On autumn olive berries

On Sunday, my mom came up to pick some autumn olive berries (elaegnus umbellata).  These tart little red berries are found on a shrubby tree that grows with some profusion around here.  These shrubs are not native, and reproduce with great readiness, and thus have the reputation of being “invasives.”  There are many things, native or not, that I personally consider more invasive on my land (thistles, poison ivy, wild roses, silver maples) so I kind of give these trees a pass.  Wildlife and human life at least can eat these berries.

Little yellow seeds, clear juice, thin skins

The berries are about the size of peas.  They are round and spotty and they’re a wonderful rusty red color, contrasting nicely with the dark green of the tops of the leaves of their shrub/tree.  The “olive” in their name comes from the leaves’ passing resemblance to the shape and color of that of olive trees…but only the underside of the leaves.  The underside leaf color is a lovely light sage green, and, in the wind, the tree’s leaves do change color.  The berries have a small yellow seed inside.  It’s entirely edible, lending a bit of crunch to the berry, and a bit of a tang.  They start tart, end sweet.  The closest thing I can say they taste like is perhaps unripe gooseberries.

Mom is a bit of an Atkins nut.  I suppose every family has a member who has fallen into a cult at one point of their lives.  You still love them.  My point of mentioning this is that the freezer jam she makes with these berries and that godawful poison Splenda is her favorite jam, so when I told her the berries were ripening, she completely juggled her schedule to come up and pick.  And pick she did.  She picked about six cups of the berries for me, too.

I have made jam with the berries, too, and not with Splenda (shudder).  I like it, but not as much as other jams I make, so this year I decided to make a fruit chutney with them.  Chutneys are so versatile, and their sweet/tart/salty/spicy mixture is such a great foil for the blandness of cheese and crackers or the predictability of all those chickens in our freezer (30+, plus 6 birds still running around).  Chutneys are also a great way to use up all the stuff still coming out of the garden (orange and green tomatoes, sour apples, carrots, celery, hot and sweet peppers) or still taking up valuable space in that freezer from last year (cranberries).  So I got creative last night and made some berry chutney.


39 responses to “On autumn olive berries

  1. Do you ship?

  2. It’s all about creative use of excess… my mother-in-law has a ratty little peach tree but she makes AMAZING peach chutney. Chutney seems to be the magical solution to many problems.

  3. Ah yes. These scrubby bushes seem to be everywhere here in MI don’t they? Never eaten the berries before though, I have to admit…..should I be? (without the splenda, of course. My parents love that stuff too *gag*)

  4. Now, the not terribly scientific recipe! Take this as a guide and go nuts is my advice.

    Mix in large bowl: 5 cups autumn olive berries, 1 cup chopped cranberries, ~3 cups chopped peeled apples, ~2 cups chopped seeded red pepper, ~1 cup chopped celery, ~1 cup chopped peeled carrots, 2 hot minced seeded peppers, 6 minced garlic cloves, ~1 cup chopped red onion, ~1.5 cups chopped orange tomatoes, ~1.5 cups chopped green (unripe) tomatoes. Mix in smaller bowl: 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup white wine vinegar, 2 T ground ginger, 1 T sweet curry, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 T fresh dill, 2 T fresh parsley, 2 T salt or to taste. Pour liquid contents over veggies and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings. Cold pack in sterile jars; tamp down to fit. Process in pressure canner for 15 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. There is enough vinegar in this that you should be able to can in a boiling-water bath; I am lazy and only use my pressure canner.

  5. Delightful. Never heard of these cute berries.

    What a super-sounding recipe you have crafted. I am thisclose to buying a pressure canner. (I am frankly _closer_ to buying a chest freezer, though.)

  6. *shudders* Splenda. What horrible, awful, yucky tasting stuff.

    Has your Mom tried Stevia? It still has an after taste (to me) but at least it’s more natural. 😛 And I think it’s probably healthier, in the long run.

  7. Growing up I knew them as Autumn Olive and thought they tasted a bit like cranberries.I looked them up a few years ago and they can be invasive but they don’t spread by suckers.Some states are really against them but I say live and let live.What I miss is the crab apple trees my parents had and the cider made from Northern Spy apples which are still pressed around Western N.Y. in the fall.

