Yesterday, while standing in our orchard and staring at the bunches of red currants, I made myself think about what I could do with them. I thought about the oatmeal that I'd tried to cook a few days earlier, which was full of nuts and berries, but which didn't have any spices or flavours which liked each other.
I stared at the red currants and thought about how most of the spices I used in winter didn't really apply here, since red currants had such a fresh flavour, whereas anything in my pantry was stale and old. I thought about the herbs growing in my garden that might work with red currants. I thought about the mint on the other side of the house, and the lemon thyme growing right next to the bush.
I thought about how mint is so often used in dishes with berries, and that it might compliment the sharp tang of the red currants. How the lemon thyme would add some delicate depth to the brutal sharpness of the currants and mint.
I thought about the black raspberries that I had picked earlier in the day, and how they would add a sweeter note than any of the other ingredients. I thought about sweetness, and raisins came to mind. I thought that raisins might add an odd texture, possibly, but that they would create focal points of sweet whereas the black raspberries would end up dispersing their sweetness throughout the dish.
I thought of raisins and I thought of cinnamon. I remembered how, the week before, me and my cousin had made a wonderful custardy cake that used only a hint of cinnamon for flavour, so that it ended up being light and refreshing, instead of the heavy warmth that comes from how we use cinnamon in the winter.
I thought about how all of these ingredients would be delightful in a rice pudding. Then I thought that all I had was oats. I about how I was making a meal rather than a dessert, so I should use the oats. I still think that all these ingredients would be just magical in a rice pudding for dessert, but I also know that they have a wonderful flavour as a meal with oats.
You'll notice all the flavours in exactly the same order at I thought about them above, one after another. Every bite taken brings a different note; red currant, mint, lemon thyme, black raspberries, raisins, cinnamon. It's weird but it works, like a group of friends who are all so different but who function together in the most natural way. Nothing clashes, but everything has something distinct to give.
Red Currant and Mint Oatmeal
1/3 cup oats
1 tsp powdered milk
1 tbs butter
1 1/2 tbs syrup
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp chopped mint leaves
1 tsp lemon thyme leaves
1/4 cup whole red currants
1/4 cup blackcaps or chopped raspberries
1/4 cup raisins
a pinch of salt
Combine all the ingredients in a medium pot, and just barely cover with water. Cook on low heat until the currants have popped open and the oats have reached a texture that you're pleased with.
Top with a drizzle of cream and enjoy with some lemonade.
Red Currants - Red currants, along with black and white, are from all over Europe. It's not known for sure exactly when currants were imported from Europe, but until the 1900s they had been a popular berry.
In the early 1900s, it was discovered that currants had the ability to transmit a rust disease to large swaths of white pines, an important tree for the logging industry. In Europe, pines were rarely affected by the currants as they'd developed an immunity to the rust, but American pines had never encountered the fungus, making it an easy target.
In response to the death of hundreds of pine trees, currants were banned as a crop in America at the start of the 1900s, effectively removing the berry from our attention span for the past century. For about a decade now though currants are beginning to come back as a crop thanks to the removal of the ban in several prime states.
Black Raspberries - Black raspberries are actually native to North America, a refreshing change considering just how many foods originated in other countries.
Black raspberries and normal raspberries are not the same plant, since red raspberries are thought to have originated in Eastern Asia, although it is speculated that perhaps blackcaps were brought over by humans on the land bridge from Asia, and that is how they were introduced to America.
Black raspberries, for those who aren't familiar, are smaller and seedier than store-bought raspberries, since they haven't been cultivated to the same degree. Despite the seeds and size, a healthy bramble can produce a satisfying quantity of berries, and the flavour far surpasses the watery tart fruit you find in the grocery store.