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Quinn’s Cause: Once Forbidden, Now #1 Superfruit

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Greg Quinn at home with Coco.

“I always knew I would live here,” Greg Quinn says of idyllic, 140-acre Walnut Grove Farm, which he and screenwriter-producer Carolyn Blackwood moved to from Manhattan eight years ago.  “I just didn’t know where ‘here’ was.”

Or what “here” held in store.  At the time, Quinn, a writer, figured he’d do some sort of farming (corn? no; hay? no; grapes? no—not “niche” enough) for three seasons a year, then spend the long winters writing.  One day, as he was chatting up a local vintner who was in the process of making cassis, he innocently asked, “Where do you get your currants?”

“The guy complained that he had to import them from Canada because it was illegal to grow them in the United States,” recalls Quinn.  Having once cooked in a restaurant in Bavaria, where currants are ubiquitous, as they are throughout Europe, Quinn was baffled.  He did some research and discovered that in 1911, the fruit had been declared a public nuisance because of a bizarre detrimental symbiosis with the white pine tree—each caused rust blister in the other.  Timber interests being what they were then and now, the white pine won.

As dusty and questionable federal laws often do, this one eventually reverted to the states for individual re-consideration, which it never got.  After a bit of research, Quinn was convinced that the white-pine-menace was a myth.  He started hanging out in Albany, hoping to get a legislator interested in lifting the outdated ban on currant cultivation.  He argued that hybridization had long-since solved the rust-blister dilemma, which had never been that dire in the first place, and that currants were potentially a new cash crop that could help save the New York State family farm.  Unfortunately, no one, save Quinn, was clamoring to either grow or buy them.  Politician’s time investment: considerable. Votes gained: one. Good luck, son.

But he did get lucky.  In 2003, the Wall Street Journal did a story on Quinn’s dilemma that sided with the timber industry and its outdated science.  Nonethelesss, the story sparked the interest of State Senator William J. Larkin, Jr. a Republican who sits on the agriculture committee.  Larkin took on the law.  Finally, the blameless little fruit was stigma-free.

Rural Intelligence Food
Natural enemies?  Currants thrive against a backdrop of rust-blister-free white pines.

CurrantCini

2 oz. CurrantC Black Currant Nectar
2 oz Absolut Citron or other vodka
2 oz Cointreau or Triple Sec
A squeeze of lime

Shake and serve chilled in a martini glass garnished with lime.

“I planted every one of these currants myself by hand,” says Quinn, surveying the twelve acres he has in berries.  With another 10-15 in nursery stock, Quinn’s folly, in just five years, has turned a profit. He sells to ice cream, yogurt, candy, and jam makers, and turns much of the remainder into a beverage, CurrantC, which he markets himself.  The lightly sweetened juice of the currant is delicious by itself or mixed, cassis-like, with white wine or champagne.  It also makes a refreshing spritzer. Quinn, a serious cook, has developed numerous recipes that use the nectar, including a trademarked cocktail, the Currantcini.

Used since the middle-ages to treat bladder stones, liver disorders, coughs, chest ailments, urinary problems, and skin conditions, black currants, according to a recent study conducted by the Scottish Crop Research Institute that compared the twenty most popular fruits, are the number 1 superfruit—first in both antioxidants and vitamin C.  And not just any antioxidant, anthocyanins, which has been shown to be beneficial in warding off heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and, according to a 2006 Tuft’s University study, Alzheimer’s.  Name another cocktail that delivers more.

Rural Intelligence FoodRural Intelligence Food
Pond scum, the next frontier: two rows of bushes planted simultaneously. The one on the right was fertilized with pond algae.

Quinn now spends three seasons farming and the fourth tending to the affairs of The Current Company.  Among those are the management services he extends to would-be gentlemen farmers (a title he, a back-bending, bee-keeping, dirt-scratcher if there ever was one, personally eschews), who want to plant currants in order to qualify for the agricultural tax exemption—at least 7 acres under cultivation and a minimum annual gross of $10,000.  His three adult children tele-commute to help him out part-time with the business.  And the writing?  Maybe someday, but right now he’s tinkering with his latest horticultural experiment—Pond Scum, the Super-Fertilizer.  To harvest, take a couple of pool noodles, attach some plastic deer fencing and…. 

 

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 07/27/08 at 02:13 AM • Permalink