Currant Power

For those of us who appreciate fresh food, summer is an amazing time of year when nature’s bounty is starting to really shine. For gardeners and farmers it is especially joyful when produce you have been growing becomes ready. In our back garden we have planted a range of edible plants using principles of permaculture. This means we are trying to get the highest yield of food and happiness for the least amount of work with the least negative impact to the planet. We grow organically, use recycled materials, adopt ‘no dig’ gardening and grow a multitude of crops at different layers known as stacking. Two of the things I’ve just harvested which are so delicious are the red and black currants. Our currant bushes grow above herbs such as marjoram and mint and below the fruit trees in our permaculture garden. We only have space for several bushes and we really love them, so it is fortunate that someone down the road sells them from the garden gate, and just 60p a punnet! For my husband's birthday party I wanted to make him a special cake, and with the currants in season decided to get fruity. I have to say the cake was delicious, and I share the recipe today. Many people overlook the humble currant due to its tart taste but it is a powerhouse of nutrients. So what makes these little fruits so good for you? Black currant fruits have been used in Asian and European traditional medicine for the treatment of a variety of diseases. They were used as early as the 11th century in the monastic gardens. In the 16th century German herbalists recommended their use for gall and bladder stones as well as liver disorders, and as a treatment for coughs and lung complaints. Currants are high in vitamin C making them good for your immune system. In fact they have 4 times more vitamin C than oranges according to a study by Cornell University. Having sufficient amounts of vitamin C has also been reported to help reduce the effects of allergies such as hay fever, so even better to take at this time of year. The currant works well as a gentle laxative too, so if you have trouble keeping regular now's the time to start eating them. The black currant contains anthocyanins, which is a powerful antioxidant that gives the blackcurrant its colour. The darker it is the more health giving benefits you get from this powerful nutrient. They also contain other antioxidants such as flavonoids and polyphenolics. A recent study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry looked at the antioxidant values of 24 fruits and blackcurrants came out at the top. Black currant extract is one of the top berry extracts for various health promoting properties. These include free radical scavenging, immune regulation, antimicrobial, anti inflammatory actions, cancer fighting properties and reduction of cardiovascular diseases. Antioxidants are thought to protect the body against the action of free radicals, which are produced by the body’s own metabolic processes and also enter the body from the many toxins in our environment. Free radicals can cause tissue damage. The body has it’s own defense mechanisms against free radical damage but antioxidants aid the body’s natural defense systems. Currants are an easy crop to grow and don’t take up much space. They work well in pots too so get yourself a bush and start to boost yourself with currant power. They are so versatile too; I just made a delicious smoothie with them, and they are great thrown into salads and stir-fries. If someone grows them locally you can always stock-pile them in your freezer and use them to make an ice cold smoothie if the weather stays hot. In the mean time, here is a recipe for the Berry Tart I made for Giles’ birthday. 
 Currant & Berry Tart Base 1 ½ cups oats 1 cup cashew nuts 1 cup dates 4 Tbs water Topping ½ punnet of red currants ½ punnet of black currants 8 strawberries Blend the base ingredients and then add the water to make a dough like mixture. Press this flat into a pie dish and place in the oven at 160 for 15 mins. Place topping ingredients into the blender and whizz till mixed. Scoop on top of base and decorate with a few strawberries and whole currants. Place in the fridge and serve chilled.

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copyright Juliette Bryant