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.

Chocolate Almond Butter & Coconut No-Bake Cookies

My favorite cookie is a homemade oatmeal raisin chewy cookie, so it’s no surprise I love these oatmeal based no-bake cookies too. I have memories of making them with my mom and grabbing one before it was fully set up so I could eat the warm oatmeal deliciousness.

These are still my favorite cookies to make. It may or may not have to do with the fact that I am baking challenged. I mean, I can bake, I’m just rather impatient with it and I am constantly altering recipes. Note: altering recipes works beautifully with cooking most of the time, with baking it’s a little more finicky. The thing I love about these no-bakes is that as long as you following the recipe basics it’s highly customizable for the most part. It would be super easy to make these using an almond or soy milk – or baileys. You can add pecans, walnuts or raisins. Top the hot cookies with a slice of a fresh strawberry, etc. There are so many options, which makes these fun.

Oh, and they take under 10 minutes to make.

I decided tonight to make a small batch of these to bring to our huge Thanksgiving tomorrow for dessert, along with a cheese/olive/salami platter for appetizers. Let me inform you that a small batch of these is enough. I’ll take photos of the dessert spread tomorrow and you’ll understand.

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp Baking Cocoa Powder (not hot cocoa)
  • 2 cups of Sugar
  • 1 stick of Butter
  • 1/2 cup of Milk
  • 1 tbsp Vanilla
  • 2 cups of Almond Butter (or Peanut Butter)
  • 3 cups of Quick Oatmeal
  • Shredded Coconut (optional)
  • Wax Paper
  • Ice Cream Scoop (optional)

Directions

1.) In a largish non-stick pot (if available) add the cocoa powder, sugar, butter, milk and vanilla over medium heat. Let simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring to keep from burning and to dissolve all ingredients. While this is going roll out a large sheet of wax paper, about a foot or so.

2.) Add in your almond/peanut butter. If you are using natural almond/peanut butter make sure to heat it first and stir until smooth so it can incorporate properly. If you get chunks that won’t dissolve use an immersion blender to break them up. I had this issue as I had never used almond butter before, but heating it separately would have solved the issue.

3.) Once all ingredients are incorporated and smooth add the quick oatmeal and quickly stir to coat. This stuff sets up fast so get on it.

4.) Use the ice cream scoop and drop cookies on the wax paper. If you want, tap the top down with a fork.

If you’re using the coconut there are three ways (I can think of) that you can add it in. No matter what you choose it will be ridiculously delicious.

  • Toast it under the broiler and then top the cookies while still hot, slightly tap into the top of the cookie.
  • Keep it raw and top the cookies while still hot, slightly tap into the top of the cookie.
  • Toss it in with the oatmeal in step 3.

These are absolutely best while still warm. I highly suggest hovering like a bee over a flower and then making a dash for the goods once they are set up enough to easily pop off of the wax paper. Add a big glass of your favorite kind of milk, and wait for it. You feel that? That’s the feeling of pure delight. I suggest not worrying about the sugar and butter in these since they are a treat, not a regular.

XO,

Heather

 

Roasted Root Vegetable Dill Stew & Fluffy Biscuits

Our winter CSA (community supported agriculture) pickup was on Thursday. We decided to join a Winter CSA to supplement our diets with organic locally grown vegetables. I knew Andy would initially be hesitant to join the CSA if it would be a lot of money for very little food, or one that supplemented their veggies with out of state food. It was important to me too to find a CSA that was grown within 25 miles of our home, and had convenient pick up. I knew it would be the basic root veggies for the winter, and I was hoping to get challenged with some I had never had before. Normally we grow parsnips and just leave them to winter and pick them as needed, but this year we didn’t. We also don’t have any root cellar which rules out our own crop.

I ended up finding the perfect Winter CSA grown within the 25 miles, and the pickup is right near my office. We can also buy organic eggs and meat separately, which I love. It’s 6 months long and pick up is every 2 weeks. As well, all veggies are locally grown with no non-local supplementation. It goes through May, which will help supplement us until our garden is ready, especially if the next planting season is anything like this year. Also, I can be assured it’s all from right here. I don’t mind buying them at the grocery store, but if I’m paying extra for a CSA, I want it local.

We’re hoping to someday get a cold frame built to put over at least 1/4 to 1/2 of our garden to have our own crops during the winter, but for now the CSA is a great choice for us. We get about a regular grocery bag of food every 2 weeks. While it’s most definitely not all of our veggies, it certainly helps. I also love supporting local farmers so this makes me feel good too.

Tonight after a long day of painting, cleaning & general malaise I decided we needed a hearty stew for dinner. One of the veggies we got was celeriac which I had never had. It turns out I love it.

Ingredients

No need to adhere to the veggies below, just use any root veggies you have on hand and dice them up into bite size pieces.

  • 1 Sweet Potato
  • 3 medium Regular Potato’s
  • 8 medium Turnips
  • 2 bulbs Celeriac (celery root)
  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 3-4 small/medium carrots
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 3 medium cloves garlic
  • Chicken Stock (enough to cover vegetables) [To make vegan substitute vegetable broth]
  • 1/2 cup 1% milk (optional) [To make vegan substitute nut milk of choice, almond would work nice]
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch to thicken (optional)
  • Olive Oil/Vegetable Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1.5-2 tbsp Dill
  • Pinch Celery seed

Directions

1.) Heat oven to 400 and start pot of water. I suggest using one pot that will be large enough to make the soup in, or else you’ll need two pots.

2.) Dice all veggies. Set onion & garlic and celeriac aside.

This is celeriac. Cut the top off. Cut the bottom off, and skin. It’s just that easy! Don’t be intimidated.

3.) Add celeriac root to boiling water for 15 minutes. Being honest, I’m not sure why you couldn’t roast it. I read different preparation ways and most places said boil it. Since I’ve never used it I followed the majority. I say try and roast it if you want, I see no reason why it wouldn’t work.

4.) Spread remaining veggies (except onion & garlic) on a cookie sheets or two and drizzle with oil, salt, and pepper. Roast in oven for 10 minutes. I recommend putting all butternut squash on one end of a cookie sheet, since you’ll want to keep this aside to add in at the end.

5.) Drain celeriac root and set aside in a bowl or on the cookie sheet with the butternut squash to add in at the end.

6.) Add a large pad of butter to the pan. Once melted put in the garlic and onions and saute for 5 minutes. Add in all of the roasted veggies except celeriac and butternut squash. Turn the heat down to medium and let go for about 5 minutes, gently stirring once or twice.

7.) Add chicken stock to cover the veggies, dill, celery seed, salt and pepper and put on low and simmer until the potatoes & sweet potatoes are fork tender. If you want to thicken, take about 2 tablespoons of hot broth out and add cornstarch to it. Whisk until entirely dissolved and add back to the soup. Do not add cornstarch into the entire batch of soup, it will clump and stirring will break your veggies apart.

There’s a reason this is called a Dill stew.

8.) Turn off the heat to the soup. If adding milk, slowly pour and gently stir, or temper into a smaller bowl of hot broth and pour back in.

9.) Biscuits. Get this can. Half the directions of the back for about 9 mug sized biscuits. Add a little more baking soda for fluffier biscuits. Secrets out – this is how my grandpa made his best biscuits, my mom made hers, and I make mine. I have a couple different ways I make them, but these are my favorite.

10.) Eat. Fill that bowl up, butter that biscuit up and mow down.

Happy Cold Winter Days & Hot Stew,

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