White Imperial Currant

Ark of taste
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Ribes are a very diverse genus, with over 100 different varieties that differ in plant size, form, fruit flavor, shape, texture, color, structure, and productivity. Around 50 of those varieties are known as Gooseberries, and the rest are called Currants, The small round berries vary in flavor and sweetness, the spectrums of sweet and tart. Red and white varieties are sprightly and refreshing and are often used fresh, like in sauces. The black varieties can be a bit more robust, sweet tart, aromatic, and resin-y, and are often processed, like for juices and jellies. Although tart, they can even be enjoyed out of hand.

The White Imperial is the best in quality of all currants. The flavor is rich, almost sweet and the texture is juicy and tender, a choice dessert fruit. It’s history connected to S. D.Willard.
Through the early 1900s, Black and Red currants were widely grown in the US and Canada. But the fate of the currants took a turn for the worse when a fungus that caused White Pine Blister Rust (Cronatium ribicola) was imported to the New World on infected pine seedlings. This fungus requires two alternating hosts in order to complete its life cycle: any of several 5 needle pines including the White Pine, and any susceptible genotype of ribes.

By 1911, the disease had been reported in most of the Northeast. The Federal government issued a Quarantine Act in the 1920s against the importation and cultivation of ribes plants. The program continued into the 1940s, but the Federal quarantine was rescinded in 1966, leaving individual states to maintain or eliminate ribes restrictions. Since then, many states have rescinded or modified their restrictions, because wild ribes are widespread, and cultivar gooseberries and red/white currants are not very susceptible and thus are poor disease hosts.

In New York, Greg Quinn of Walnut Grove Farm in the Hudson Valley championed the restoration of currant production. Quinn researched the science behind the ban, finding fault. With the support of the Cornell Cooperative Extension and $80,000 in funding from Grow New York and Northeast SARE, he ran a feasibility study on restarting production in the region, and used the positive conclusions to convince several senators to sponsor a bill to overturn the state currant ban.

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