Sunday, August 16, 2015

Wild Blackberry Preserves

I suppose you may be wondering why I haven't posted in a while. I have been a bit busy with a number of things.

On Friday we went out and collected blackberries (mostly Rubus allegheniensis, a small amount of Rubus flagellaris) and a few incidental handsful of raspberries (Rubus idaeus) and flowering raspberries (Rubus odoratus).

Our haul for the day
My brother also collected Laetiporus sulphureus (chicken of the woods), which he had seen emerge earlier this week and watching for ideal collection time. So that big orange thing is a delicious edible wild shelf mushroom.

Friday night, naturally, we feasted; we ate the Laetiporus sulphureus sauteed in butter and white wine, along with fresh corn (bought from the back of a farm truck, the freshest you can get without growing it yourself) and a bean salad made with the green and yellow wax beans from my father's garden. Then, of course, blackberries for desert.

But of course, that's about 12-13L in that photo, so quite a lot of blackberries. There were, therefore, enough for me to do what I really wanted: canning.

I decided to make wild blackberry jelly and wild blackberry jam. I took about 6.5L of the fruit and started by heating it up, and using a potato masher to squish the fruit:

Blackberries heating to extract juice
 Then I mashed the fruit in a sieve to extract the juice. I don't care if my jelly is cloudy/opaque, I just don't want the seeds in it.

Extracting the juice from the fruit
Extracted blackberry juice
Of course, the problem with making jelly is that you get this perfectly good seed and pulp mixture that is often discarded. I decided that I wouldn't do that; instead, I used it to make jam.

Leftover pulp & seeds
I got about 7 cups of juice from the extraction process. I cooked the juice with the sugar, lemon juice, and pectin:

Cooking the jelly
Then I put the stuff in the sterilized jars and canned it for the requisite 10 minutes in the hot water canner:

Homemade canning rack in hot water bath
Side note: I love this home canning rack. I have actually been puzzled for a long time about most canning racks, because most government (ie research-based) sources recommend that the top of jars in the hot water bath be covered by at least 1 inch of water, but the standard canning rack you can buy will be suspended too high (especially for 1/2L or 1L jars), where the top of the jar will actually extend above the rim of the canner. So I don't understand how these racks can be advertized for pickling, because they don't fit! So I got a cooling rack and asked my father to rig something up; the wooden stand underneath keeps the jars about 2" above the bottom of the pot (reasonably elevated), and because it's a cooling rack, I can put whatever dimension of jar I like in there, rather than the wire frame canning racks which tend to only accommodate certain sizes of jars. There's plenty of clearance for me to cover the jars suitably. Long story short, I do not generally recommend hanging canning racks unless the only preserves you ever make are in 250mL jars or smaller. And even then, water will tend to boil out of the canner with enough headspace above the jar.

I then took the leftover pulp and revitalized it by replacing the removed juice with fruit juice (I had pomegranate & blueberry on hand so that's what I used), then adding sugar, lemon, and pectin. I cooked the lot as with the jelly, and canned the same way.

The result? 19 jars of wild blackberry jelly, and 17 jars of wild blackberry jam (36 jars total) with a large quantity of leftover jam that I turned into fridge jam which has, hilariously, mostly disappeared already even though it has only been ready for about 12 hours. It would appear that it is popular.

A few of my jars of jam and jelly
My recipes are pretty simple. I won't bother noting the sterilization and sanitation procedures here, if you use this recipe make sure to follow proper canning safety for your elevation etc. Ingredients-wise:

Wild Blackberry Jelly

-7 c. wild blackberry juice
-12 c. sugar
-2 c. lemon juice (NOTE: this is to taste -- add more lemon juice if your blackberry juice is sweeter; I like a good tart jelly, but if you like it sweeter you can also reduce the lemon or increase the sugar)
-3 pouches of pectin

Yield: 19 jars

Wild Blackberry Jam

-Leftover blackberry pulp from previous stage (approx 6 c.)
-10 c. sugar
-6 c. juice (dark fruit juice is good)
-3 c. lemon juice (as above, this is to taste)
-2 pouches of pectin

Yield: 21 jars (I ran out of jars, that's why I only have 17; total volume would've filled 21)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Root of Invasives: Burdock - Arctium lappa - Bardane

One visually arresting plant that you will be more likely to find in disturbed environments (eg parks, cities, agricultural areas, roadsides) is burdock. This plant is an introduced invasive plant originally native to Europe and Asia [1], and has been introduced, likely as a garden plant.

