A Wealth of Health

Posted by CHRISTINE ZULKOSKY via http://peteespie.com/

Petee’s Pie Company

Black Currants: The Super Fruit You Didn’t Know You Were Missing

It’s pretty unusual to haphazardly google a particular berry and fall down a rabbit hole of compelling information. I was expecting to uncover some health benefits, sure, but nothing nearly as impressive as what black currants have to offer. Not only are they crazy good for you, but shockingly, black currants were outlawed in the U.S. for almost 100 years. That is, until Greg Quinn of CurrantC (Petee’s black currant supplier) single handedly fought to change the law and won. These berries have more drama and intrigue than your average fruit, I can assure you.

I knew most people in the U.S. were unfamiliar with black currants, but I had no idea why. In my experience, it’s not often that we devote time to investigating why we don’t know something. I myself was only introduced to the berries when they showed up on Petee’s menu last January in the Black Currant pie and Black Currant Linzer cookies. Black currants have a bold tart flavor, one that is both captivating and truly unique. Their tartness pairs beautifully with Petee’s flaky buttery crust, and yields a flavor combination unlike anything else. As one of Petee’s winter menu flavors, they were gone by spring, and I’ve been waiting eagerly for them to return ever since.

When I heard it was time for black currant once again, I knew I needed to learn more about this relatively unknown berry with a unique flavor profile– if for no reason other than to make a compelling argument when I push the pie on my friends and family. Black currants are impressive from the moment you taste them, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they’re equally as impressive from the moment you Google them. A simple search boasts the outstanding health benefits of the berries. They have four times as much vitamin C as oranges, double the antioxidants of blueberries, and more potassium than bananas. It would not be outlandish to label black currants a superfruit, so why are Americans so unfamiliar with them?

The answer became poignantly clear when I visited the CurrantC website to learn more about Petee’s black currant supplier. Not only is CurrantC the only dedicated currant nursery in the country, but black currants had been outlawed by congress in 1911 and CurrantC’s owner, Greg Quinn, is responsible for overturning the ban in 2003, almost 100 years after the berries had disappeared from the American diet. At this point I had become deeply invested in the black currant saga, and I decided to reach out to Quinn myself to hear the full story.

It doesn’t take long to realize that Greg Quinn is as hardworking and inventive as he is kind. He seems to have lived many lives, and he first discovered black currants when he noticed their bushes growing behind the restaurant he was cooking for in Germany. He was taken aback by how fun their tart flavor is to manipulate and experiment with. When he and his partner, Carolyn Blackwood, bought a Hudson Valley farm previously used for dairy in 1999, he knew he wanted to reinvent it as a crop farm because of his horticulture background (Quinn taught at the New York Botanical Garden for 20 years, he’s also written 10 children’s books, by the way).

In his TEDx talk, Quinn says, “to look for a good idea, look where no one else is looking.” No one was looking for black currants. When he learned that they were illegal to grow in the U.S. due to outdated legislature, he made it his mission to change the law. The ban was initially instated because plant pathologists believed black currant bushes were contributing to the spread of a disease that kills white pine trees. Quinn did his research, and approached Cornell University experts who agreed that the science was outdated and the ban no longer necessary.

Quinn began driving to Albany once a week, every week for months trying to persuade senators to help him change the law (the ban had been kicked to state jurisdiction in the 60’s). He says he’s not sure if his memory is playing tricks on him, but he remembers doors closing and locks clicking behind him as he walked through the halls. He brought pastries and tried to bribe secretaries to sneak him in if someone had a cancellation. It’s safe to say no one was interested, and he became known as the “nutty currant guy.” Until one day he got a call from a WSJ reporter, who published a front-page article about Quinn and his currants… opposing the change in legislation. Luckily, any press is good press, and Quinn received a call the very next day from a NYS senator who was ready to help. Within 6 months, the new bill passed unanimously and became a law. Currants for everybody!

Since the ban was lifted, Quinn has been growing currants on his farm in the Hudson Valley and distributing them nationwide. He is still the only dedicated currant nursery in the country, but he hopes to change that. He has been going back and forth to Poland, the world’s largest black currant grower, and negotiating with them to represent their varieties in the U.S. Remember when I said he was hardworking? He now has the exclusive rights to Polish black currant varieties in North America, and he hopes the market for currants will grow once those patented varieties can be propagated and sold.

After speaking with Greg Quinn, hearing his passion for the project, and tasting how delicious the berries are, it’s impossible not to root for team black currant. Plus, the health benefits truly are astounding. Not only do currants have tons of vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants, but they are also sources of iron, calcium, manganese, and magnesium. The nutrients found in currants can help boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, and clinical studies have found that the berries even improve eye function.

Come and see for yourself. CurrantC black currants are the star of Petee’s Black Currant pie and Black Currant Linzer cookies, both of which combine tart and sweet flavors in a delectable way. These berries are so good that Petee even added dried black currants to her mince filling for the first time ever this year, which gave it deeper color and complexity. She says it’s the best mince yet, and she would know.