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      Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.


      Showing posts with label jelly. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label jelly. Show all posts

      Friday, November 4, 2011

      Sorbus americana


      Growing up I was told mountain ash berries were poisonous. I'm sure the lie wasn't intentional...my family just didn't know any better. They weren't foragers, after all. Realizing I could cook with the berries gave me the thrill of discovery, as did learning that our mountain ash is the rowan of Lord of the Rings fame. It's the little things.


      Mountain ash berries (Sorbus americana) are a classic jelly fruit, tart and full of pectin. Our recent snowfall makes this the perfect time to pick them because the berries (actually pomes) sweeten after a frost. If you live somewhere warm, you can put them in the freezer for a few days to make the fruit more palatable.

      Raw berries are juicy and highly astringent. They also contain parasorbic acid, which can cause indigestion, but cooking converts this to sorbic acid, which is entirely benign. The cooked fruit makes a not-too-sweet jelly, traditionally used as an accompaniment to meat, but it's also good with cheese, the sharper the better.


      As a landscape tree the mountain ash is relatively short-lived, rarely making it beyond 25-30 years old. In a traditional, in-ground garden that might be an undesirable characteristic, but in containers it's perfectly alright. Even long-lived trees need periodic replacement and root pruning in a containerized growing environment. Small white flowers are very fragrant in late spring/early summer, and they attract lots of pollinators to the garden.

      Two thumbs up.



      Friday, October 16, 2009

      somebody help me!

      I'm a really good jelly maker. Jam maker, too. Ask anyone. But I could use some help with this: Pomona's Universal Pectin. How does this relate to New York City gardening? I hold Pomona's responsible for wasting two of my precious NYC foraged crops.

      I'm a big fan of the Amelanchier. It does great in containers:

      and provides the multi-season interest required by small gardens.

      flowers in spring

      berries in summer

      foliage color in fall

      Every year I harvest the berries and make jam or jelly, sharing it with the clients who actually own the tree.

      Jams and jellies made without commercial pectin generally require a 3:4 ratio of sugar:fruit to produce a good jell. Using commercial pectin (for fruits that don't contain enough natural pectin to jell) requires more sugar to balance the bitterness of the pectin; you might need as much as a 7:4 ratio of sugar:fruit. Pomona's lets you use less sugar, or experiment with alternate sweeteners like honey or agave nectar (even stevia, O.E.!). This year, in an effort to be healthy, I tried the Pomona's pectin and used agave nectar.

      What a disappointment. Not just because it wasn't tasty, but because instead of the clear, vibrant, purple color that one has come to expect from amelanchier jelly, I was left with a cloudy, muted purple jelly that wouldn't be allowed in a county fair.

      Instead of learning my lesson, I gave Pomona's a second try, this time with the precious Mayapple. Mayapples are an under-appreciated native plant, perfectly suited to shady back yards.

      Most parts of the mayapple are poisonous, but the RIPE fruit is both safe and delicious. Local fauna is privy to this secret, making it difficult to gather enough ripe fruit to DO anything with. In NYC, however, our special brand of wildlife (rats, pigeons, and cockroaches) is less interested in wild fruit than in dumpster diving, making it an excellent place to forage.

      Mayapple jelly is like sunshine in a jar. Hard to describe in terms of other fruits but here goes: a combination of citrus, guava, and pineapple. I thought by using sugar instead of agave nectar I might have better luck with the Pomona's, but alas! No clear, sparkling color and a lackluster taste...what a waste!

      So here I am at my wits' end...not a happy place to be. I'm going to throw out my remaining two boxes of Pomona's unless you, dear readers, can tell me where I went wrong. Is Pomona's an inferior product or am I missing something? I have some terrace-grown plums waiting to be jell-ified and I don't intend to blow it again.

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