The berries Betsy picked were from a plant that’s now considered invasive but was once widely favored by conservation departments. We call it autumn olive, and it’s also known as autumn berry and Japanese silverberry (it’s not related to olives). It grows all over the place, even in cities, and was imported from East Asia. It fixes nitrogen in the soil, so it grows even in poor ground, out-competing native species.
Its berries, red with silver dots, are coming ripe now, and are sweetest after a little frost. Betsy picked one and a half gallons in South Amherst on Wednesday and stored them in the fridge. Yesterday she mixed some of them with juice from crabapples she picked in the summer, which provided the pectin that makes the jam congeal.
She cooked it for about 20 minutes, then put the mixture through a food mill to extract and remove the seeds and skins. Then she mixed in a half cup of sugar per cup of juice and cooked it for another 20 minutes, until it ran off a spoon in a sheet. She put the jam in half-pint jars and preserved them in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes.
It’s challenging to get the right consistency for jam; if you don’t cook it enough it’s too runny, and if you overcook, it gets rubbery and hard to spread. Betsy got this jam just right. It’s a little tart, but delicious on toast. Some people say that autumn olives’ taste is between currants and pie cherries.
Autumn olives have loads of lycopene, which is proven to promote prostate health in men. Tomatoes are the best-known source of lycopene, but autumn olives have between seven and 18 times as much.
Betsy also made ketchup from autumn olives yesterday. Using two quarts, she mixed in 1/3 cup vinegar, 1 1/3 teaspoon salt, 2/3 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of allspice and 2/3 of a head of garlic. She simmered this mixture for 30 minutes, then put it through a food mill. She returned it to the stove and simmered for 30 minutes, stirring, until it thickened. She put it in five 1/4 pint containers and processed 15 minutes in a hot-water bath.
She said it tastes a little like tomato ketchup, maybe a little tarter. I look forward to trying it!
Meanwhile, I was busy making a vegetable soup that turned out so thick it was more like a stew. I started out looking for a way to use three cups of green beans that were a little overripe. The day before, I had removed their strings, cut them up and steamed them for about a half hour.
When it was time to make the soup, I chopped a large onion and put it in a big pot with some oil. I added about four stalks of chopped celery (which grew abundantly in our garden this year) and three chopped carrots. I looked in the vegetable bin of our fridge and found four old yellow beets Betsy had bought weeks ago. I peeled and chopped them and added to the pot.
The great thing about soup is that it can be improvisational. I cut up four small hot peppers we grew this year and put them, seeds and all, into the pot. I added a box of organic chicken stock, some leftover shredded zucchini, and the cooked green beans. I added a teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of pepper and a little dried basil. At the last minute, I added a cup of Stellini pasta that had been sitting on a shelf for a while, and I think this is what turned the consistency stew-like.
It was wonderful, with a nice combination of sweet and spicy. We added some chicken bits to it for our dinner last night and put the leftovers into the freezer for future use.
We love making healthy food out of whatever is available!