Do you remember when, as a kid, you had a glorious dream in which you took possession of some prized object, like a new bike, or a whole chocolate cake, and ached to bring it back with you, across the border into real life? I had that experience a few years ago in northern Sweden, on a friend’s farm. Out in the field by his house there grew three long rows of two-metre-high blackcurrant bushes, dripping with fruit, tart, tangy, vaguely conifer-y, a flavour unlike any other berry.
We picked, and we picked, and we picked. We made jam; we made pie; we ate fistfuls of currants without sugar or ceremony. And then we heaved our backpacks onto the bus for Finland, leaving all that blackcurrant beauty behind us, as if it were a dream.
I’ve ached for blackcurrants ever since. Three summers ago, I learned that a few farms near Whitehorse grow blackcurrants, and you can go and pick them. (I’ll leave you to sleuth out which farms those are, for the thrill of discovery.) Now I have a whole freezer shelf full of bagged blackcurrants, as in a dream.
Blackcurrants do grow wild in the Yukon, sparsely. You may find Ribes hudsoniam in damp forests at the base of mountains, like for example on the King’s Throne hike in Kluane National Park. It’s verboten to pick them in a national park, but do this: rub a leaf between your fingers and smell. The blackcurrant aroma is strong. (If there’s no aroma, it ain’t blackcurrant, but could be red currant, or northern gooseberry—the leaves are similar.)
Blackcurrant leaves can be used to flavour everything from vinegar to panna cotta, so if you don’t find fruit, bring home a few leaves and experiment. If you do find fruit, whether in the wild or on a farm, consider making your own Crème de Cassis, the delicious blackcurrant liqueur famous in Burgundy, France.
And then go one step further and make a crème bruleé, famous everywhere. Creamy custard, sharp blackcurrant, shiny, shatter-y caramelized sugar—a delightful study in contrasts.
1½ cups black currants
1 750 ml bottle good quality vodka
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
- Pour currants into a sterilized 1L jar. Mash currants with a muddler or wooden spoon to break the skins and release some of the juices.
- Pour vodka into the jar, screw on the cap and shake vigorously. Store in a cool, dark place for 10 days to 3 weeks, shaking once or twice a day. Over time, the vodka will take on the colour of the currants, and the currants will become paler.
- Strain the vodka-currant mixture into a clean sterilized jar through a sieve lined with cheesecloth, reserving currants.
- Tip currants into a small pot and stir in water and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, turn heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered.
- Strain syrup through a sieve into a clean bowl, cool to room temperate, and stir into the reserved vodka. (The currants will have lost much of their flavour, but you could try adding them to muffins or quick bread.)
- Store in a cool dark place and for best flavour, use within the year. Tip: homemade Crème de Cassis adds a certain tone to a holiday gift basket.
1 cup blackcurrants, thawed if frozen
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp Crème de Cassis
1 cup 2% milk
1 cup 10% cream
½ cup sugar for caramelizing
- Combine black currants and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small pot. Cook over medium heat until juices are released, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until thick. Remove from stove, cool, and stir in Crème de Cassis.
- Preheat oven to 300F (150C). Set out 8 half-cup ramekins in a roasting pan.
- Heat milk and cream in a medium pot over medium heat until steam rises. Meanwhile, beat eggs and 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl until lemon-coloured.
- Stirring constantly, pour half a cup of hot milk/cream into eggs, followed by the remaining milk/cream. Return the mix to the pot, and, still stirring, heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and strain into a measuring cup for easy pouring. (The straining will remove any accidental lumps.)
- Spoon 1 tablespoon of prepared blackcurrants into each ramekin. Pour custard mixture over top. Pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it comes halfway up the ramekins. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes. The centres will still be jiggly but will firm up as the custard cools.
- Chill custard for 2 hours or overnight. About an hour before serving, sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar over top of each custard. Caramelize sugar with a kitchen blowtorch or by placing ramekins on a tray 4 inches under a hot broiler for 3 to 5 minutes.