Sour Cream Currant Pie

We have a currant bush in our backyard. Last year the birds got to the currants before we did, but this year the grapes were hiding the berries pretty well, so we were able to harvest them.

I noticed them on a Monday night in mid-June as I was watering my garden. It was about 7pm, and Paisley (age 9) and Cosie (age 7) were about to get ready for bed. I told them I had a job I needed help with, so after some grumbling they got their shoes on and came outside with me. We spent the next half hour or so picking red currants. We had fun picking the berries together and finding “jackpots” hidden under branches and grape leaves that had encroached on the currant bush. Currants aren’t particularly tasty — they have lots of seeds and are quite tart.

We took our berries inside and gave them a quick rinse. I measured them and saw that we had 4 cups from our one, sickly bush (it has some kind of borer in it).

I was trying to decide what to do with all these currants, and ultimate chose to make pie. I actually thought what we had were gooseberries, so a quick search brought me to two highly rated gooseberry recipes: One was a straight gooseberry pie and the other was a Sour Cream Gooseberry Pie.

It turns out that currants can replace gooseberries just fine in a pie. The girls really wanted to help make it, even though it was getting rather late. So upon discovering that we were out of tapioca, which was used to thicken the regular pie, I determined we would make Sour Cream Currant Pie.

I had never made a pie like this from scratch before, and I had never actually eaten currant pie, so I thought this would be interesting.

I had never actually made pie crust either, but it was pretty easy. I used half of this recipe, but it didn’t quite make enough. Here is the recipe I’ll use next time (which will make the right amount):

Pie Crust

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup, 1 tablespoon butter (or shortening)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup water
  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, shortening, sugar, and salt. Blend together until crumbly.
  2. In a small bowl, mix egg with water. Then blend into flour mixture. Chill in refrigerator until ready to use.
  3. When ready to use, flatten dough using flour to prevent from sticking. Place dough in pie as desired.

While one of my daughters was working on that, I had the other work on the pie filling. The ripe currants worked really well as they were fairly mushy but still sweet enough. We used this recipe, but modified it with extra currants:

Sour Cream Currant Pie

  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups currants
  • A little less than 1 cup sugar (but depends how sweet your currants are)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pie crust (see above)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a medium bowl, gently stir together the currants and sugar. Let some of the currants get smashed and keep others whole. Let stand for 15 minutes. Press one of the pie crusts into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch pie plate.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Mix in the sour cream, eggs and vanilla. Add the currant and sugar mixture, and stir to coat evenly. Spoon into the pie crust, and place the second crust over the top. Crimp the edges to seal, and cut some decorative slits in the top to vent steam.
  3. Bake for 55 minutes in the preheated oven.
  4. Can be eaten hot, or refrigerated (or both!).

Even though my Sour Cream Currant Pie wasn’t completed until about 11pm, I had to try a little slice with ice cream. It was delicious! I then ate it for lunch for the next few days since my wife is not a fan of pies.

Fortunately I have enough currants in the freezer for another pie once I’m ready. I’m looking forward to it!

Growing Strawberries

We freed up a spot in our yard last year and I decided that it would be nice to start growing strawberries. I went ahead and ordered two varieties from Gurneys: Ozark Beauty (25 plants) and Gurney Whopper (10 plants).

The plants arrived in mid March. Unfortunately I was really busy with work at the time, so one night I got home at about 8pm, after dark, and decided to plant them. I put on a head lamp and took a bit over an hour to plant ~35 plants in the drizzling rain. Strawberries can be planted as soon as the soil is workable in the spring. They are also quite hardy. We had several weeks of ~20 degree high temperatures this winter and my strawberries all survived without any problems.

I planted most of my plants on a mound, but not all 35 plants would fit, so I planted 12 or so plants on the south side of a fence under my grape trellis. My grapes aren’t big enough to provide any real shade yet, so all the strawberries are in full sun.

The strawberries almost all survived at first. I got a few strawberries the first season, but nothing significant and I pinched off most of the blossoms so that the roots would develop. The plants quickly grew and started spreading. However, when the heat of July and August hit I found that my sprinklers didn’t cover the top of the mound very well. I lost about two thirds of the plants on the mound. To my surprise, the backup strawberries I planted on the south side of my fence really prospered. As of the first few days of June this year, I have picked at least 15 cups of strawberries, and there are still plenty on the way. It turns out strawberries need lots of sun, but also plenty of water so they don’t burn up.

My strawberries yielded a nice harvest even though I had picked the day before!

One thing that I’ve learned about homegrown strawberries is that they are way juicier and sweeter than store bought. When you cut into a homegrown strawberry, it is often red/pink all the way to the core. When you cut into a store bought strawberry (even a very red one) it is usually white in the middle. I assume that this is because the shipping time requires retail strawberries to be picked prematurely, while my homegrown strawberries can ripen on the vine. It may also be due to the variety.

Here’s a view of one store bought strawberry (on the left) and two homegrown strawberries (on the right). You can see that they’re similar in size. The middle (homegrown) strawberry is slightly more pink on the outside than the left (store bought) strawberry, while the right (homegrown) strawberry is the most red.

