1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Currant

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CURRANT. (1) The dried seedless fruit of a variety of the grape-vine, Vitis vinifera, cultivated principally in Zante, Cephalonia and Ithaca, and near Patras, in the Morea (see Greece). Currants were brought originally from Corinth, whence their name; in the 13th and 14th centuries they were known as raisins de Corauntz. In the Ionian Islands the currant-vine is grown on the sides of the lower hills, or in the valleys, the grape-vine occupying the higher and less open and rich ground. Gypseous marls, or calcareous marls containing a little gypsum, are preferred to limestone soils, as they allow of deep penetration of the roots of the vines. The most favourable situations are those where a good supply of water can be obtained for the irrigation of the plantations. This is carried on from the end of October to the close of the year, after which all that is necessary is to keep the ground moist. The vines are planted in rows 3 or 4 ft. apart. Propagation is effected by grafting on stocks of the grape-vine, or by planting out in spring the young, vigorous shoots obtained at the end of the previous year from old currant-vines that have been cut away below the ground. The grafts bear fruit in three years, the slips in about double that time. The vine stock for grafting is cut down to the depth of a foot below the surface of the soil; two or three perpendicular incisions are made near the bark with a chisel; and into these are inserted shoots of the last year’s growth. The engrafted part then receives an application of moist marls, is wrapped in leaves and bound with rushes, and is covered with earth, two or three eyes of the shoots being left projecting above ground. In December the currant plantations are cleared of dead and weak wood. In February the branches are cut back, and pruned of median shoots, which are said to prevent the lateral ones proceeding from the same bud from bearing fruit. In order effectually to water the trees, the earth round about them is in February and March hoed up so as to leave them in a kind of basin, or is piled up against their stems. In March, when the leaves begin to show, the ground is thoroughly turned, and if requisite manured, and is then re-levelled. By the middle of April the leaves are fully out, and in June it is necessary to break back the newly-formed shoots. The fruit begins to ripen in July, and in the next month the vintage takes place. At this season rain is greatly dreaded, as it always damages and may even destroy the ripe fruit. The plantations, which are commonly much exposed, are watched by dogs and armed men. In Cephalonia the currant-grape is said to ripen at least a week earlier than in Zante. To destroy the oïdium, a fungal pest that severely injures the plantations, the vines are dusted, at the time the fruit is maturing, with finely-ground brimstone. The currants when sufficiently ripe are gathered and placed on a drying ground, where they are exposed to the sun in layers half an inch thick; from time to time they are turned and swept into heaps, until they become entirely detached from stalk. They are then packed in large butts for exportation. The wine made from the currant-grape is inferior in quality, but is said to be capable of much improvement. The fresh fruit is luscious and highly flavoured, but soon cloys the palate.

(2) The currants of British kitchen-gardens—so called from a resemblance to the foregoing—are the produce of Ribes nigrum and R. rubrum, deciduous shrubs of the natural order Ribesiaceae, indigenous to Britain, northern and central Europe, Siberia and Canada. The former species bears the black, the latter the red currant. White currants are the fruit of a cultivated variety of R. rubrum. Both red and black currants are used for making tarts and pies, jams, jellies and wine; the latter are also employed in lozenges, popularly supposed to be of value in relieving a sore throat, are occasionally preserved in spirits, and in Russia are fermented with honey to produce a strong liquor.

Currants will flourish in any fairly good soil, but to obtain large crops and fine fruit a good rich loam is desirable; with an annual dressing of farmyard manure or cowdung, after the winter pruning, for established trees. The plants are best propagated by cuttings, which should consist of strong well-ripened young shoots taken off close to the old wood. These should be planted as soon as possible after the wood is matured in autumn about 6 in. apart. The plants are grown with the best results as bushes, but may also be trained against a wall or trellis. In the matter of pruning it must be borne in mind that red and white currants form their fruit buds on wood two to three years old, and the main shoots and side branches may therefore be cut back. Black currants on the other hand form fruit buds on the new wood of the previous year, hence the old wood should be cut away and the young left.

The black currant is subject to the attacks of a mite, Phytoptus ribis, which destroys the unopened buds. The buds, when attacked, recognized by their swollen appearance, should be picked off and burned. The attacks of the caterpillars of the gooseberry and other moths may be met by dusting the bushes with lime and soot when the plants are moist with dew or after syringing.

The following forms are recommended for cultivation:—Black: Lee’s Prolific, Baldwin’s or Carter’s Champion and Black Naples; Red: Cherry, Raby Castle, Red Dutch and Comet; White: White Dutch. A kind of black currant (Ribes magellanicum), bearing poor and acid fruit, is indigenous to Tierra del Fuego.