Sunday, September 16, 2012

Autumn Berry Jam

I made some jam with the several pounds of autumn olives (autumn berries) I gathered last week.

Cleaning the berries....removing the stems is a bit tedious.

I used the recipe that I found in this You Tube video which is essentially 4 cups of autumn berry juice (or puree), 5 1/2 cups sugar, a generous table spoon of lemon juice and a box of pectin. I used a food mill to separate the skin and seeds from the juice and pulp. I've read that the clear juice of autumn berries likes to separate from the solids and caused marbling in the jam but I had very little of these problems by continuously stirring the puree. 

The food mill worked like a charm! Autumn berry puree in the bowl and the skin and seeds in the mill.

The results were fantastic! The jam is a beautiful red color, the texture is smooth, and the taste is amazing. The added sugar required for canning makes it sweet, yet the natural tartness of the berries finishes off each bite.

I ended up with about eight 8 oz jars of jam. The process was simple and straight forward, and my friends and family love the jam. So, for about one hour of gathering and another hour of processing and canning, and for a total cost of about $1 for the pectin,  I have more than enough jam for my family and friends for many, many months.
Today's breakfast: wheat toast and autumn berry jam!

I recommend that everybody get out and gather some autumn berries and make some jam. The fruit is plentiful and easy to find and it is rich in the antioxidant  lycopene and other valuable nutrients!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Urban Foraging: Autumn Olives

An autumn berry bush loaded with berries alongside the trail
Well, not so much urban as suburban really, but at any rate today I changed things up a bit and did some local foraging. I've been scouting plants on the roadsides and along the trials as I've been out for fitness bike rides the last two weeks or so. I've been sampling the autumn olives ( Elaeagnus umbellata, also known by the common name "autumnberries," which I prefer) in various locations and decided that it was getting to be time to do some harvesting. So instead of the usual Sunday long ride on the road bike today I threw the bag on my utility bike and headed for a stretch of rail trail that was flush with berries.

Urban foraging on the bike path
The weather was brisk but fair. I headed out past the berries I had scouted previously in order to get some additional mileage, and then doubled back to the most prolific bushes on the trail. Being a Sunday morning the trail had a considerable amount of traffic and as might be expected my foraging activities drew quite a few odd looks. Maybe it was that folks weren't used to seeing people gathering edibles here, or perhaps it was because I was doing so dressed in cycling attire complete with shorts, jersey and helmet.

A birds nest in a loaded bush
A county sheriff deputy was out patrolling the trail on bicycle today and as he passed me he gave me a good once over. He likely thought I was off in the bushes relieving myself and he was a bit confused by the plastic grocery bag in my hand. He stopped a little ways down the trail but was apparently put at ease when I emerged from the bushes munching on a handful of berries.He was quite friendly when he pedaled past me in the other direction later.

Today's transportation

 A few minutes later a couple out for a stroll stopped to talk with me. The gentlemen commented on how he had never seen anybody collecting "Russian olives" before and asked if they were edible. I thought it would be easier to roll with it rather than get into a debate over ID (especially since Russian olives were also edible and a mis-identification of either not too dangerous), and I informed him that the berries I was picking were indeed edible. I backed up my statement by eating a few. He then reached out, grabbed a berry, and popped it into his mouth. Unfortunately he did so so quickly that my warning that they were tart, astringent and had a big ol' seed was a bit late, much to his wife's amusement. We chatted another minute or so about how profuse they were and I mentioned that they should make a great jam, to which he agreed. It was nice encounter but I am still a bit amazed that a total stranger would consume a wild berry just because I was doing so...either I must look like I know what I'm doing or he was crazy. Probably he was crazy. 

Gathering was fast and easy and I quickly had my plastic shopping bag half-full. So the results of today's excursion was about 25 miles of riding and several pounds of fresh berries. That, in my book, makes for a pretty damn good way to start out the day.

Today's haul of berries