First Red Currants

Groseilles

Red currants hold a special place in my heart as the perfect companion to peaches and nectarines and a dash of whipping cream in my mother’s summer fruit salads — preferably enjoyed in the cool shade of the garden, on a table with a cherry-patterned tablecloth secured by pretty star-shaped weight clips, should a little breeze pick up.

I also like that they are not your ordinary easy-to-like, easy-to-please berry. No. La groseille is startlingly red and pretty, but it is also super tart and a bit of a pain to prep, as you will need to carefully pluck each berry from its pale green stem. Some are advocates of the fork tine combing method, but this tends to crush a sizeable proportion of the yield so I prefer to gently pull at the clusters with the tips of my fingers, feeling each little bubble loosen its grip and detach itself, one after the other. But of course in the grand scheme of things, it is much less of a chore than, say, butchering a pig, and it is also considered good manners from whoever will eat the berries with you to help with the plucking.

Even at the time of the eating, the red currant won’t let itself be loved that easily: to enjoy the delicate texture that ruptures and explodes in your mouth (salmon roe made berry), to delight in the fresh burst of tart juice, you have to make do with the grainy seeds and their slightly puckery effect.

At the market in Gérardmer we sometimes buy the white variety — groseilles blanches — which are sweeter and less tart than the red, although for some reason I always expect the reverse to be true. On good years, when the weather has been favorable and red currants are aplenty, my mother will also make a delicious gelée de groseille. Jellies and preserves are in fact the most common use for this berry, and they are a specialty from Bar-le-Duc in the East of France, where they still use the 14th-century traditional method and seed the berries manually with a goose quill. The resulting translucent jelly is sold in teeny tiny jars for the price of gold, but the lady épépineuses have to pay their rent, too.

Since in my mind red currants are indissociably tied to summer vacations in the mountain, I hardly ever buy them in Paris. I did make an exception on Saturday morning at the market though: I was walking by the stall of a chicken and guinea fowl farmer from the South-West (trying to resist the intoxicating smell coming from his rotisserie), when I noticed that the guy also displayed a small crate of glowing groseilles. It is usually a very good sign when a specialized vendor also offers a small quantity of something entirely unrelated. I like the idea that the guy has a few berry bushes growing somewhere on his farm, just a little more than he and his family can use, and he thinks it might as well bring in a bit of extra cash. More often than not, these products will have the taste and quality of those things that grow spontaneously and without pressure. Or maybe I’m just a hopelessly romantic, fruit-patch deprived city girl.

And so I bought a little paper bag of groseilles – 250g for 3€. Since it is still somewhat early for nectarines and peaches, we just ate them on their own with a bit of maple syrup: this was Maxence’s idea and it turned out to be a surprisingly successful pairing.

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  • estelle2

    have you ever tried them on a ‘tartine’ of bread and butter, simply sprinkled with sugar? A pure delight!

  • laura

    ah currants – we had red and black ones growing on our farm when i was a child… if we asked our grandmother nicely, she would make my cousin and I each a little jar of jam…

  • dnash

    This brings back to me the taste of the fantastic groseille ice cream I had at Berthillon when I was in Paris this past March. I didn’t know what “groseille” meant, but I was quite taken with the bright red color of it. So I asked, and when the server told me “red currant” I thought that sounded great. So I got one scoop of chocolate, one of groseille – and was in ice cream heaven for the next 20 minutes, strolling the Ile St. Louis.

  • http://www.poco-cocoa.com Crystal

    I just love reading your posts, Clotilde…they make me dream of someday seeing Paris. And fresh currants, for that matter, since I’ve never seen them before. They look fabulous!

  • http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com/ sam

    It’s a shame. it doesn’t seem possible to gt red or white currants in the Bay area. Otherwise I’d be the first to make an English Summer pudding with them. As it is, I have to make the Summer Pudding without them. At least we are spoilt with lots of other good fruit in CA.

  • http://www.xanga.com/chef_kayenne kayenne

    i love tart fruits… we don’t get fresh currants here though. cranberries are rare too. once i did see a frozen tub of cranberries and blueberries. fresh ones, only in fancy hotels. quite expensive, but i love berries.

  • http://www.davidlebovitz.com David

    You can get fresh red, white, and black currants in season at Monterey Market in Berkeley, and perhaps at the Berkeley Bowl as well, in the SF Bay Area.

  • http://www.epicurien.be Laurent

    have you ever tried timarisu with those red “groseille”? You can also realize incredible liquors especially with black cassis… hmmm

    I also love this fruit for his look… it’s so incredibly beautifull and you can’t manage to make a wonderfull photography when you do shoot it. I used those fruits also as one on the main picture of my blog

  • john

    Laurent–

    it’s “tiramisu.” Basically the same as “tire-moi dessus”–though why a dessert should be called “lift me up” is something I can’t answer.

  • http://www.pumpkinfrodo.blogspot.com aditi

    i loved your pictures of the red currants. They are plentiful this season in Den Bosch (NL) where i live – in the farmer’s market. They are so pretty – and yummy! i recently cooked them with some cognac, and then set them with some orange jelly. It was the prettiest dessert ever!

  • Amy

    My brother and I ate these by the handful right off of the bushes while sitting cross-legged in the grass of our grandparents’ yard as children in Michigan. Try as we all have, we haven’t been able to grow them in Southern California. This is one of my fondest memories…always food-related, of course! (grin) I have seen them once or twice at Whole Foods. They were tremendously expensive – I had to have them.

  • http://www.nickthefoodie.com/ The Foodie

    Great post on groseilles. We were just in Paris and discovered how amazing these are…Interested what you think about my street food guide to the city.

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