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Sunday, 14 November 2010

Wild Food of the Month November: Autumn Olive & of Little Helpers

To those of you who have been following my recent posts it will come as no surprise what the wild food of the month for November is going to be.  NO! NOT the coypu, i still haven't managed to catch one, it's the autumn olive berry.
Now I have identified it with the help of my dear friend Mr'H. in Idaho I can't stop singing it's praises!  The name comes from the silvery olive colour of its foliage.  It's a shrub or low tree, not at all related to the actual olive, native in Eastern Asia and producing oodles of bright red, juicy berries.  Eaten raw they taste somewhere between a redcurrant and a cranberry, both fruits that I can't grow to save my life in our climate.

Further research revealed that the berry is not only edible and tasty, but extremely good for you with up to 16 times as much Lycopenes as raw tomatoes, making it a potentially powerful cancer preventative.  The plant is regarded in many places as an invasive non-native species, which has been planted along river banks to prevent erosion, but because of its high germination success has been known to displace native flora in some places.  The site where we found it there are only about half a dozen or so trees, absolutely laden with fruit.

Due to it's ability to absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere in can thrive on extremely poor soils and fix nitrogen in the soil and make it available for other plants.  The wood makes good fire wood, carving wood or can be used to build solid wooden posts.  The fruit, apart from simply enjoying it raw, can be juiced, made into jam, fruit leather, dried, added to cakes etc. etc. etc...

Now I want to save some seed to plant on my land.  Non-native it maybe, but something that prevents erosion, a recent problem as you'll have noticed, and has so many other uses, sounds just like the thing I like to grow.

On a slightly different note, this week we are having a little helper staying with us, Cat from Oregon.  We have recently signed up with a website called helpX, that brings together people who travel on a budget and would like to experience their destination more intimitely and are willing to work for a bed and meals, with people who can do with a hand with something.  So Cat became the first in hopefully a long line of people who decide to share our lives with us.  So today and yesterday we gave her an introduction into our lifestyle by taking her wild food foraging and then turning our spoils into lovely preserves.

It's the season for 3 different fruits at the moment.  One is the fruit of the strawberry tree, which Cat is picking up there and of which I have spoken extensively last year in a post which is proving to be the most googled post on my blog.  The recipe of a strawberry tree fruit jam I posted at the time was only a limited success.  We ate it, but I wondered if it was worth our while again as it turned out to be a bit bland.  So this year I decided to add some different ingredients to make a Christmas Jam.

This is what we did.  We picked about 500g strawberry tree fruit.  Then we added 500g of autumn olive berries.

and maybe 150g myrtle berries

Here's Susan in action picking some of them:
To those 3 fruits we added a chopped apple, zest and juice of one orange, a spice mixture consisting of cinnamon, vannilla flavoured sugar, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  We cooked that until soft, than added 500g sugar and boiled fast until setting point.  After that we pressed this through my tomato mill to get rid of the rough seeds and achieve a smooth consistency..

 Reheated it and bottled it in hot jars.  Boy was this delicious!  I shall make biscuits filled with this stuff for Christmas if I can keep my greedy mits off it for long enough.

The other experiment with autumn olive berries was along the lines of my (in)famous "I can't believe it's not mango chutney" chutney, in the sense that we made a "I can't believe it's not cranberry chutney" chutney consisting of unweighed and unmeasured quantities of autumn olive berries, apples, onions, ginger orange zest and juice and white wine vinegar.

Mix up and boil for a couple of hours until a good consistency is achieved and bottle into hot jars.  Again, absolutely delicious and will make a great accompaniment for turkey or chicken.


Mr. H. said...

Well you can't go wrong with a helper from Oregon...just down the road from us.:) Those Myrtle berries look wonderful, very much like our honey berries. I bet your olive berry chutney is very good.

So tell me, do you have the same good fortune as us in that no one else cares to pick all of these different berries? We always marvel at that...happily so.

Heiko said...

Mr.H, generally the Italians are pretty swift foragers, but I suppose with the autumn olive being a non-native plant word hasn't got around yet that they are edible. The strawberry tree fruit is so abundant, but on its own rather bland, so people don't bother about them much. Myrtle berry gets picked for making an excellent liqueur, but again it's abundant and there's only so much you need for liqueur making. I've got some of that on the go too. And few people have thought about eating them other than a few individual berries to flavour your roast. The have quite a few rather large seeds inside, which I eliminated by putting them through my tomato press.

Heiko said...

I'm just eating some bread with our Christmas jam for breakfast and by golly! I think this is my favouritest jam ever!

Mr. H. said...

Good job on the jam. I feel as though I am in Myrtle heaven on your blog, I love the new look.:)

LindyLouMac said...

Interesting fruits, of which I have not come across in Lazio.

GetSoiled said...

Oh boy, that poor Cat lady...she *don't* look too happy...bless her heart, you evil masters forcing her into manual labor! Shame on you! ☺

PS: that jam thingy sounds delish

Heiko said...

GetSoiled, we hired Cat as an au pair and just told her we had mislaid the children somewhere... ;)

Sylvie in Rappahannock said...

I finally foraged for Autumn berry (Autumn olives) in Virginia and was amazed at how tasty they were. Great juice and lovely jam - and pretty tasty out of hand too. The trees grow fast and easy from seeds. Good luck!