Monday, September 19, 2011

Wild Foraging: Squashberries and Making Jelly

Squashberries. I'll bet you've never heard of them. I hadn't either, until I started doing some research about the plants on and around our property. They're very similar to Highbush Cranberries... if you've heard of those.

I interlibrary loaned a few books on wild foraging from the local library. (I really didn't want to poison my family in my quest for free food!)
  • Edible Wild Plants by T. S. Elias & P.A. Dykeman
  • Cooking with Wild Berries & Fruits of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan by Teresa Marrone
  • Abundantly Wild: Collecting And Cooking Wild Edibles Of The Upper Midwest by Teresa Marrone

So I had some squashberries on my hands. Thankfully there are no poisonous look-alikes, so that made me feel pretty safe in going ahead with my project.

  1. I picked about two and a half quarts of berries. That was the easiest part.
  2. Then to make sure they were all de-stemmed. That was a little more time-consuming, probably took me at least an hour or so.
  3. Rinse the fruit to get all the bugs and last stem particles out.
  4. Put the fruit in a 5 qt. pot and put enough water in to barely cover the fruit. After I started cooking them, I mashed the fruit. After maybe 20 minutes or so, I let the mixture cool. One thing that I forgot to do was add an orange or lemon rind to the mixture while cooking, which was recommended by one of my library books. It helps to take away the odor of the cooking berries... and I have to admit, it wasn't incredibly appealing to smell while cooking! Next time...
  5. The mixture then went through my cone-shaped strainer. It has a handy dandy wooden mallet to push the mixture through. You need to get all the skins and seeds out. The seeds are a flat, oval shape. (Sorry, no picture...)
  6. I did two "tests" on it before continuing: the pectin test, and the acid test, as explained in the book Canning, Freezing & Drying by the editors of Sunset Books and Sunset Magazine. To test if you need to add extra pectin, you add 1 teaspoon of cooked fruit juice to 1 Tablespoon of rubbing alcohol (70%). (Don't drink this, however, and throw it out when done!) "Juices rich in pectin will form a jellylike mass that can be picked up with a fork. Juices low in pectin will form only a few pieces of jellylike material." My squashberries didn't appear to need added pectin according to this test. To test if you need to add acid such as lemon juice, "compare the tartness of the your cooked fruit juice with a mixture of 1 teaspoon lemon juice added to 3 Tablespoons water and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. If the juice is not as tart as the lemon mixture, add 1 Tablespoon lemon juice to each cup of fruit juice." My squashberries were quite tart, so I didn't need additional acid.
  7. I had about 5.5 c. liquid. Once I got it boiling, I added 3/4 c. honey for every cup of liquid. The "formula" recommended in Canning, Freezing & Drying was to use "about 3/4 to 1 c. sugar for juice with a high proportion of pectin (or 2/3 c to 3/4 c. for juice containing only a moderate amount of pectin) to each cup of fruit juice." So, being the stingy sweetener that I am, I used 3/4 c. honey for every cup of fruit juice. To my tastebuds, it tasted pretty sweet.
  8. Since I didn't use commercial pectin, I was using the "long boil method"... rapidly boiling until jell point is reached at 220 degrees F. The book specifies that "this is at sea level. To test at your elevation, boil water to see at what temperature it boils; then add 8 degrees F. for the jell point." I just went with the 220 degrees. Well, actually I went with 215 degrees because it seemed stuck there for the longest time, and the book cautions against boiling for too long. So, what's a girl to do? What any pregnant girl who's ready for a nap would do!
  9. Put the hot mixture in jars! I had clean pint and half pint jars ready to go, and filled three pints and two half pints. Wipe off the rims with a damp rag, put on your sterilized new canning lids, and screw on the rings. Once they've sealed (when you push on the top and it doesn't make a popping sound), they're all done!
Note: It took a while for this "jelly" to jell. It's been a few weeks now, and the liquid is starting to thicken finally. A few more months and it will probably officially become jelly. I'm sure this can be attributed to the fact that I didn't boil it to its exact jell point. But the amount of pectin in the fruit will make up for my lazy cooking measures over time.

I hope you enjoyed my adventure. I still need to try out rosehips and nannyberries. We'll see...

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