Wild Ideas: Autumn Olive

A few weeks ago the dogs and I were out at the apple trees in the back field when I noticed Primrose eating tiny red berries that had spots on them.

I was concerned because normally small round red berries = bad. At least, that’s how I was raised. So I came in the house (oddly calmly, I think at this point I just expect things like this from her sweet little face) and tried to figure out if little miss trouble maker had just poisoned herself. After a bunch of googling around I found out the berries were called Autumn Olives.

Not only are the berries not poisonous to either dogs or humans (or cats and horses apparently), they are actually a superfood secret and they make very good juice, jam and fruit leather. Excuse me?! Say what?! I’ve had a zero effort harvest in my backyard for five years and I never knew about it? Let me clarify that these, despite the name, are not olives. Rather, they are a tart berry filled with lycopene (cancer fighting) and antioxidants. They have pits but I haven’t had a problem just eating them. It turns out Autumn Olives are an invasive species in North America, but as I figure it invasive can simply mean opportunistic. I’m into permaculture and if it’s growing wild, and I can harvest it, why not? It’s the same reason I made dandelion syrup this spring, wild stuffed grape leaves this summer and harvested wild blackberries and raspberries.

According to multiple sources on the internet the berries get ripe best in cool weather, and even when they seem ready they normally aren’t until the end of September to mid-October. I found them around the beginning of September and let me tell you with how much anticipation I’ve been waiting for them to be ready to harvest: a ton. Thursday was the day. I went out, tasted a berry and it was still tart but not painfully so. It was, dare I say, tasty. I knew the birds would be out to get these soon so I got my big tin pail and walked out to gather about 5lbs of berries per a jam recipe I found.

Here’s a few tips on harvesting the berries:

  • Put the pail below each stem and then gently roll the berries off of their stems with your fingers. If they don’t come off easily don’t force them. Ripe berries will easily roll off.  The juice of these comes out easily as well, gentle gentle gentle.
  • You will get spiders and other creatures from the plant in your berries. That’s harvesting for you. I try and pick them out with care because I know they are beneficial to the plant life.
  • About a 1/4 of a five gallon bucket hit about 5lbs for me.
  • Share your harvest. In other words: these are wild. Other animals besides you eat them too. Don’t take them all. I took a very small portion of what was there and left a good amount in each area I did harvest from. I didn’t do the work to grow them, and I don’t think it’s really my right to wipe everything clean and leave the birds and other animals with nothing. Responsible harvesting high fives all around.

On Thursday I came in, rinsed the berries, and plucked all the little stems out of them. My water was pretty dirty only because my bucket had some dried dirt it in before I started. Next time I will definitely use a clean bucket. It will significantly cut the rinsing steps down.

On Friday I knew it was time to turn it into jam, or at least that was my intention. After boiling the berries down for about 20 minutes, in order to make them easier to pit through a food mill, I realized this stuff would be great as a fruit butter.

I boiled berries on the front burner so I could mill them, and then added the puree to the back burner to cook down.

On the other side of the stove I had the jars sterilizing and the tops and lids slightly simmering.

The entire time I was doing this and experimenting with sugar/pectin/lemon, I was video chatting with Lauren over at Filing Jointly. Let me tell you something about Lauren—she’s great. She also thinks she awkward and she’s not. I feel like a lot of people who blog feel like they are awkward in person and more dynamic online. I even feel like this. I know I’m awkward, but I embrace it. Have you seen the video of me making spaghetti sauce? Lauren can probably testify to my a.) talkative nature and b.) awkward movements. I can testify to her awesomeness. Also, you all should encourage her to write about the pig farm story. It’s great.

That said, she pretty much just watched this process live. There really isn’t much of recipe but I’ll give a general breakdown. It’s a pretty typical fruit butter recipe I’d say. When it sets up it will look like a jam from the outside, but once you open it give it a quick stir and it quickly becomes butter consistency and nothing like jam.

Autumn Olive Butter Recipe

Remember, this is a “more or less” recipe. I’ve made jam before so I just sort of winged this and knew it would either be butter or jam, with my hope being for a soft butter/spread. Mine became butter because I was stingy on the pectin, and the mash is already very butter like on it’s own. You can easily make a small batch of this by just milling your berries, adding a little sweetner and moving on. The recipe below is for canning it, which requires more sugar and some citrus to be safe. I also realized it takes a TON of sugar to make it sweet once you add more than a tablespoon of lemon juice, I had added two and it was harshly tart. Next time I may just stick with less lemon juice, and plain sugar.

