People who know
The appeal to foraging for food is understandable. Foraged food is free, and does not require the time or investment involved in cultivation. It is find, pick and eat food. And, after all, humans evolved as hunter-gatherers (foragers).
Earlier this year, we saw a note on Nextdoor.com that gave us the opportunity to dip our toes into the foraged food pool. A neighbor had some Elderberry bushes that had produced a bounty of fruit she could not harvest and she was looking for people to come take the crop away. After a little research, we learned that though elderberries are poisonous and bitter, the poison is easily neutralized by cooking and honey can help to overcome the bitterness. We decided to give the Elderberries a try. The result is in the video below.
The Elderberry experiment worked out so well that when someone we know said the Aronia bushes in their yard had suddenly produced a bounty of fruit they didn't know what to do with, we decided it was time for foraging experiment number 2!
When researching what to do with the Elderberries, one of the things we learned was that there are several poisonous berries that can all look a lot alike. So, after picking a bunch of berries, the next thing we wanted to do was to verify that what we had just picked were, in fact, Aronia berries. We were interested in the super-food nutrients found in Aronia berries (a.k.a. Chokeberries - which are not to be confused with Choke Cherries). We were not, however, wanting strychnine or arsenic - some of the lovely ingredients that can be found in some of the look-a-likes.
After a little back and forth, we concluded the bounty of berries we had collected were, in fact, Aronia. Tasting then verified it even more. A bit bitter and very astringent, leaving the mouth feeling dry and puckery, like having tasted a very dry wine, but less pleasant.
Note: the fact that the raw Aronia berries have a taste that is generally considered to be... um... unpleasant (to be kind) is probably why this fruit is not more popular today.
While Aronia are not well known to modern Americans for culinary purposes, the native Americans knew Aronia well and used it for food and medicine. They also used its deep, black/purple juice to make inks and dyes.
Today it is making a comeback in the natural foods market because of its unusually high concentrations of fiber, vitamin C, manganese, and antioxidants. Many people consider Aronia berries to be a super food. because of all of the great stuff in them.
Knowing all of that, we figured it could not hurt to try making some jelly or jam from the pounds of berries we have bagged up. Even if it ended up being nasty-tasting, the vitamins might be worth chocking some down now and then. George got busy doing the math to concoct a pH-appropriate recipe for jelly-making (the berries are SO full of fiber that straining the skins out is pretty essential to having an edible product).
George used no sugar and used only a fraction of the honey most of the recipes recommend and the end result was fantastic. Well, for me it was fantastic. George doesn't really like it very much. Other people who have tried it think it is fantastic.
The final product is not very sweet at all and it is somewhat astringent. It reminds me of a berry-flavored Malbec wine, but not quite as heavy. The flavor is rich and complex and very interesting. I have not been able to keep myself out of the jar all morning. I'm literally hooked on it.
This morning for breakfast, I toasted some English Sourdough Crumpets (now available in the Our Urban Farms online Shop) and added a bit of cheddar cheese and jalapeño pepper. The combination of the crumpet with the cheese and pepper mixed with the complex berriness of the Aronia was simply out-of-this-World.
Aronia grow natively in Minnesota. In the spring, they produce large, beautiful pollinator-friendly flowers. The plants themselves are beautiful causing many people to put them in as ornamental plantings. Keep your eyes open and you may spot a local source. With some cooperative neighbors, maybe you can get your hands on some Aronia black gold!