Yesterday dawned a sprinkly day out here in the bump of western Minnesota. A good day to relax a bit after a couple hard days of cutting small trees, pulling odd bits of chicken wire, tomato cages, rocks, and fencing out of the weeds, and string-trimming clear various patches of ground around the house and yard.
The red currants are ripening alongside the chicken coop–a jungle of big bushes smothered in red berries. So far, the birds haven’t really attacked them, so I suited up in long pants, socks, boots, and a long-sleeved shirt. About the time I stepped out the door, it decided to rain in earnest.
The first thing I learned about red currant-picking was to scale down the size of the vessel you think you’re going to fill. I went out with my biggest stockpot and soon realized there’d be more rainwater in there than berries. But I did manage to get about 3/4 cup clean-picked (no stems) before deciding it was enough for now.
And then I had to figure out what to do with them. It certainly wasn’t enough for a batch of jelly. I didn’t feel like making muffins or scones. So, I decided to experiment.
My lemon basil needed cutting back from the flower stage, so I grabbed some of that, and I simmered the currants and basil leaves with a tiny amount of water and about 1/3 cup sugar. I threw in a little splash of white wine because it was there. Twenty minutes later, I strained the fruit mixture through a fine sieve and called it good.
It tastes a little like Twinings Four Red Fruits tea, only sweeter and thicker, of course. Yummy. I drizzled some over roasted veggies last night, and John is talking about finding some salmon to use it with. Next time, I’ll make more–maybe enough to do it as a jelly. There are a lot of currants left in that jungle.
Fresh basil (whether sweet or lemon or another variety) is a great complement to a lot of fruits. If this sounds weird to you, consider that basil is considered a natural complement to tomatoes–which are a tangy-sweet fruit even if we treat them & eat them like a vegetable most of the time.
The success of the red currant-lemon basil syrup inspired me to look at other interesting fruit-basil pairings, and since I just happened to have a random ripe mango sitting in my kitchen, I figured why not try something with that?
I don’t buy mangoes often. They’re obviously not local, and because of that, they’re often not of very good quality by the time they make their long journey up here. But, I had a weak moment in the grocery store with my son, and when he asked for one, I thought, at least he’s asking for something healthy, and bought it.
The mango has been sitting in a bowl on the kitchen island ever since (a couple of weeks), and it finally started to feel soft enough to use–which usually means half of it is rotten. But, I peeled it and it wasn’t too bad. I always start out thinking I’m going to slice a mango in a completely civilized manner and then end up squashing and squeezing the super-ripe flesh off the pit. Oh, well.
I added a sprinkle of sugar, a few drops of vanilla extract, and some slivered sweet basil leaves, then immersion-blended the pulpy mass to a smoother consistency. We had it over peach ice cream, and it was fantastic. There was a little left over, and I couldn’t find a small enough storage container to justify taking space in the fridge, so I just hid out in the kitchen and gobbled the rest with a spoon.
When I went down to shut the “girls” into the coop last night, I decided to see if they like currants, too. Several fruit-laden branches have pushed their way into the enclosed run, and I popped a few berries off to see what would happen. It only took a couple before all the hens were in a mad rush to grab the gleaming red berries as they fell. Guess it’s good they can’t get to the rest of the patch!