Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Kill and Eat: Autumn Olive

The autumn olive is a handsome shrub with silvery, pointed leaves and, at this time of year, scads of gorgeous, plump, red berries. While the autumn olive is found in many U.S. states, there are two things that most people don't know about it. First, it's highly invasive, so much so that in Massachusetts it is illegal to plant or even transport. Second, the berries are delicious.

I can't go into too much detail as I'm in the process of writing a full article on the subject, but I did want to share some info as the end of the autumn olive season approaches. If you've got a bush in your neighborhood, strip it of its fruits before the birds get to them and poop the seeds all over tarnation. Eat them raw, cook into jam or do what you will. Then, kill the tree.

We made a tart with a puree of strained pulp from the fruits, using Mark Bittman's crust. The result was fantastic, the flavor familiar yet exotic and difficult to place. The fruits remind me of currants for their size and shape, and their taste has been compared to green grapes.

We also reduced some excess water that the berries had simmered in and drank it warm. While the tart was good, this blew our minds. It was something like a sour cherry cider, yet unlike anything I've ever had. It tasted like Fall, and it tasted wild.

Like I said, hopefully I'll have more on this controversial food before its season ends.

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Maggie said...

The hot juice sounds really good! I bet it would be wonderful with mulling spices (cloves, cinnamon, star anise). I'll be giving that a try soon!

Thanks for the link too!

flatlander said...

Went to a recent Audubon Society annual gathering. The table prize included a bottle of autumn olive shrub syrup for creating a drink. It included this recipe. There are a number of these invasives here in Northern Illinois and I hope to gather some berries to try this in the fall:

In a glass bowl put two cups of fresh berries in two cups of cider vinegar, cover and let set at room temperature for three days. Mash berries and strain juice measuring the volume. In a saucepan, add the same amount of sugar into the juice and bring to a boil for 2 minutes stirring constantly. Bottle syrup and enjoy in a 1:4 ratio of syrup to water.

(It was good, but I'm inclined to tone down the sugar if I try it)

Jane said...

Why kill the shrub? I've been making delicious autumn olive jelly for the last several years, eating them raw, feeding some of the berries to my chickens, and, in winter, feeding the twigs to my rabbits. We all love it. I plan to try to make a pie out of the berries this weekend.

This is an excellent wild food plant. Why try to eradicate it? Yes, it is aggressive and non-native, but why not see that as a blessing? It is a potential food plant that needs no cultivation and no chemicals to thrive. Isn't that better than a food plant growing in a chemically sustained monoculture? Alas, I fear that this is the fate of autumn olive: people will breed the plant for bigger and sweeter berries, but will not select for vigor, thereby producing yet another fruit plant that requires chemical assistance to bear well. No thanks, I prefer the wild version, despite its bad reputation.


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