In 2004, my husband and I were in Amsterdam, rushing down the street (as fast as I could push an umbrella stroller on cobblestone sidewalks without rattling my kid’s brains right out, anyway) to meet up with his family for dinner. On our way there, we approached a greengrocer’s stand selling some tiny, unfamiliar fruit, still clinging to thin branches. Smaller than blueberries and an amazing crimson color, I quickly realized they were red currants.
I had never actually seen them before, other than in jam form. I gawked—for as long as I was able—at their amazing translucent skin that seems to catch the light in way my photo does not do justice to at all. I meant to go back and buy some, but I never quite got around to it and went home without having tried them.
This love-at-first-sight-in-a-faraway-land story must be the reason I keep buying them… because it’s certainly not for the taste. You think of summer fruits and berries and oh, they’re all so juicy and sweet, right? Red currants, as I seem to willfully forget each summer, are shockingly tart. Sweeter than cranberries (although not by much) and without the bitterness of pomegranate seeds, but still quite tart. They’re not really a fruit I can just pop into my mouth and snack on without wincing a little.
Currants are closely related to gooseberries (also quite tart) and, unsurprisingly, are a good, mouth-puckering source of Vitamin C. If you’re planning on getting your RDA from currants, though, better bring a checkbook—a tiny pint can often set you back $4 to $6 around here. Just for the sake of not wasting money, I tried to will myself to love these currants (yum, they’re so… lemony? oh god, who am I kidding?), but they slowly shriveled in my fridge until I conceded defeat and composted them.
Next summer, when I will have almost certainly forgotten everything I’ve just said and fall in love with some beautiful currants again, I’ll be ready. I’m not a fan of cooked summer fruits; I’d much rather enjoy them as they are (and who wants to turn on the oven in an already 80-degree house?) but red currants supposedly mellow considerably when cooked. I think I’ll try my hand at redcurrant buns or maybe a bread pudding with currants. Next year, I won’t be quite so dazzled by their good looks again.
I come from a long, proud line of compulsive sale shoppers. Because I live in a 750-square-foot apartment, I simply don’t have the room to indulge my sale fetish as much as I could (unlike, say, my grandfather who would regularly send me home with cases of soda or several boxes of cereal he’d bought on sale and had tucked away) but I did recently buy a pound of strawberries and two pints of blackberries which were going cheap at the supermarket.
It didn’t seem like a lot of fruit at the time… until it started to languish in the fridge. It got to a point where it was not exactly at its peak of freshness, but not really compost scraps yet either. I also had a pile of fresh mint that appeared to be headed down the same road and I knew there had to be a way to combine the two.
I had taken this month’s Martha Stewart Living (whose usual purpose is to remind me anew each month how much domestic shit I will never, ever manage to do) to the park with me one afternoon, and there it was: a recipe for fruit syrup. Using that as a general guide, I came up with this:
Combine 3 cups berries with 1/4 cup water and 1 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil and let simmer for at least 10 minutes (or longer if you want a thicker syrup). As it simmers, crush berries with a wooden spoon or potato masher. Once syrup is the consistency you want, turn off the heat and add 2-3 sprigs of mint, then let cool. Use a mesh strainer to strain out the seeds and pulp. Makes about 2 cups.
Although it’s runnier than honey, it’s about the same level of sweetness, and I’ve been using it in place of honey in a number of things — tea, yogurt, etc. — but my favorite use has to be combining a couple tablespoons of syrup with some ice and seltzer.
Oh yeah. Summer can not get here soon enough.