Homegrown vs Store Bought Strawberries - Top

But look at the difference when I cut into them! See how much more white the store bought strawberry is in its center, even though it was more red than one of the homegrown strawberries? This has been my experience about 95% of the time with homegrown vs store bought strawberries. Note how red the homegrown strawberry on the right is.

 

Homegrown vs Store Bought  Strawberries - Cross Cut

Homegrown strawberries can be much smaller than store bought. This can be attributable to the varieties used. My Ozarks are pretty small (but tasty!) but my Gurney Whoppers are actually about the same size as store bought. Strawberry size also decreases with the age of the plants. It generally takes 3-4 years and the soil and plants need to be rejuvenated.

You can encourage strawberry growth by limiting the number of shoots that the plants send off (just pluck off the shoots before they root). It is also good to compost around the plants and add 10-10-10 fertilizer. As I mentioned above, strawberries need lots of sun and need to be watered regularly (I water mine the same as I water my grass).

Finally, my number one strawberry enemy is the birds. They love strawberries. I actually expected them to be pretty hard on my strawberries since they have decimated my blackberries, blueberries, and peas (yes, peas) in past years. Interestingly, I haven’t used nets this year and birds have only eaten <10% of my berries. If that continues to be the case, then I am willing to share (or at least I’m more willing to share than to bother with nets). It seems that the large strawberry plants hide a lot of the berries from the birds’ sight. I also scare them away whenever I can. Robins seem to be the main culprit in my yard.

Hardy Kiwi – Actinidia arguta

After looking through this year’s Burgess catalog, I was really intrigued by the Hardy Kiwi for sale. I haven’t been gardening for too long, but so far I’ve only heard of one person trying to grow Kiwi in Idaho, and that was my Uncle Steve. He mentioned it in passing one time, and he stated that his attempt failed. Nevertheless, I figured that for ~$14 for two female and one male kiwi plants, it would be worth a try. I have some spare room along one of the fences in my backyard and I’ve been looking for something fun to plant there.

In this post, I just want to write down some notes from the research I’ve done about Hardy Kiwi. It’s still winter, so it will be a while before I plant anything and maybe a couple years before I actually harvest anything (assuming it survives).

Hardy Kiwi’s can supposedly grow in Zones 4-10. They bear fruit that is much smaller than a commercial kiwi, but is also sweeter and tastier. Hardy Kiwi needs about 150 no-frost days to yield fruit. There’s about a 50% probability of this in my area near Boise, Idaho, but the fruit can also finish ripening in the fridge after picking it, so there’s some wiggle room. Hardy Kiwis usually ripen in October. Also, kiwi vines can endure a gradual (but not a not sudden) fall frost. NOAA has a great site to look up frost information for your area.

Hardy Kiwi is much smaller than commercial kiwi (Hayward)

Kiwis are dioecious, meaning that each plant is either male or female. In order for the female to bear fruit, it needs a male nearby to pollinate it. Most information I’ve found says that you need one male for every nine females for proper pollination. I’ve decided to purchase one male and two females just because I don’t have room for much more that that. Besides, at this point I want to see if they actually survive. I’ve seen information indicating that the plants will bear fruit anywhere from 2-4 years after harvest, with maturity around 5 years.

Hardy Kiwi’s are said to grow similar to grapes. They grow as a vine and climb up trees and other sturdy objects. The Burgess catalog says that kiwis can grow as much as 5″ per day in optimal conditions. Vines can grow as much as 20′ in a single season. The plants can eventually get 40′ long. A trellis or something similar is required to grow and harvest the fruit. I plan on building a fairly small trellis, and being fairly aggressive in pruning. Hardy Kiwi should be pruned two or three times during the growing season and once during the winter to encourage fruit production.

At this point, I am unsure exactly where to plant. Various sources say that kiwis should be planted on a north side so that the winter lasts a little longer (more shade in spring) and the vines don’t jump the gun before the last frost. I plan on planting on the north side of a fence, so this isn’t an issue. What I’m more unsure of is how much sun they need. I’ve read some sources that say full son is fine; however, most people give this same information for blueberries, and I found that to be very wrong in Idaho where summers are hot (105F+ max) and dry. I’m thinking I will plant the hardy kiwis close enough to a tree to get some afternoon shade, which works best for the blueberries I’ve experimented with.

Hardy Kiwi is susceptible to root rot, so mix in organic matter when planting and plant in well-drained soil. Soil pH should be 5.5-7.0. Kiwis are also very sensitive to fertilizer, so avoid fertilizing them at planting. After a year, minimal amounts of fertilizer may be applied.

Hardy Kiwi can be propagated using cuttings. Both hardwood and softwood cuttings work, but softwood cuttings work better. Take hardwood cuttings during the winter when the plants are dormant. Take softwood cuttings in July. You can also plant the seeds from the fruit, but half will be male and half female and you won’t know which is which when you plant it. Kiwis can bear in two years from cuttings and in three years from seeds.

 

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