  8. Pamela: Hah! Let me open a jar first and I will let you know. It tasted pretty good going IN to the canner…

    Anne: Exactamundo. Your MIL has the best idea. I personally wondered last year why I didn’t make more chutney AND salsa and this year I rectified it. Chopping ugly things up into small pieces is a great way to hide all KINDS of sins.

    Angie: well, it could be a little learning session for you and the kiddos. Look for the biggest berries, usually the ones in the biggest clusters. Your taste will tell you if you’ll like them enough to do something with them! My kid just likes picking and eating them so they end up in her lunch a lot at this time of year.

    CC, between the two I suppose I’d get the freezer first. Just think of all the MEAT you can store. Mine is usually filled with (of all things) flour, and frozen grape juice.

    Dakota, remember, she’s a cult member, so she’d need to see real numbers on the carbs in stevia versus Splenda. There IS no persuading her, either with scare tactics or natural alternatives. But my gah, it tastes horrible.

    John! Northern Spies! I have two whippy trees, and I am excited about them. Maybe in another couple of years I might just have some to crush into cider. Ah, fall in the temperate zone.

  9. It is so wild that you posted this yesterday, because I hadn’t thought of these berries since I was a little girl in Alabama. We had them all near my school and the kids use to eat them constantly (come to think of it, no one ever told us they were ok, we just ate them. Yikes!).

    Yesterday I was walking home from the train station (which I don’t usually do) and I passed one of these bushes- I’d never seen one in Massachusetts before (or maybe I just wasn’t looking)- I actually stopped and ate a few. Tart, but good!

    We always used to call them Russian Olives growing up- no idea why!

    When you make your chutney, do you leave the seeds in or what? What do you serve it with? Chutney confuses me!

  10. Hiya Taylor. Russian Olive is another name for them! You know, I just left the seeds in; they aren’t too obnoxious so I didn’t cook them down and separate them out like I do with jam. Chutney: it’s sweet stuff, but it’s salty and tart too. Get yourself a jar of it…tamarind chutney is especially good if you ask me. It’s a condiment, just like ketchup, really. So we will serve it in a jar alongside boring roasted chicken, or dry pork chops. It also is great served atop a chunk of brie, or just spread on a slice of toast. Like I said, it’s pretty versatile, and in this instance was a great way to use up some garden bounty!

  11. Northern Spy is oddly enough an old apple variety that is still around mainly in New York and Michigan!It makes really nice tart cider and I think East Bloomfield N.Y. which I’ll drive through in a few weeks is thought to be it’s origin around 1800.Bloomfield isn’t huge apple country nowdays like the farm country closer to Lake Ontario but there are orchards and there is a web site I think through Cornell and NYState of the apple research station in Geneva NY which has lots of apple info and seeds from thousands of apple trees some obscure some in use plus lots of info on growing.

  12. P.S. I know apples don’t grow true from seed but the seeds are a genetic database of all known apples even to the tress of the Mountains of Central Asia where Apples are thought to have originated.Michael Pollan in his Botany of Desire offers a lot of info on the section about Apples.

  13. I have two of these trees in my yard, which I have had to cut back twice. They can get quite bushy. The deer love to chomp on them. At the end of fall when they drop to the ground, roosters and hens gobble them up.
    However, I was always under the assumption that humans could not eat them.
    I had no idea you could make jam from these Autumn Olive trees

  14. John, I love that book (The Botany of Desire). I also have a really freaky love of apples. We ended up getting a few old-timey heirlooms and one Honeycrisp to placate my husband. Thanks for the info! I know Fedco Trees sells lots of cold-tolerant heirlooms (won’t help you but is worth mentioning) and there is one great heirloom farm that I know in Wisconsin and I have one in town (in the links above).

    Jeeps, well, the things you learn on the web, eh? Just look for the biggest ones, and wait until near frost and they’ll be pretty sweet. I hack down the branches and give them to the turkeys.

  15. I love these little berries. I was born in Europe (portugal) . We had these over there and ate them all the time. I’ve live in thee US most of my life and I always get a kick out of people’s reaction when they see me eating them. Had no idea that they were actually healthy.

  16. OMG! My family is from the Azores and we live in RI. When we were kids and my dad spotted these bushes, he would stop right on the highway. We’d all get out and fill about six buckets with these berries. We’d eat them off the branch while picking. We never thought to make jam or chutney but my dad would make moonshine from them. Now I see these bushes every where. We used to call them beginga.