Arctium lappa whole plant view
Arctium lappa (greater burdock) is a particularly striking plant, rising to an impressive top height of 2.7m or even 3m [1,2]; its lower leaves can grow to enormous sizes, and its large purple flowerheads on tall stalks make the plant almost impossible to miss.

Arctium lappa inflorescence
A. lappa is broadly distributed in the US and Canada (US range map here, Canada range map here). Though introduced, it has no special status in the US [3], but is listed as a noxious weed in several provinces [4], including Alberta [5], British Columbia [6], and Manitoba [7]. This is likely because it can spread very aggressively in nitrogen-rich soils (eg agricultural areas) [1], because it can cause skin irritation and rash on contact [8], and the fine hairs on the seeds can be dangerous if inhaled [8], and because there is some evidence that the plant may be toxic to some mammals [9].

Arctium lappa inflorescence
This plant is very well known for its edible root. The root of A. lappa used to be fairly commonly consumed by humans from Europe to Asia but currently is only common in Asian cooking (especially Japanese) [1]. The root is edible, best harvested in the fall of the first year of growth (burdock is biennial) [1]. It is mild and crisp. The young leaves and shoots are also edible, generally cooked as a pot herb or in salads [1,10].

A. lappa is a frequent staple of traditional Chinese medicine [1], but there is currently insufficient evidence for its use to treat a broad assortment of ailments [11]. Its use is specifically contraindicated for diabetics and pregnant women [10].

Arctium lappa inflorescence covered with bees
A. lappa seems to be quite popular with Bombus spp (various bumblebee species), as it was actually a challenge to get photos of it without bees.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Let the Feasting Begin: Blackberry - Rubus allegheniensis - Mûre

So for those wondering about the general dearth of posts from me in the last week or so, a quick recapitulation: I was working full-time while packing up to move. Then I was moving. Then I was getting settled and unpacked.

I have relocated from Montreal in preparation for beginning an MSc Biology (pollination ecology) in September. I am now residing in Ottawa, but for the month of August I will be staying at the lake in the Upper Gatineau (I challenge anyone, when given the choice to either hang out in Ottawa or at a lake, to choose differently).

I will still post about things found in Montreal, with photos already taken or new photos when I go to visit my husband, but for the month of August at least you can anticipate that my photos will be primarily from this region.

Such as the ones for today. One of the first things I did upon settling in was to evaluate the state of the various wild fruits in the area. A quick reconnaissance along the road to a few known blackberry areas yielded a few fruits just starting to turn. Blackberry season is starting, and they are absolutely magnificent this year.

Most of the plants around here are Rubus allegheniensis (alleghany blackberry, common blackberry), with a couple of Rubus flagellaris (Northern dewberry, Northern blackberry) thrown in here and there -- it looks a bit different in the leaves and fruit but the most obvious difference at least around here is its low growth habit (R. flagellaris seems to keep a very low profile, often below knee height, but long and creeping). R. allegheniensis is native to Ontario and Quebec, introduced to BC, and it has an unknown status in Newfoundland & Labrador [1]. It is native to much of the Eastern US and one Western US state [2] (US range map here, Canada range map here). The species is secure in all of its Canadian range [1], is unlisted in the US [2], and is globally a species of least concern [3].

Rubus allegheniensis flower
R. allegheniensis is a member of the Rosaceae (rose family), a group of plants I have mentioned quite a few times before. The flower above shows the distinctive 5-petaled flower common in this family. In fact, the cane berries, as well as a few others, are all members not just of this family but of the genus Rubus, which is a group of plants which produce aggregate fruit which are composed of drupelets. An aggregate fruit is a fruit which is formed by the fusion of multiple ovaries (as opposed to each ovary developing into a single fruit), and a drupelet is a small fruit with a 'stone' (a seed surrounded by a hard shell). So plants of the genus Rubus produce fruits that look like a collection of bubbles stuck together.

Rubus allegheniensis - aggregate fruit composed of drupelets
These fruit are absolutely delicious. They are certainly my favourite of the cane berries and they compete very hard with strawberries to be my favourite fruit.

Rubus allegheniensis - typical bush this year, absolutely laden with ripening fruit
They are coming into season now in the Upper Gatineau. I have many plans for them, which I may post about again in the next few days.

We went up Mont Cayamant yesterday, and I got a great shot of Lac Cayamant from the top which I think people may enjoy:

View of Lac Cayamant from the Mont Cayamant lookout tower
The weather has been very changeable in the last week. This shot really shows it; it is sunny, but there are many areas obviously shaded, and it's even raining on the right-hand side. A very mixed sky indeed. It was a lovely walk punctuated with delicious blackberries!