  • 8 to 9 or so cups berry mash (food mill to remove pits)
  • Few teaspoons of lemon juice. Be careful and add slow, the berries are very tart. The more lemon you add, the more sugar you need to add to offset it. You need a certain amount of citrus though, especially if you’re water bathing. A professional will have more advice than me on this, but I always do it as a precaution.
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • Few tablespoons powder pectin. I used ball and some new kind. I really recommend sure jell if you want this to be more like a jam. Follow the directions on your own pectin for best results.

Follow proper procedures to making fruit butter and for canning per the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Butter recipes for canning can be found lots of places like Balls Complete Book of Home Preservation. Process according to your altitude. I boiled the fruit until it coated my spoon and came off in a sheet and processed once it reached a rolling boil for about 10-15 minutes. I’m not a professional canner and I don’t want to give you information that may be considered inaccurate because of botulism and other goodies that can grow if not preserved appropriately and will make you very sick, so please please please consult with the National Center if you don’t know how to can, or need more accurate instructions. 

Saving Autumn Olives For Fruit Smoothies

When you mill autumn olives to remove the pits, the mash will look an awful lot like a smoothie in consistency. The next day when it sets it will feel like a firm pudding, or as my childhood memories remind me – Nickelodeons Gak. Given how good these berries are for you, and the natural consistency of their mash, I am going to process more of these and freeze them into ice cube trays. I’ll then vacuum seal the frozen berry mash cubes into bags with about 4-5 in each bag. I’ll use these in place of ice cubes when I make smoothies.

Autumn Olive Frozen Fruit Butter

Given the natural smoothie butter consistency of the mash, it makes perfectly good sense to me that if the mash freezes and thaws well, I could easily thaw one or two cubes of mash and mix it with a little maple syrup to make a really nice spread for toast. I’m interested in testing this method with the cubes vacuum sealed to protect against freezer burn, but I’m glad I preserved a batch too.

Autumn Olive Cake Topping

This sounds ridiculous but it is *so darn good*. I recently made a banana molasses spice cake and man oh man, the butter I made and preserved is ridiculous with it. Not only is it super tasty, it sits and holds really well. This would make a great spread in between layers because it will soak into the cake without totally soaking in. I wouldn’t use it on the sides because it would slip off. I’m sure the fresh mash could be doctored into a stiff frosting, but lets face it that is way out of my jurisdiction as I’m a pantry baker at best.

My final opinion…

Make it. Eat it. Love it. I think I love the mash best on it’s own with just a little sweetner, if I’m being entirely honest. I just don’t like taking something so healthy for you and ruining it with so much sugar. I bet I could make it with a lot less sugar if I upped the pectin. That might be the next trial. That doesn’t mean I won’t lick clean every jar I preserved already though. I will. Oh, I will.

xo,

Heather

P.S. Winnie was eating rearing off the ground and jumping for the berries her nose deemed best. Good God, I love these dogs.

Wednesday Renovation Recap: Getting Roofed

Wednesday renovation recap in of the houuuussee. In this segment of things we did this week on the house, we’re showing roofing installation, mainly though Instagram photos. Why? Because I didn’t charge my nice cameras battery. Instagram & iPhone photos it is! I know Instagram is all retro, but all of this progress happened over the last week anyway, so that makes it kind of retro, right? No? It doesn’t? Nonsense!

If you’ve already seen all of these then you, my friend, are awesome. Thank you for following me. If you have not seen any of these yet then you, my other friend, are still awesome because you’re here now.

First up, I would like to prove I was not totally full of BS when I said we had to get the renovations done before it got cold out, and that is why I wasn’t writing so much. Proof!

Yep those are leaves that are not green, and they are on the ground.  This is late August, and there are already a plethora of leaves of colors out and about. We’re just over a week from September and that makes us pull at our collar a little bit and go “eeeeeeehhhkk”. This beautiful summerish weekend however involved the installation of steel roofing! While the roofing sat on the ground, the boys worked on getting the insulation and strapping put up first. Details Details.

Or, I could just show you this video I made on my new iPhone 4 this weekend. Yeah people, I just got the iPhone 4. I am moving up in the world. In related news, I joined Facebook a year after all of my friends and just got on Twitter in June. High-five.

