Autumn olive is an anathema to conservationists.
It was brought into the ecosystem to prevent erosion and help feed a formerly dwindling deer population. It was brought in before it’s invasive traits were fully understood.
Its leaves come on earlier and stay out later than indigenous species. It spreads via its multitudes of seeds and sprouts from its root crown. It fixes nitrogen in the soil pushing out indigenous low-nitrogen adapted plants. It is hard to cut out. You can’t burn it out. And you can’t prevent all of those seeds from scattering no matter how you try.
But since it’s here, we might as well eat it, right?
Like many wild foods, autumn olive is nutrient dense. It is especially high in lycopene containing more than 18% of the amount of lycopene found in a tomato, the lycopene standard bearer. (I just wrote lycopene more often in that one sentence than in the rest of my life to date.) The thick and slightly tannic skins are dense in polyphenols and antioxidants that help promote joint health. And you go for a walk to gather them which is proven to decrease stress and promote heart health.
The ruby-hued, gold-flecked berries are edible though they contain one large seed that is relatively unpalatable (though no more than from concord grapes). And so I find that while I can eat them when out on a walk, I prefer to take a bucket with me, shake those branches loaded with little red fruits, and take them home and cook them down removing the seeds along the way.
The berries are super tart until the middle to end of October. After the frosts come the berries ripen to a deep, deep red and taste sweet with a hint of tang. That balance of sweet and sour make autumn olive the perfect fruit to turn into a chutney or punchy jam to balance richer flavors. Like currants or rhubarb, autumn olive can be used as a foil both to rich desserts or fattier meats.
Below is a recipe for both autumn olive chutney and pickled autumn olive. The pickled berries keep their seeds but they are slightly softened from the treatment, so if the seeds of raspberries or figs don’t bother you, you’ll probably be fine with these. To make jam from the fruit, treat it the same way as the chutney but increase the sugar to 40% of the volume of the fruit.
And below that are recipes to actually use the chutney. This can be replaced by any other tart fruit preserve: as mentioned, red currant, rhubarb, even something lemony.
I don’t know if it is possible to curtail the spread of autumn olive by eating as many berries as possible, but it seems like a worthy ambition. The danger is that we might like it so much that we want to keep the shrubs around. The truth is that it is probably somewhere in the middle.
I pass this through a food mill to remove the seeds. If they don’t bother you, feel free to skip the step. It does take some time to remove the stems, but it is a worthwhile task. The time I couldn’t be bothered to do it the chutney came out a bit more bitter and while still tasty was less universally useful than without the stems.
- 4 C autumn olive berries
- ½ C sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ C apple cider vinegar
- Combine all ingredients except vinegar and heat until sugar is dissolved
- Continue cooking until berries are soft
- Pass through a food mill to remove the seeds
- Add the vinegar and return to heat cooking until desired thickness
- Cool or jar and seal while hot
Pickling seems to soften the seeds enough that I don’t mind eating them. You might disagree.
- 4 C autumn olive berries
- 2 C apple cider vinegar
- 1 C water
- ½ C sugar
- 2 T salt
- Bring everything except the berries to a boil
- Pour over the berries and allow to cool
- Keep in the fridge or water bath process to keep on your shelf
Please note that this panna cotta is delicious with any jam or fresh fruit on top. If you don’t have a jar of Autumn Olive at the ready, feel free to swap out for your other favorites.
- 2 C heavy cream
- 1 C buttermilk
- ½ C sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp powdered gelatin
- Combine the powdered gelatin and buttermilk to bloom and let sit for 10 minutes
- Heat the cream, sugar, vanilla and salt until the sugar is dissolved
- Remove from the heat
- Add the buttermilk and gelatin and dissolve
- Divide into 6 ramekins and cool to set
- When set top with autumn olive chutney and serve
- 4 chicken thighs
- 2 delicata squash
- 1 bag arugula
- ¼ C olive oil
- pinch salt
- ½ C autumn olive chutney
- Heat the oven to 350F
- Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds
- Cut the squash into half moons a ¼” thick
- Season chicken thighs w/ salt and pepper
- Heat a glug of oil in a frying pan, pat the skin of the chicken dry and sear skin side down
- When the skin is golden brown remove to a plate
- Add the squash to the hot frying pan
- Allow the one side of the squash to brown and flip
- Place the thighs on top of the squash and transfer to the hot oven
- Cook until the squash is tender and the thighs are cooked through
- Dress the arugula with the olive oil and a pinch of salt
- Remove the chicken from the oven and transfer to serving plates
- Top with the arugula salad and serve