Once a popular ingredient, blackcurrants were ruthlessly eradicated from the US landscape after unwittingly assisting a crime against pine trees. Here’s the juicy backstory

Life



16 December 2020

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Redcurrants are a secondary host for the fungus that causes blister rust in pine trees

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IN JUNE 1894, Harper’s Bazaar ran a page of recipes featuring currants and gooseberries. It proudly noted that “more than forty of the sixty known varieties of the currant are of American origin” including the blackcurrant, “with its medicated taste”, the white, “less acid than its ruby sister” and the red, “whose decided flavour renders it pre-eminently valuable as a sauce for meats and game”.

Back in the 19th-century, US newspapers and magazines often carried recipes that made use of currants, yet now they have all but disappeared. Meanwhile these delicate fruits remain current in other parts of the world, not least in the UK, where they find use in jams, cordials and various sweet treats such as berry-laden summer puddings and gooseberry fools. And not just that. Even with confectionery brands such as Skittles and Starburst, the purple ones are different flavours on either side of the pond, blackcurrant in the UK and grape in the US. Why?

The answers lie in a ruthless and now largely forgotten war launched by the US government on the currant. While a ceasefire has long since been declared, these unfortunate berries never fully recovered – and so it is likely that the majority of people in the US today have never tasted one.

True currants, in case you are wondering, aren’t the same as raisins and sultanas. The popular Zante currants, or raisin currants, that originated in Greece’s Ionian islands are actually dried grapes, as are raisins and sultanas. True currants are a berry borne by …