I wasn’t planning to move on but perhaps I smashed my much loved 3GS in the hood of my car. Can I just take a moment to say that first off, I had no idea the hood of my car could bounce like that. Second, I would like to say my phone still managed to sync up to my computer after being smashed by the hood of my car. Thank you iPhone. You served me well. Rest in peace. This 4 though? Video, people, VIDEO. This brings in an entire new era of annoying videos to terrible programmed iPhone iMovie music. Yes. High-Fives again! Let’s play the let’s be honest game. If I’m being honest, and I am, I have no idea what the heck I was doing but I do know this is rather terrible. Or awesome. Or terribly awesome.

I literally cannot listen to that music one more time. So let’s just stick with photos.

The hole in the roof is for a chimney. From the road I thought it was a tiny skylight and I was utterly concerned. Thankfully my quick processing skills analyzed the situation and decided my initial conclusion was wrong, and it was indeed for the chimney. By “quick processing skills” I mean, seeing it from the road, walking up to the house, staring, climbing up on the roof and then looking. Okay, self-deprecation aside I knew it wasn’t a skylight from the ground after a second, but I didn’t know what it was for until the roof. I momentarily forgot we had the chimney there for the basement still, because in my head the main chimney was already somewhere else (thought it hasn’t been constructed yet).

The roofing was up next, and man oh man does this make a HUGE different! I can’t even explain. So uh, I won’t, I’ll just show photos. I really wanted to show you the entire house roofed in full, but don’t have a good shot of it so you’ll have to settle for the second to last for now. Plus, we still need roofing on the porch. Like Reading Rainbow, use your imagination.

All in all, the new steel roof really ties in with the original houses’ steel roof and for the first time the the addition and original house are really starting to look cohesive. I can see each day how much more they go together and what the house will potentially look like (from the outside). This next week should include some window installation, insulation and who knows what else! Until next week, stay awesome.

xo,

Heather

Super Simple Roasted Butternut Squash

It may still be technically Summer, but for all intents and purposes it is most definitely Autumn in Maine. The fog is rolling in on the hayfield and the frost is about to set in soon. It’s one of my favorite seasons for a few reasons. One, it’s chunky sweater weather. Two, the trees are about to burst in a gorgeous collaboration of color. Three, the butternut squash is ready.

Roasted butternut squash is good for a multitude of things, and can be made in a multitude of ways. However, I am going to tell you my very favorite recipe. Brace yourself, it’s super ridiculously simple.

Roasted Butter Nut Squash

Ingredients:

  • Butternut squash
  • 1/2  stick of butter (for two butternut squash, four halves)
  • Brown Sugar (to taste)

Not kidding. Those are the ingredients. You’ll also need an oven for the whole roasting part of the recipe, some tinfoil for easy cleanup and cookie sheet or cake pan. Whatever you use, it needs to have sides on it.

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line your pan with tinfoil and set aside.
  • Chop the top and bottom end off of the butternut squash with a sharp knife so it sits flat on it’s bottom. Be careful, the skin is notoriously tough. I have never had an issue, but I’ve heard it can be hard. Butternut Squash does not merit a flesh wound.

  • Stand the butternut squash on it’s bottom and carefully slice it in half. Scoop out the seeds until the flesh is clean.

  • Melt butter either on the stove top (be careful not to burn the butter), or in a microwavable dish.
  • Pour butter into tinfoil lined pans.
  • Place the halves of butternut squash flesh side down onto the melted butter in your pan. Deliciousness will start to infuse into your squash immediately.

  • Roast for approximately 50 minutes. When you can easily pierce the squash with a fork, it’s done.
  • Pull out of the oven and turn the broiler on.
  • Flip the squash flesh side up. Sprinkle the top of the squash with brown sugar and place back under the broiler until the sugar very lightly melts/caramelizes.

Now, here’s the best part. Just eat it warm right out of the skin. If you prefer you can peel the skin off and puree or mash it up. However, I’m a purist. I either like it straight out of the skin, or with a little brown sugar toasted on top. It’s incredibly easy, incredibly healthy (especially if you nix the sugar, since it’s so sweet anyway) and wonderful. It works well on it’s own, or paired with a simple pasta salad.

The beauty of this is how simple it is. Food shouldn’t have to be complicated and this is the epitomy of simplicity and deliciousness.

Here’s to a roasty, toasty Fall,

Heather