Autumnberry Mania   4 comments

Would you believe me, if I told you, that millions of pounds of delicious/nutritious fruit goes to waste in this country, every year?  And, that you could have all you want of it, free, right now?  Oh yeah, and, it probably grows right in your town?  Honest, it’s true.

Please allow me to introduce you to the fabulous Autunm-Olive; Autumnberry,  Elaeagnus umbellata.

Don’t they look delicious?  They are.

About 200 years ago the Autunm-Olive was introduced to North America, from Asia.  It was recognized as a good ground cover and food source for wild-life.  Because Autumn-Olive adapts easily it became a popular choice of highway departments and municipal planners, in a quickly changing landscape.

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I was first introduced to the Autumn-Olive while reading Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer.  As if, Thayer’s descriptions weren’t enough to interest me; he includes the fact that Autumnberries make excellent fruit-leather.  Awesome, I thought, Granny could make good candy for the boys!  But, I’m a pessimist and figured, if it’s too good to be true, it won’t happen here.  And, Autumnberries are almost too good to be true.  Although, Thayer wrote “Over vast regions of this continent it is our most common wild fruit”; I just filed the info in my “if only” brain file, and moved on to the Sumacs, Rhus spp., which are plentiful, throughout New England.

Last week, on a library video hunt, I found Blanche Cybele Derby’s DVD Edible Plants: Wild and Tame (Fall).  Ms.Derby not only talks about Autunmberries, she also demonstrates making fruit leather, on the video; thank you, thank you, thank you.  Being a true pessimist, I figured the berries are probably plentiful in the mountains; but, not here on the seashore; (for goodness sakes, myself).  Ms Derby and I live in the same state.  Yet, I was still not convinced that grand things do happen, here.  However, the very next time I walked into town –BOO YA,  BABY- there was an Autumn-Olive tree/shrub; right by the river.  When it’s breezy, the leaves silvery undersides make it easy to spot them, from a distance.

So, I took a walk over there; and oh my goodness!  Between the Feed Store and the Train Depot (maybe a ¼ mile) there are no fewer than 23 Autumn-Olive tree/shrubs.  Although I wouldn’t harvest here (too heavily trafficked), it gave me hope to look for more.  It didn’t take 10 minutes to find more; many more; in much better places to pick.  Some wild food guides tell you not to pick closer than 10 feet from the road.  I like to go back further.  The further back you can go, the better.  The next photo was taken while I was standing 10 feet from the road.

Those are Autumn-Olives, at the edge of the field; at least 50 yards back.  I picked 2 gallons of berries, here; and ate about another gallon (this could be a slight exaggeration), while doing it.  Once the berries are in my hand, and I have to decide if I should put them in the jug or my mouth, the only time the jug wins is when my mouth is full.  Water jugs are great for berry picking; just cut off the tops.

While one hand held the jug, my other hand gently twisted around each branch, knocking the berries into the jugs.  (I actually tried to take a picture)   It’s sorta like milking a cow, with no squeezing!  These jugs filled quickly, too.  This is nothing like blueberry (back breaking) or raspberry (skin ripping) picking.  When ripe, the berries pop off easily; and efficiently.  Take a short friend, picking with you, and you can both keep busy at different heights!  Some of the branches are so heavy with fruit they are laying on the ground.  Just watch for snails!

Autumnberries are in peak season from mid-September to mid-October.

Tomorrow we’ll come back and make Autunmberry juice and puree.  This is sustainable agriculture and eating locally, at their finest!

Autumn-Olive tree/shrub:

I’ve seen some waist high and others at least twice my height (5’5”).  The trunks arch and produce arching branches.  Some are loaded with fruit, some have far less fruit, and some looked already picked over.  I suspect wild-life beat me to the early ripened fruits; and wonder if there is a fruiting life-cycle in play.  When snow flies I’ll be doing some research to answer this question.  Right now there’s fruit to be picked!  And, lots of it!

Autunm-Olive leaves:

Well, they look rather like olive leaves; which could explain the name!  The leathery leaves sprout alternately from the stems and are dark green, with silvery undersides.  The twigs, leaves and fruit are covered in tiny silver speckles.

Autunmberries:

About the size of a small pea, they are not quite round, yet not quite olive shaped, either.  The unripe yellow-green berry ripens to a gorgeous orangy-rosey-red color and is always covered in silvery specks. The flavor is some-what grape-raspberry-pomegranate like.  They are tangy; get ready to pucker! Each berry contains one, double-pointed, grooved, beighy-yellow seed; and lots of lycopene.

For a detailed description of the Autumn-Olive’s characteristics, history, range and habitats please read Nature’s Garden.  Samuel Thayer’s dedication to foraging is a gift to us all.

Hands down, all over the place, Autumn-Olive is my favorite food to forage.  Thanks Samuel.

America should grant Autumn-Olive citizenship.  It’s been here long enough, adapted to our environment and made a great contribution.

References:

Thayer, Samuel. Nature’s Garden. Birchwood, WI: Forager’s Harvest Press, 2010

Derby, Blanche Cybele. Edible Plants: Wild and Tame (Fall). http://www.tagyerit.com/freefood

Disclaimer:

I disclaim any and all liability resulting from the use of, collection of, preparation of, ingestion of, reaction to or contact with, any plant written about here.  Use extreme caution when collecting, preparing and eating any wild plant food for the first time.  Make certain of your identification.  You, and you alone, are responsible for what you collect, prepare and consume; and for whatever consequences that may result.  Anyone can have an allergic reaction to any food, at any time.  Use common sense, go slow, do the research, check and double check, and then check again, then proceed with extreme caution.  One mistake could cost your life; or worse, someone else’s life.  Know the laws where you intend to forage.  Whenever appropriate get permission.  Check public records for area pesticide spraying programs.  Never harvest right after spraying.  Find out if and when it will be safe.

 

  

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