Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Wild Berries in Your Backyard!

Here in the Pacific Northwest we really do have a bounty of wild foods in our backyards. Some of them even may be growing in your yard!

Sadly, many folks aren't aware that so many of the berries that grow in the wild are edible and even delicious!

Case in point today, Oregon Grape Holly, Mahonia Aquifolium. People here in Oregon use them in their landscaping as the flowers in spring are beautiful and fragrant.

The holly shaped leaves turn red around fall time. Though the plant is an evergreen and the leaves are rather prickly, the beautiful blue berries are edible. They also grow in the wild out here.

These little fruits generally hang at the end of branches, and can look much like a cluster of grapes. They pick easily like blueberries. And it doesn't take much to harvest enough for a batch of jam.

I will say though that the juice will stain your fingers, so if you don't want purple fingers for a couple days, pick with latex gloves. And you want to select nice plump tender berries.

Harvesting them is easy. Hold a bucket or bowl under the bunch and gently rake them off with your fingers. When you get them inside, you can pick out the bigger pieces of debris, and put them in a colander. As you rinse them off, shake the colander side to side which will actually help remove any attached tiny stems that may have stayed with the berries and the water will wash them through the colander. Don't worry, they don't bruise or break that easily.  Pick out any unsuitable berries and throw them away. Do small batches at a time, like a cup or so at a time. It goes relatively quickly.

Now onwards.... To the jam making! These tart little berries make a very yummy and silky jam. (sorry, didn't take a pick of the jam, my bad!)

Oregon Grape Jam

4 Cups of fresh picked berries, rinsed.
2 Cups of water
2 oz. of pectin
3 cups of sugar

8, 4 oz. or 4, 8 oz. jars

Boil the berries in the water for about 10 minutes. Using a chinois or food mill with the finer screen, process the cooked berries in batches to remove the seeds but pureeing the pulp, yes, you want the pulp. Discard the seeds.
Return the juice and pulp to the pot and bring to a boil Stir in the pectin and return to a boil. Add the sugar stirring constantly, return to a boil and boil for about 4 minutes, until the mixture thickens.

Ladle the jam into hot sterile jars, wipe the rims, seal with hot lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Cool the jars on a towel or rack on the counter.

Even this jam is able to be made your own, you can add things like vanilla, cinnamon, hot pepper flakes, how ever you'd like to try it. But I do promise, this is a very, very tasty little berry when canned.

I consider myself lucky, I have two bushes in my yard, And I can never use all the berries on the bushes. Maybe this year I will try making wine with some, like they do in Spain. I always love to try new things, and learn about all the bounty the land gives us for free!

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