|Unassuming native fruit, Oregon Grape (Mahonia nervousa)|
Can you remember the first time you tasted wild fruit? For me it is as if it happened an hour ago. When we first moved to Oregon we lived just south of Portland near a swimming hole called "Wally's Dam"...a place my brother and I lived at during the warm summer months. To get to Wally's, we had to walk across our neighbor's horse pasture and through the lush woods beyond, down into a hollow where the creek was and this beloved swimming hole.
I always loved this walk through the woods and remember this one time in particular that Mom and Dad walked with my brother and I. Mom stopped before we got to far into the woods and bent over to pick some fruit she saw and was wondering if it was edible. Dad, who was a bit of a plant geek it seems, somewhere along the line had researched the plant and shared with us that it was Oregon Grape, our state flower and the fruit was edible. He bent over and picked one for each of us to try. That fruit was the most sour thing I had ever tasted and I quickly spit it out. The next time I remember tasting it was a far different experience and at the county fair where someone had made some Oregon Grape jam for folks to try on crackers. My curiosity got the best of me, I took one bite and was hooked for life.
Since that time, Oregon Grape has become one of my favorite berries for preserving, I think in part because it is unusual but also because it is really good. Most of the people I know aren't even aware its edible...a good thing for those of us who do I suppose. It also happens to be a very healthful thing to eat too as it is full of antioxidants. Our regional Indian tribes have used it as medicine for centuries and that is probably where the settlers learned about it I imagine.
|Native to our region, drought tolerant, disease and pest resistant and free fruit. Gotta love it|
Last year I was so disappointed when my dear, wonderful, and handy husband got in one of his tidying moods and cut down the plant (above) that grows along our fence line while it was in full bloom, ruining the prospects of harvesting for that year. What is with men and loppers anyway? They seem to get them in their hands and loose all manner of common sense. Enough of the ranting questions...where was I?
This year I watched our plant like a hawk and guarding it like a momma bear, threatening him with bodily harm if he even looked like he was thinking about pruning it. He must have gotten the message because I heard him the other day telling our neighbor's four year old not to pick the fruit. (Thank you Honey!)
|Little points on those shiny leaves spell OUCH!|
The fruit was ready to pick today finally. I began to harvest it and was quickly reminded it is a good idea to wear gloves after getting pricked by the leaves a couple of times. The leaves are similar to Holly (Ilex aquafolium) with pin-like points on the edges which are no fun to run into and worse if the leaves are crispy dry. They are not quite as bad as Holly but still, its good to wear gloves.
|These gloves are a little clunky in the fingertips but they protected my hands from getting poked by the leaves|
|Fruiting stems ringed the branches which are bend easily without breaking making harvesting very easy.|
I decided to grab my grape scissors while I was at it so I could snip off the fruiting stems instead of trying to strip the fruit off of each one with chubby glove covered fingers...trying to strip stems of fruit with leather gloves on is only asking for frustration. To harvest the fruit I bend the branches over so the fruit falls into a paper bag on the ground beneath. This made the work go very quickly and in no time at all I was finished and headed back inside to finish up.
|A nice little pile of fruit for my trouble|
This fruit strips off the stem easily and the other nice thing is the little stems on each fruit also fall off easily making cleaning a breeze. It only took a couple minutes to clean and wash the three cups I had gathered from our bush.
The Indians in the Pacific Northwest used the fruit of Oregon Grape as a medicine for colds and other ailments. It actually is an antioxident powerhouse and is an herbal remedy even still today. Even if that weren't so the fruit is worth processing and it makes a wonderful preserved product and goes well with wild game, pork and fish...especially salmon.
|Washed and cleaned of debri, into a pot with 1 cup of water they go|
To process them I just clean them of debris, rinsing them well in a collander, drain them and put them in a heavy bottomed sauce pan with 1 cup of water. Bring this to a boil for about 10 minutes or so.
|Plump and juicy with skins sliding off...hope your arm is warmed up.|
|A whole lot of pressing going on and oh the goodness!|
To strain the fruit and get the seeds out just place a wire colander over a sturdy bowl and pour cooked fruit into it. Press the fruit with the back of a sturdy spoon, pushing the fruit through the mesh and leaving the seeds behind. It helps to scrape the sides often. The seeds are good sized, easy to see and won't push through the wire mesh.
It yielded about 3 cups of fruit with fine pulp. Next I returned the fruity goodness to the sauce pan and add 2 cups (or more) of sugar and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to the fruit and bring it back to a boil to melt the sugar and reduce the liquid a bit. At this point it can be made into syrup or jam or strained through a through cheese cloth got making into jelly. The jelly and jam are wonderful on crackers with a little cream cheese. However, we happen to like it best as syrup over pancakes or waffles...or ice cream so all I have to do is thicken it a bit when we are ready to use it. Once the fruit cools I'll put it into cartons to freeze. There now wasn't that easy?
Copyright © 2011 by Patty Hicks
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