The redcurrant is a member of the Ribes (gooseberry) family. It is native to parts of western Europe region – Belgium, UK, France, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, northern Italy and Spain, Portugal, Poland and Croatia. Closely related to blackcurrants, redcurrants are grown a little more like gooseberries. All cultivated currant species have Asian and European ancestry. The most significant historical source of cultivation of currants was within Russia during the 11th century when they were grown in monastery gardens, towns and settlements. Redcurrant plants grow wild and they are cultivated both commercially and domestically for their berries. Redcurrants are able to flourish within the Northern hemisphere, in moist to wet, well-drained soil and once established they need little irrigation to survive.
Redcurrants are self-fertile. They like a sheltered, well-drained location with a fertile soil. For the sweetest tasting fruit, position them in a sunny spot but they are tolerant of a little shade and are good for training against shady walls. Usually 5-10mm in diameter, redcurrants hang in tassels known as racemes or strings that poke through the leaves.
Plant them 1.3m (60cm) apart. Plant bare-root currants in late autumn but no later than the end of winter. Container-grown plants can be planted out at anytime. Every spring, when you feed your fruit trees and bushes, also feed your redcurrants with a little Blood, Fish and Bone sprinkled around the trunk followed by a layer of well-rotted manure – not touching the plant at all so as not to burn it or encourage growth in the wrong places on the bush – and add a thick layer of mulch over the top. Water redcurrants through dry periods, especially before/during fruiting season.
Redcurrants fruit on buds that form at the base of the previous year’s new shoots. Currants should be pruned hard in winter to take out unproductive and crossing branches. Prune sublaterals back to only one bud as this will encourage new spurs that will develop flowers and fruit by summer. Cordons should also be pruned as summer arrived. Cut new sublaterals back to five leaves. During winter, cut back the leader to just above one bud of the previous year’s growth and prune all sublaterals to two buds to encourage new fruiting spurs. Prune May-June and November-January.
Netting redcurrants is almost compulsory. As they start to change colour, the birds swoop in and nab as many as they can. Use bird netting to allow the insects in still and pin it down the the floor securely. It makes picking difficult for you but it will ensure you of a harvest.
Redcurrant blister aphids cause red blisters on redcurrant leaves during the summer months. Check the underside of the leaves in late spring for yellow aphids and do your best to remove them. They won’t damage the fruit though so try not to be tempted to use chemicals. You can cut back the side-shoots in mid-June to 1-2cm short for the first fruit to remove any blistered leaves and to encourage good air circulation, if you want to take action. If your redcurrants are affected by sawfly larvae or coral spot, cut any affected shoots back to good wood and burn the cuttings.
Redcurrants are ready for picking by midsummer, July-August. They become a beautiful ruby red colour. Unlike soft fruit, one can be patient and leave redcurrants a little longer to change from a pale pink to a rich red to increase sweetness. To harvest, pinch them from the plant as whole trusses, running a fork down the trusses to release the fruit. Storing them in the freezer straight away is the best option as they will spoil very quickly in the fridge.
They are a rich source of vitamin C, providing 49% of the Daily Value. Vitamin K is the only other essential nutrient in significant content at 10% of DV. Redcurrants are known for their tart flavour due to their relatively high content of organic acids and mixed polyphenols. As many as 65 different phenolic compounds may contribute to the astringent properties of redcurrants. These contents increase during the last month of ripening. Twenty-five individual polyphenols and other nitrogen containing phytochemicals in redcurrant juice have been isolated specifically with the astringent flavour sensed in the human tongue.
Redcurrants can be eaten raw but they are a little sharp tasting (like all currants) and seedy, which is why making jelly rather than jam from them is more ideal. They are high in pectin so a few can be slipped into jams to increase the setting. I like to make redcurrant jelly from our batches. My family eat it with their roast dinners, sausages, chicken dishes, on melted Brie cheese on toast or baked Camembert cheese and rice or alongside a hearty homemade pie. My mum has also made an instant redcurrant sauce to pour like a gravy over the top of mashed potatoes and vegetables, when I had not quite got round to making my first batch of jelly this year and we had run out of last year’s products. In France Bar-leduc or Lorraine jelly is another spreadable jelly made from either white or redcurrants. Redcurrants are a popular filling for Linez torte in Germany and the nectar derived from the fruit is added to water for a drink, known as Johannisbeerschorle, named because redcurrants supposedly ripen on St John’s Day, Midsummer Day on the 24th June. There are plenty of pudding recipes out there for using redcurrants. I have seen redcurrant cupcakes, redcurrant jelly, redcurrant trifle, grunt, cobbler and, of course the famous summer pudding.
(Makes 4-5x 225g jars)
– 1kg redcurrants – 400ml water – Granulated sugar (see method for further instructions about amounts needed)
- Put the redcurrants in a large pan with 400ml of water. Simmer until soft and the juices from the currants have leaked. It should take about 45 minutes.
- Strain through a jelly bag/muslin for several hours, better yet to leave it overnight, taking care not to poke or prod as this will result in a cloudy jam.
3. Measure the juice and put it into a clean pan. For every 600ml of juice, add 450g of sugar as you start to bring the pan of liquid to the boil, stirring the sugar in until it has dissolved. Bring it to a rapid boil and leave it for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to check if the liquid is becoming sticky rather than runny.
4. Pectin test: Put a china plate inside the freezer until it is cold. Put a small dollop of jelly on the plate and put it back in the freezer for a minute. Remove and run your finger through the middle – if it leaves a trail, it is done. If it starts to run back together, continue to boil and keep checking regularly – be careful not to leave it for too long or it will burn but under-boil it and it will not set.
5. Once your jelly has started to set, remove from the heat and allow to cool before ladling the liquid into sterilised jam jars.
6. To sterilise jam jars, place the jars and lids inside an oven preheated to 150C until warm to the touch. Remove from oven and leave to cool completely before using.
7. Place a wax disc over the top of the jelly in the jars to help them keep longer, seal the lid and label. Store in a cool, dry, dark place overnight before using to allow it to set properly. Serve with your Sunday roast dinner. Use within 12 months.
Mum’s Instant Redcurrant Sauce
You will want to use freshly picked redcurrants for this and the younger the better – there will be less pips. Save the frozen and older ones for jelly making.
– 250g redcurrants – About 100ml water – Enough granulated sugar to taste
- Place the redcurrants and water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil before turning down to simmer until all of the redcurrant juices leak out into the water. It should take about 10-15 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and using a very fine sieve, pour the liquid through it into another pan so that the currants are left behind in the sieve and you have a pure sauce.
- Turn it back onto a low heat. Add enough granulated sugar to taste, stirring in to dissolve. Continue to simmer for another 5-10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and serve immediately, pouring it over your Sunday roast dinner, sausages and mash, lamb, potatoes, rice or salad dishes like a gravy. Keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.