October 27, 2008

Autumn Olive Jam and Leather

Elaeagnus umbellata (autumn olive) is a ubiquitous invasive species in Michigan but up until this year I had no idea it was edible. Then I came across this post on a blog called Tea and Food that mentioned autumn olive fruit leather. I knew immediately that I had to harvest some of the numerous bushes on our land and I've been waiting for them to ripen ever since. Alex has loved knowing there is something to nibble on while walking in the forest and has been taste testing them for me. Unfortunately he's as bad as the birds for spreading the seeds since he spits them out as he walks. I was surprised by how tasty they were the first time I tried them. The berries are tart and vaguely cranberry-like. My husband John thought they tasted like tart grapes. Finally them seemed ripe enough on our last trip so I picked a couple of bags and brought them home.

When I got home I looked around online for recipes. There was one blog called Dreams and Bones that had great information about using autumn olive berries. The writer Leslie had recipes for both jam and fruit leather. I rinsed and cooked my berries with a little water per Leslie's instructions. Then I put the pulp through a food mill to separate the seeds. I only had a packet of full sugar sure-jel left from all of my jam and jelly making this fall so I used it and the berry jam instructions included in the package for my jam. For my fruit leather I decided to sweeten the pulp with all honey instead of stevia and honey. I had some local raw honey that was light in flavor so I added just enough to balance the tartness of the berries, about 1/4 cup of honey for 2 cups of pulp. I used my food dehydrator but there is an oven dried method on Dreams and Bones that I'll link to at the end of this post.

The fruit leather is wonderfully chewy, tangy and sweet! I like Leslie's idea to cut up the leather into small bits and use them in place of dried cranberries in salads. I think the same bits would be great in bread or cookies as well. The jam is equally good. It's a beautiful, rich red color. In my reading I found out that autumn olive berries can have as much as 17 times the amount of lycopene as tomatoes and it really shows in the color of the jam. I'd love to pick some more berries and try them in savory recipes. I think they would be great in a barbecue sauce. I should have plenty of time when we move to the new house so it's probably a project for next year. The only problem is that I might get attached to these tasty invasives. I'll have to spend lots of time looking at plant and seed catalogs for natives to replace them with...
A berry laden branch of Elaeagnus umbellata (autumn olive) Washed berries ready to be smashed and cookedFinished rolls of honey sweetened fruit leather

Dreams and Bones for the recipe for fruit leather and a link to a low-sugar jam recipe
Tea and Food
Autumn olive wine recipe
Wikipedia Article on autumn olive