The past month has been a busy one! December was an oddly warm one for the Hudson Valley, and I tried to get out to hike as much as I could. There were forsythia flowers blooming, and cherry blossoms opening, and mushrooms all over. As I write this, winter has finally settled in a little bit more– there is snow outside, and it is cold enough to have the wood stove cranking. The new year is upon us, and I, for one, am dedicated to making it a good one. There were so many heavy moments in the last few months of 2015 that by December, I sank pretty low. But with good food, an open mind, and love in our hearts, I know we can start on a high note.
Back in October, I harvested some berries from the invasive autumn olive. They are lovely red berries that have microscopic dots all over them, giving them a silvery cast (the plant is also called silverberry, due to the silvery underside of their leaves, and perhaps the berries themselves). I have been gathering these lovely little berries for years now, since I found a huge patch where you can never even put a dent in this highly productive species’ output. One bush will produce tons of berries. It’s a picking experience not without pain–there are some sharp thorns.
I must say that I had almost given up on them as a source for food. I don’t like the berries raw–though some do eat them this way–as they are very tannic. My lips just pucker at the mere thought of them. Pressed and added to apples is a suitable way to eat them, as I do like their flavor. I once tried to make something from them on their own, and they separated into a red pulpy mass with a white milky liquid. It wasn’t very pleasant. Also, the large seeds inside the berry have a grain-y smell to them that I don’t care for. When you pass them through a sieve, as for applesauce, it releases this flavor. It sort of ruins things for me, though I wonder how the seeds would be toasted.
This year, once they began to ripen I went to collect a small amount, about a pound. As I picked them, I didn’t even know what I would make. I had been so disappointed in them in the years past that I was only picking them because I do every year. What to make? I wondered. When I am at the end of my rope on deciding what to so with a fruit, I resort to two things: vinegar or liquor. I took the liquor route. And, I tell you, this was the correct route. (Though I will try vinegar next year–maybe that’s a good route, too!)
This mixture–a quart jar filled with the berries, covered with vodka and let to steep for about a month– is my new favorite elixir. At first, I was deflated. When I went to agitate it over the month I noticed it never changed a deep red which I thought it might due to all the lycopene autumn olives contain. But when I tasted it–well, that’s where I was sold. It’s tinged pink, sort of an eerie color, neither here nor there, but all the berry-ish flavor is leeched into the vodka, none of the acrid tannins linger, and all you have is a lovely fruity beverage to indulge in for the final hours of the past year. I will chill it thoroughly, and enjoy it by the fire as the minutes tick to nine o’clock. (Which is when I observe the change, as I cannot stay up until midnight.)
So, I raise my virtual glass of autumn olive cordial, and I wish you a wonderful 2016, filled with fine foods, friends and lots of love!