Currant Syrup, Switchel, and Gooseberry-Black Cap Pie

July 15, 2014 · 3 comments

honey sweetened currant syrup // Wayward Spark

As promised (better late than never), I’m going to talk a little about what I did with all those beautiful Ribes specimens from the Germplasm Repository.

Last year, I cooked up a heckuva lot of jam and jelly, and though I have so far made a pretty impressive effort to eat and give away a fair amount of my 2013 stash, I still have quite a bit left. When faced with a big ol’ bowl of weird and wonderful fruits a couple weeks ago, I decided that I didn’t really want to make it into jam. Instead, I turned toward beverages and then pie, like you do.

(If you are interested in making currant jam, my go-to preserver, David Lebovitz, has recipes for red currant jam and black currant jam.)

black currants

I did up the black currants first using this method:

Black Currant Liquid Concentrate

Rinse the fruit.

Throw it in a pot with a splash of water, and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook the fruit until the skins burst, about 10 minutes.

Run the mixture through a basic food mill to remove the stems, skins, and some of the seeds.

Let the liquid cool down a bit, and then add honey to taste. (Cooling off the liquid before adding the sweetener preserves the raw-ness of the honey.)

honey sweetened black currant syrup // Wayward Spark

I’ve never tasted Ribena, a black currant-based beverage popular in the UK, Canada, and other countries, but Henry and I  have been really enjoying our homemade black currant drink. It’s just black currant concentrate mixed with water, but somehow the tartness of the black currants makes it a thirst-quenching powerhouse.

Simply add 1/2 to 1 cup of black currant liquid concentrate to a half-gallon jar and fill the rest with cold water. Top with a water-tight lid and give the mixture a good shake. Strain into glasses with or without ice, and enjoy immediately.

red currants // Wayward Spark

I did up the red currants and white/pink currants the same way as the black currants, but the end syrup wasn’t nearly as thick nor quite so seedy as the black currant concentrate.

honey sweetened red currant syrup // Wayward Sparkwhite currants // Wayward Sparkhoney sweetened white currant syrup // Wayward Sparkred currant switchel recipe // Wayward Spark

Our new favorite way to consume the red and white currant syrup is in a spin on the American traditional beverage called switchel. Switchel is a drink with wide variability, but it usually contains some kind of vinegar (usually cider vinegar), some kind of sweetener (usually molasses or honey), and ginger (either fresh or ground).

This summer, we’ve been trying keep a jar of switchel mixture in the fridge at all times for easy refreshment. The Kitchn has a basic switchl recipe here, but here’s our take:

Red Currant Switchel

fresh ginger
cider vinegar
red currant concentrate (optional)
lemon wedges for garnish (optional)

Use a microplane grater to grate a couple tablespoons of fresh ginger (no need to peel it first) into a bowl. Add the grated ginger, several tablespoons of honey, and 1/2 to 1 cup of cider vinegar to a glass jar. Top the jar with a water-tight lid, and give it a good shake. Let this mixture sit in the refrigerator for at least two hours or up to two weeks.

To mix a switchel drink, spoon a few tablespoons of the switchel mixture and a few tablespoons of red currant concentrate (if desired) into a quart jar and fill it the rest of the way up with water. Top it with a water-tight lid, and give it a good shake. Taste it to see if it needs more switchel mixture, red currant concentrate, vinegar, honey, or water. Strain the liquid into ice-filled glasses. Garnish with lemon wedges if desired. Serve and enjoy.

gooseberries // Wayward Spark

black caps // Wayward Spark

Shortly after my visit to the Germplasm Repository, I made another trip out to Red Barn Berry Farm to pick boysenberries and other blackberry crosses to freeze for winter pies, jams, and such. At the U-pick farm, there was a short row of black cap canes that was loaded with fruit. It took a good long while to pick a whole bowl full because they’re so small, but the reward was pretty sweet.

black caps // Wayward Sparkgooseberry-blackcap pie // Wayward Spark

I decided that the perfect way to use up the rest of the gooseberries from the Germplasm Repository and the über-special black caps was to make a colossal deep-dish, lattice-topped, barbecue-baked skillet pie. The result was a sweet-tart mess of fruity, buttery-crusted goodness.

Gooseberry-Black Cap Skillet Pie Baked in a Barbecue

a batch of double-crust pie dough (I will forever and always use Heidi Swanson/Chez Pim’s Flakey Rye Crust.)
gooseberries, de-stemmed and rinsed
black caps, rinsed
brown sugar
white flour
runny apricot jam (optional)

Preheat the barbecue with several fire brick on the grill and preferably this Lodge cast iron pizza pan or other insulating device on top. (Photo of this arrangement here.)

Roll out the bottom crust of pie dough and line a cast iron skillet with it.

In a large bowl, stir together gooseberries, black caps, a healthy dose of brown sugar, and a few tablespoons of flour. Dump the mixture into the bottom crust. There should be enough filling so that it’s mounded up over the edge of the skillet in the middle.

Roll out and arrange the top crust in a lattice (optional). (Yossy has a good latttice-crust tutorial here.) Brush the top crust with runny apricot jam for extra browning if desired.

Load the skillet into the preheated barbecue. Bake on medium for about an hour until the pie juices start to run over. If you basted the crust with apricot jam, it will darken up fairly quickly, but that’s just the sugars caramelizing not the crust burning, so don’t worry unless things start to smell bad.

Cool, serve, and enjoy.

gooseberry-black cap pie // Wayward Spark


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Eileen July 15, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I am super jealous of all that beautiful fruit! We barely ever see black raspberries here, but when we do…oh man. There aren’t ever enough for a pie, because they all vanish mysteriously on the way home from the farmer’s market. :)


EZ July 15, 2014 at 8:12 pm

It’s hard to get proper fruit out in the desert…maybe the PNW will win me over if I ever visit, but I really dislike snow…but I have just made some switchel mix (although I don’t have currants and only have ground ginger) and I’m excited to try it!


Thomas July 16, 2014 at 7:59 am

I just found your blog through the Etsy blog and having read a few of your posts am absolutely hooked! Your family has something really special going on. Many of us only dream about living a more simple and self-sufficient life (I do it everyday during my daily work commute into the city), but not many of us can break free from the rat race. Keep up the good work!

P.S. – My old neighbor from Poland used to make fresh black currant jam simply by crushing black currants with sugar and then allowing it to sit until most of the sugar has dissolved. Then a quick whiz in blender/food processor and that was it. It was the best currant jam I’d ever tasted, especially since the flavor wasn’t altered through the cooking process. It still lasts for ages in the fridge. She also thought it was better for you since the natural yeasts on the berries aren’t destroyed by cooking.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: