Monday, October 14, 2013

Wild Foods in the Granite State: Autumn Olive

photo by Adam Woodworth

Autumn is here, and with it comes the last of the summer foods and a whole new set of gathering - nuts, seeds, roots, apples, and pears. Here in New Hampshire (as in much of North America) we also have Autumn Olive, which is a berry that I consider to be one of North America's best Super Fruits - certainly our most prolific, and much more eco-friendly than importing goji berries from across the world! 
Planted here in the 1950s by the government to aid in soil restoration, this Asian native can be found happily growing along a roadside near you, where it takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it into the soil, improving the ground wherever it grows. With a taste like tart pomegranate, raspberry, and cranberry, the Autumn Olive is one of my favorite invasive species, and what better way to keep it in check than by gathering the fruits before they seeds can spread (just don't compost them!)? In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the whole plant is used, but in culinary tradition, it is the fruit that we enjoy as food (though I add the leaves to tea as well).
An interesting note about terroir, or a food's sense of place: Autumn Olive's flavor differs dramatically from bush to bush, as each one picks up different nutrients and energies its' surroundings - a built-in excuse to go wandering among the bushes nibbling as you go until you find your favorite ones.
Below are two Autumn Olive recipes to enjoy the season with - Bon Apetit!
Autumn Elixir
4 cups Autumn Olive berries.
1/2 cup water. 
Rinse olives and place in pot. Mash with potato masher until pulpy, add water, and "sweat" the fruits down, simmering, about 15 minutes. Pour through cheesecloth or another strainer, squeezing to remove all the juice (I usually scrape the pulp against a strainer with a large spoon to make sure I get everything)! The juice may separate into a milky liquid on top with the red lycopene antioxidents settling on the bottom - just swirl to mix it all back in. Autumn Elixir can be added to your favorite adult (or kid!) beverage, or served on pancakes, ice cream, or warm by itself.
Wild Woods Cider Punch
one gallon fresh, unpasteurized local apple cider.
one handful wild crab apples.
two handfuls Autumn Olive berries.
2 organic oranges, sliced.
1 Blackbird's Daughter Mulling Spice Sachet
2 Tablespoons Wild Whiskey Bitters
Local rum (such as Flag Hill)
Pour cider, fruit, and mulling spice sachet into crock pot and heat, covered, until simmering. Add bitters and keep on low heat throughout evening. Strain into cups and add rum to taste. At end of evening, remove sachet and dry (it can be reused).

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