take a little light shade, but they do get over 12 feet tall, so give them plenty of room and don’t expect fruit for a few years—sloes are, well, slow. The instructions for making sloe gin are pretty similar to those of cassis, except you’ll use gin.

Or you can just go buy a bottle of sloe gin. Plymouth is distributing it again in the United States, and it’s a fine thing. To make a fizz, shake two ounces of sloe gin, a hearty squeeze of lemon juice, a dollop of simple syrup, and the white of one recently-laid egg in a shaker with no ice.  Shake for 30 seconds, then add ice and keep shaking.  Pour into a glass over ice and top with club soda.  (and if drinking raw eggs freaks you out, don’t do it.)

 

Sloe Gin Fizz

To make a fizz, shake two ounces of sloe gin, a hearty squeeze of lemon juice, a dollop of simple syrup, and the white of one recently-laid egg in a shaker with no ice.

Shake for 30 seconds, then add ice and keep shaking.

Pour into a glass over ice and top with club soda.

(and if drinking raw eggs freaks you out, don’t do it.)

 

If you’d like to see me make a mess of a Sloe Gin Fizz, check this out. Oh, and my chickens guest star in this one.

 

 

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