  17. Both Joseph and Stina: what is it with Americans and our fear of wild food? I brought some berries to a party once and folks recoiled. “Aren’t they poisonous?” they asked, then noticed my daughter go back for another handful. But Stina, MOONSHINE! How fascinating. I can see how that would work; gee, many people make elderberry wine and I would imagine this couldn’t be much different.

  18. just now making autumn olive fruit leathers. a squeezo is great for separating the seeds from the pulp and the pulp from the juice. the first run thru expresses the bitter juice. run the seeds thru a second time for a sweet puree. the pulp is good raw or cooked. any juice drained from the pulp i like to drink. very high in lycopene ( thr red stuff) too.

  19. For the longest time, I always thought to myself, I’m going to cut those darned bushes down. They keep growing and getting in the way of mowing the yard. Then I watched a video on a local news broadcast of a guy in Mt. Pleasant, MI claiming to be the one bringing attention to these berries (won’t support or deny this claim). Since then, I’ve been reading as much as I can about these berries and found your site. Great timing!

    I’m planning on harvesting as much as I can as I have several bushes on my property and probably more than I think I do. I want to make wine out of it and I’m seeing many recipes for jam.

    This is simply the greatest. Wild berries right in my backyard for wine and jam. It can’t get any better.

  20. Pattypan: Yay. I am a big fan of fruit leather, usually making it with grape pulp or applesauce (though any fruit will work as you mentioned). I picked another batch last weekend just for out-of-hand eating. The lycopene content is a bonus certainly!

    JJ: Hi, glad you found the site. I think the reason we really know so little about these berries is because they aren’t natives. Unlike blueberries or cranberries we don’t have a tradition of eating them! But yes, as Stina said above, they can make a good hooch. I’m glad more people are discovering them: they’ve turned from nuisance to something useful, and dang, they’re even good for you too…

  21. I used to eat these growing up in Georgia, My Grandmother would pitch a fit and tell us not to eat them cause they could be poison… but we had been sneaking and eating them for years so of course our logic was we had not died yet so it was fine 🙂 Oh and we kept eating them! I live in Florida now and I have not found them here!! Does anyone know where I can get a bush to plant here? :/ Missing my poison berries 😀

  22. Well, sitting on my porch processing autumn olives for mead, I decided to take a break and google “autumn olive recipes” to see if I got inspired to concoct anything else from the little buggers.

    Lots of jam and fruit leather, ho hum, and then: what should I come across but a Fast Grow the Weeds post with just the idea to strike my fancy: CHUTNEY!

    Everywhere I go, there you are. Thank you!

  23. I live on Martha’s Vineyard and just harvested a motherload of autumn berries for our upcoming Slow Food Wild Potluck. I had chutney in mind…thanks for the inspiration.

  24. Stacey, I hope you were able to find yourself a bush or two. However I am not so sure how much they’d like the Sunshine State, but, hey, if you had them in Georgia…

    Milkweed, that is quite funny. I still wish you lived closer so I could “help you” with the mead-making process. So many fun things to try out there!

    Rocky, how fun is that, a wild-food event! Do you know Leslie of Dreams and Bones? She’s a part-time MV resident, and generally wins the Island’s fair’s tomato trophy every year; she actually got me hooked on those berries. Look her up!

  25. today, Samhain2009, inspired by henry david thoreau ,i told my love lets go berry picking and looking at me kinda funny he said, its kinda late for that. I replied take me to the swamp or the bog, lets take the children for a walk and see. We found lovely berries as i suspected! they are quite tasty and my husband said his mouth loves them! We identified them at home and learned a new wild food! iam going back for more tomorrow and will try your chutney idea! simply smashing! ~CapeCod

    • How lovely, I hope you enjoy both the berries and the time picking them! It’s a banner year for them here in Michigan. I wish you a fun Samhain with a warm fire and good food to eat!

  26. El –
    I do not know Leslie of Dreams and Bones by name, but maybe by face. About to make a motherload of Autumn Berry Jelly for Real Wild Foods.

