Midsummer and Black Currants

I've come to sense the arrival of midsummer by the fragrances and sounds that fill the garden. The unabashedly heady scent of Oriental and heirloom species lilies and the drone of cicadas are two of the most vivid indicators of late July.

Lilium “Black Beauty”

Black currants, with their distinct yet subtle woodsy aroma, are one of my favorite summer scents. And their tart, assertive flavor makes them an excellent foil in sugary desserts.

This vitamin C-rich bush berry is from the Ribes family and is commonly grown in European gardens, less so in the United States. Since they're easy to grow, bountiful producers that don't take up much space, they would make an excellent choice for small gardens.

I rarely find recipes that feature black currants in a prominent way so I decided to try them in pancakes. Maple syrup (or any other sweet topping) would mellow the berries' assertiveness without sacrificing that lovely tartness. Whole-wheat flour in the batter added a pleasant nuttiness that helped balance the currants as well.

Whole-wheat pancakes with black currants
Serves 4


1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk, adjust with less for denser and more for thinner pancakes
3 Tbs butter, melted and cooled
4 tsp baking powder
4 Tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
neutral cooking oil, such as canola or grapeseed
1/2 pint black currants. Take the time to gently pull off the little 'tails' at the end of each currant. It's okay (and probably unavoidable) if the skin breaks a little while doing this.

1. Beat eggs, sugar and butter in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Heat 1-2 Tbs of oil in a large pan.
2. When hot add spoonfuls of batter to pan. When bubbles form in batter around the edge of each pancake, scatter a small handful of currants over each one. Cook for about 2 mins. on each side until golden brown. Place under cover while you cook the next batches, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. Serve with maple syrup or confectioners' sugar and some creamy yogurt.

An Introduction...

The study of food and culture is compelling because everyone experiences and interacts with some aspect of the food process, from cultivation to consumption. As a result, food is one the most potent means of communicating social and cultural identity.

I've named this blog after a piece of flatware that serves as a symbol for this concept. Distinguished from the average teaspoon by its diminuitive size, the five o'clock teaspoon was a requisite accoutrement for the afternoon tea ritual that became popular in Britain and America in the second half of the 19th century. Many other superfluous and specific table accessories of the time, such as grape scissors, moustache spoons, and strawberry forks, were articles of conspicuous consumption that reflected the owner's social status.

This blog is an exploration of culinary and garden arts, inspired by such objects of material culture. Topics range from the kitchen garden and arts of the table to historical and contemporary foodways and original recipes. Some upcoming highlights: Tibetan tea traditions, 'halwa' in both Indian and Jewish contexts, Chai Khana (Central Asian teahouses found along the Silk Road), and new variations on some old recipes.
Comments and discussion are welcome.