Sunday, July 13, 2008

Currants are Current

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         The brief season of currants, one of summer’s sparkling gems, is here. Hurry! Like summer, they always come to a seemingly premature end. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Indeed, currants vie with sour cherries for summer’s most ephemeral (and beautiful) fruit. It’s something about  July, it seems, the most poignant of summer months. The best weather, the best food, sun and tastes so intense that, as with all perfect moments, their enjoyment is accompanied by a vague sense of mortal dread: this cannot last. Never am I so keenly aware of life’s brief stroke across the universe than when I am eating July-only fruit outside on a blindingly bright July day. We are enjoying the precious gift of a run of these quintessential summer days as I write, so I am particularly happy, and therefore particularly wistful, right deer
But lest you think I am waxing morbid: To borrow and modify a turn of phrase, eating well is the best revenge. When you eat currants, or sour cherries, or peak corn or tomatoes, you engage directly with the endless mysteries of nature and human experience. Our world, concentrated in a transparent red berry—the wisdom of real food.
And if you are skeptical about the abstract Eastern notion of wisdom as joy, consider the concrete reality of finding them dirt cheap—a bargain found produces its own kind of exhaltation. The fruit lady here sells them for an astonishing $3.00 a pint. She seems not to know, or to care (perhaps she is enlightened?), that ¼ pint, roughly a handful, can run you $6.50 in the supermarket—if you can find them. And she sells not only red but also black and sometimes pinky-white currants. All are wonderful, but I prefer the red. I like their glistening color and their classic currant flavor and balanced sweet-tartness. The slightly less-acid whites are my second choice, and the black last—they do make a fine jelly or sauce, but they don’t have the same clarity and brightness. But of course, if that’s what you can find, buy them.
In last last year’s post on currants and sour cherries I mentioned that currants are high in pectin. This is one of several reasons why it makes superior jelly, but also why it thickens nicely without a lot of added starch. In the following recipe for a member of that venerable genre, the breakfast cake, a single tablespoon of flour combines with butter and the fruit to create just the right texture to go with the cakey topping.
Currant and Cardamom Buckle
Delicious for breakfast or a homey dessert, this combination of buttery cake with tart saucy fruit goes together quickly. Plan to eat this the day you make it—preferably while it is still warm. Serves 6.
1 pint red currantsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
¼ lb (stick) unsalted butter
1 1/3 plus 1 T flour
2/3 cup plus 1 T sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 tea baking powder
¼ tea cardamom, or a little more to taste
Big pinch salt
Preheat the oven to 375 F. While it is preheating, put the butter into an 8” square pan and put it into the oven to melt. Slosh it around every minute or so, and don’t forget about it or it will brown.
Toss the currants with the tablespoon of flour. When the butter has melted, dump the currants into the pan.
Combine all the dry ingredients and then whisk in the milk just until well-combined. The batter will be thick and will foam up a bit. Pour it over the currants; it should cover the currants easily, but you can help it a little with a spatula if needed. Sprinkle the tablespoon of sugar over the top.
Bake for about 35 minutes, until golden and a toothpick in the center comes out clean—plunge it straight down in the middle to make sure. Cool 10 minutes on a rack. Serve in bowls with a little heavy cream poured over.


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