  27. autum olive and rusian olive are not the same thing they are in the same species though rusian olive is Elaeagnus angustifolia and autum olive is Elaeagnus umbellata the genus Elaeagnus is also a nitrogen fixer and is used in a lot of permacultere gardens or tree gardens

  28. A few years ago I found a nice sized Autumn Olive tree growing along a road here in East TN and grabbed a few handfuls of the berries. Some of these I scattered on my property along the side of a dirt and gravel road that was cut in for a power line. Last year I found 4 trees that had sprung up from the scattered berries and this year two of them produced berries! Alas, the birds beat me to them, but I did manage to get a handful. I went back to the other tree and harvested a couple of cups, some of which I plan to distribute around our property in NC. They are supposedly invasive here also, but I consider them a blessing and a gift from Mother Nature. Silk Tree and Tree of Heaven are invasive, not these wonders.

    Rick F.

  29. I’ve been trying to come up with good recipes from autumn olive berries.

    One that was fairly successful was to puree the berries and reduce them to about the consistency of canned pumpkin, and then make this into a pie by substituting the autumn olive puree for canned pumpkin.

    I would suggest topping with whipped cream, to make it more interesting.

    My daughter made an autumn olive berry pie by using the berry puree, sweetened and thickened with cornstarch, as the pie filling. To dress it up, she swirled cheesecake batter into it. You could use a graham-cracker crust. This was quite good!

    The “pumpkin pie” version would also probably be improved with a swirl of cheesecake batter (cream cheese, sugar, eggs, vanilla).

    We have talked of adding a caramel sauce swirl, but haven’t tried this.

    I think there’s an iconic dish of some kind to be made from autumn olive berries–probably a dessert.

    Because of the flavor, a person can get the idea that autumn olive berries would make a good “spaghetti” sauce. I tried this but found the flavor too overpowering. I’m thinking you could make a good salsa with autumn olive berry puree.

    I hope everyone will keep working with these berries till someone comes up with an iconic American dessert or other dish!

  30. A couple of years ago, I used the berries to make homemade granola bars. The recipe for this is basically: One cup whole wheat flour, one cup oatmeal, one cup cornmeal, one cup brown sugar, one cup fruit (any kind), 1 tsp. salt, a little oil, and enough water or fruit juice to make get a “cookie dough” consistency. Shape into bars (a corn-stick pan works well for this), and bake at 350 for about 1/2 hour.

    You can also add nuts, such as sunflower seeds (one cup, as with everything else), or other stuff, such as coconut or raisins. My kids especially liked this recipe made with bananas, so you could throw in some mashed bananas.

    I liked these a LOT. You can use the whole raw or frozen berries. The seeds are not noticeable.

  31. I would very much like to have some seeds of the autumn berry.plz, if I am not annoying you…could you send me a few…email me on moidhu@intnet.mu. Thank you a lot!

  32. Skip all the sweetners! Just freeze and use to toss in pasta, Asian and other ethnic dishes or coleslaw or on pancakes before the flip. I would knock them off the bush carelessly and fast into a large bag and then pour it all into a large bowl of water. All the leaves and chaff float to the top and can be easily removed. Then drain in a colander and spread out to dry a bit before freezing. One fall i accidentally hit a white wolly caterpillar with my hand and got quite a sting. I looked around and saw a few more! Then I started wearing gloves.
    I just moved to the Eastern Shore of VA (Onancock) and dearly miss my bushes! (And creative,gardening friends-alas.)

  33. Just recently found an autumn olive shrub on our property (because it was absolutely swarming with honey bees!!), out of courosity I began researching it. Now I have 2 transplanted small shrubs growing near my yard and intend to have more. Just today, I discovered another nearby tree loaded with the red berries, can’t wait to try some new with them. Invasive they say—-at least it’s something worthy!!

  34. Just made my Autumn Olive Jam and had 1.5 cups of juice left over, ssoooo I added 1/2 cup vinegar and put a green pepper and a few hot pepper thru the food processor and made Autumn Olive Hot Pepper Jelly/Jam.

  35. Love all the excitement of this beautiful plant. I too just think it is so special, and even tho some don’t like that it isn’t “native”… how many of US are?!!!
    I know I’m not, (Hawaiian/chinese/Scottish) but I just love making these little gems into jam, and live that they are GOOD for you.

  36. I am in Florida on west coast and I planted a autumn olive 5 years ago the plant is so big and never saw a flower or any fruit. Can somebody tell why?

  37. trying to find where I can buy some Autumn Berries

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