My husband tells me I’m getting a little obsessed with gathering wild edibles. But here’s a success story: Max and I made fruit leather from berries we discovered along a local bike path.
The tree is Autumn Olive, related to the Russian Olive and not a “true” olive. In the fall, it sports tart red berries with silvery spots. The lone tree caught my eye at 12 miles an hour, and even though I’ve never seen this species before, my brain said “Autumn Olive.” See, oh doubting husband, those hours spent poring over wild edible books have not been wasted!
Once I confirmed that the tree was indeed an Autumn Olive, Max and I returned with shopping bag and pruners. In no time at all, we’d filled the bag with small branches. (Next time, I won’t clip the branches, I’ll strip the berries straight from the tree. But this plant is considered invasive in many places, no harm done by slowing its growth a little.)
That evening, we were ready to dig in. Had a fabulous time sitting on the floor and stripping the berries into a large bowl. The simple beauty of the round crimson berries made me smile, and we had a misplaced sense of pride about the quantity we had gathered.
We washed ‘em, cooked ‘em, ran ‘em thru a food mill. (Hey, nobody said processing wild fruit is easy! That’s why those pioneer women could birth their babies while traveling the Oregon Trail. That, and because they had to…) Then we sweetened the runny magenta mush with lots of honey. One night in the electric food dryer, some kitchen shears (sorry, pioneer women, technology happens), and, viola, a bunch of beautiful if slightly mouth-puckering fruit roll-ups.
Look out, Ma Ingalls. I’m after your cookbook, and your husband.
Important aside: According to the Wild Berries & Fruit Field Guide, Autumn Olive has no toxic look-alikes. But, as always, be careful eating wild plants. Some are quite poisonous.