The Season of Berries
Rain is not good for wool, probably not very good for
the animal carrying the wool, and certainly not good for the stuff the
wooly things eat: hay. Nobody has brought their second-cut hay in, and
I’m starting to feel very anxious about this. But what rain, even
massive amounts of rain, is good for is berries. And I have a bumper
crop this year.
“There is nobody who, having a garden, shouldn’t plant a
great number of black currant bushes for the needs of their family,”
wrote the Abbé P. Bailly de Montaran in 1712. And he added: “Black
currant is a fruit that promotes long life in human beings.”
I’ve been unable to find out anything about the Abbe P. Bailly
de Montaran. Except that, in theory, he wrote this line. Maybe he painted
it on his garden wall, because I can’t find any book or even an
essay credited to him. But there you are: Abbe P. says you should plant
a “great many” currants in your garden, and Kevin Stelling
quoted him in Vitality Magazine.
The Abbe? The Abbe must have been feeding a very, very, large number
of monks. Because I think (it is hard to count) I have a half-dozen
black currant bushes. And I’ve picked, in the past few days, more
than 9 quarts of currants from those six bushes, and probably left another
3 quarts out there.
I’m in the middle of the magic which is transforming berries too
sour to eat into a tangy conserve and in the middle of a dilemma: Which
is more wasteful, leaving berries out there to spoil, or making more
conserve than you can possibly use to use them up?
True, you can make gifts out of jars of jam, but at some point your
jelly stock is going to exceed your Christmas list. Making jam involves
time and resources as it goes from berry patch to jelly jar. It involves
glass, and 8 cups of sugar. Roughly $1.50 of my pocket money is tied
up in every jar of currant conserve.
But there is also, if you’re concerned about going green, a fair
amount of hidden energy tied up in jars of currant jam you probably
won’t use anytime soon. The resources necessary to produce glass.
The cost of growing, processing and shipping that sugar I buy for $1.70
per 5-pound bag. And a fair amount of propane is involved in sterilizing
glass and liquefying berries.
And therein lies the dilemma of conservation: To be green is to abhor
the waste of berries left out in the rain, and at the same time, to
be mindful of one’s consumption of resources.
In a country of limitless possibilities, “enough” is difficult
to measure. How many shirts in a closet are “enough”? How
many pairs of earrings are sufficient? How warm does the hot water really
need to be? And how many jars of preserves do you put up before you
let the chickens in to finish off the remainder of the crop?
As the jars cool, I head online and find out what else you can do with
currants. Black currants, it turns out, are loaded in vitamin C and
tannins, possessing antibacterial properties. The Abbe probably used
his black currant preserves to stave off scurvy and to treat sore throats.
A good many pounds of currants could be dedicated to making a nice currant
brandy (basically pour brandy over currants, let sit for a while) or
a currant wine which, depending on how obsessive you are, is either
very complicated or deceptively simple. “Uncork carefully as towards
the end of the fermentation the product is under a great deal of pressure,”
suggests the recipe.
The online texts even encourage drying currant leaves to make tea out
of them. This, I believe, assumes a certain amount of dry weather, something
we’ve been sadly lacking.
Whether tangy in a jar or effervescent as a homemade wine, I’ve
decided to ignore the currant bushes. The blueberries are also experiencing
a bonanza year. It is surprisingly easy to ignore the currants when
you’re soaking wet and the blueberry bushes are equally loaded.
Blueberries I freeze, for pancakes and baking this winter. I’ll
make room for this year’s crop next to the leftover container
from last year’s crop.
I reach for blueberries like I reach for the unneeded shirt that can’t
be passed up because it is such a bargain on sale. They are beautiful;
fat, blue, sweet — it would be wasteful to leave them to the chickens.
Even though evidence exists in the bottom of my freezer that I put up
too many last year, I will probably put up more this year.
And under my sink lurks my grandmother’s pickling crock, quietly
fermenting quarts of sauerkraut — even though in our entire married
life neither my husband nor I has ever, once, opened a jar of sauerkraut.
But cabbage freezes poorly, so there the extra heads sit, like a bargain
shirt at the back of the closet, fermenting.
In retrospect, I should have used the crock for currant wine.
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