On magic bullets

P1000102Another day, another berry to blog about

I picked up some aronia berries at a friend’s house on Friday.  This species of native berry is very high in antioxidants, especially the black and purple varieties; it has been labeled a “superfood” for that reason.  The variety we picked, Aronia albutifolia, isn’t so very high in this magical property.  No matter.  The red, sweet, jujube-shaped fruits were plentiful, and I got a gallon with which to experiment.

Traditionally one of the fruit sources found in pemmican, these bushes or shrubby trees normally yield clusters of pea-sized fruit in the fall.  Well, MY calendar told me it was late June, so I kind of scratched my head about this a bit:  can these really be red aronia berries (also called chokeberries)?  It would appear that they are.  Some time ago, these eastern American trees got exported to Poland and Russia and it was there that they became cultivated enough to be used widely as a juice berry, and its progeny got tweaked enough to ripen in June.  Normal aronia berries, the shrub-borne black variety (A. melanocarpa) ripen much later and are entirely too tart to be eaten out of hand.

Personally, I am highly suspicious of anything that is labeled a superfood, a culinary “magic bullet” to cure all that ails a person.  I also think that many people who look to a food as medicine aren’t doing the hard work necessary to maintain basic good health.  Diet and exercise certainly go a long way to keep the doctor away. Eating a decent diet and getting up off the couch is just plain too hard for most Westerners: thus, let’s look for some tonic, hopefully found on my grocer’s shelf, that will offset all my couch-sitting, all those extra pounds around my middle.

I’m also suspicious of the purported health claims tagged on things like aronia berries.  If it were true that eating these things magically cured you from ever getting cancer, do you really think this would be the first time you have heard about them?

With my skeptical eye, then, I turned these into jelly early this morning (with some of our grape juice and fresh cherries to help flesh out the taste).  A little slice of medicine on my morning toast?  Doubtful, but tasty.

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10 responses to “On magic bullets

  1. BUT, isn’t it nice to hear the super claims about something natural for a change? No chemicals, no dyes, no artificial flavorings. It’s an improvement over the manufactured miracles.

  2. I so agree with you about the whole “superfood” thing being at the very least a tad questionable. We are lucky to enjoy a variety of healthy foods but research into certain idiginous peoples would suggest that even a very limited diet, with excercise, could be just as healthful. My super food is kale.:)

    How did you separate the seeds from the berries, we will be knee deep in choke cherries pretty soon and would like to try storing some this year? As a child, my wife remembers her grandmother making a beautiful red pancake syrup out of them.

    Well I’m off for a round of garden pilates.

    • Hi Mike: pitted berries like these aronia (but also cherries and autumn olive berries) are best if they’re cooked down for their juice. You can either add water to them and simmer or just leave the berries in the pan. When they’re cooled, I press them through a chinois, but a colander lined with cheesecloth works well too; just use the back of your spoon and let the juice drip out. You can then measure the liquid and use it as you like for jams, etc. This works with frozen berries too.

  3. hear hear!!!! balance and diversity…

    Glad to know about the aronia. One more foraging to add to the list.

  4. Yes, I know people who say, “How do you do it? You look great!” and I think, “Well, I run a lot, and I work in my garden, and I rarely sit still, and I’m really healthy, so no weird metabolic diseases, and I eat a variety of single-ingredient foods. . . how do YOU do it?”

    If one food could magically cure our ills, that would be great. I fear, however, that it’s not likely.

    Nice picture, though!

  5. I fully agree! And the crazy part is that the claims keep changing. One day X food is on the “magic” list and Y is deadly, then 3 weeks later, X is off the preferred list or relegated to “just ok” and Y has taken over the lead – or both have been usurped by Z. Crazy.
    Balance and diversity – and a lot of taste over everything 🙂
    Thanks for sharing about the berries – you get so many interesting ingredients to work with. I can’t find many of those things here – any thoughts on sources? Do you or your neighbors/friends just have to grow them?

  6. Gawd, I just reread this post and thought it sounded really mean-spirited and crabby! Sorry; I guess getting up at 5 to make jam will do that to a person. But seriously, I should’ve said “diet, exercise, AND luck in the genetics game will keep the doctor away,” as there are plenty of people out there who frankly have been dealt a short straw. Or rather they’ve been dealt a short straw when you couple their genetics with their particular Western lifestyle. If I had the answers do you think I would just be pulling weeds in southwest Michigan?

    Pamela, yeah, to a point. I guess the nutritionistas always try to parse the one little thing, that one superdrug, in each foodstuff (natural or otherwise) and say THIS IS IT and it just makes me crazy. Beets are great for you too and a lot easier found than aronia berry juice but still the hordes aren’t eating lots of beets.

    Mike I thought of you yesterday when I did my onion bed pilates!! Thanks. Oh and syrups are super easy. They’re one part sugar to one part fruit juice; you can even can them. I plan on putting a bunch of cherry syrup away today if I can find the motivation.

    Sylvie I should clarify that his were cultivated trees, about 15 years old, and he’s only had great production on them when the springs are wet, like this one was. I do think a field guide to the edible plants of Virginia is in order for you though!!

    Stef you and I are on the same wavelength. I tend to avoid the sun so usually am always wearing something that covers my arms, but at Weed and Feed last Thurs. it was so hot I needed to strip down, and the comments I got on my biceps was rather funny. I guess I *could* armwrestle anyone…and probably lose but I appreciated the comments nonetheless. “Better living through compost turning,” a submotto of this blog…

    MC, I do apologize that I seem to be going for the Odd Ingredients of the Year award here, it’s just these things have been coming my way and I feel I need to blog about them as opposed to the peas, carrots and greens that tend to crowd our plates at this time of year. But yeah it would be a great thing if you could find these berries: my friend is a bit of a botanical renegade so it’s rather doubtful you’ll find them at the farmers’ market…he actually runs out and seeks the odd, the half-edible, and I am of course game to join him.

  7. At first glance, I thought you’d posted a pic of sour cherries – and got all excited since my 3-year-old tree produced enough cherries this year to get excited about.

    It’s fun to learn about different ingredients – you never know when you might run into one. I was walking through Boston’s Haymarket area with a friend from Lebanon, and she was thrilled to discover green almonds for sale at one of the stalls. I’d never seen them before. Then a few months later, I was dining at a chichi restaurant and guess what garnished my dish – I felt sooooo hip.

    • Well, you’re not that far off, Karen: sour cherries are ripening now, if not soon! We picked 15 pounds of them this weekend, yum. Isn’t it fun finding “new” things? You reminded me that I had pickled green walnuts for the first time not too long ago and I swear it’s on my list of things to try to make myself. However, the wild walnut trees are SO TALL (80′) that I have no idea how to harvest them! Ah well… But green almonds are YUM.

  8. “Personally, I am highly suspicious of anything that is labeled a superfood, a culinary “magic bullet” to cure all that ails a person. I also think that many people who look to a food as medicine aren’t doing the hard work necessary to maintain basic good health.”

    I actually wonder whether it’s the consumer who looks for “superfoods” or food marketers who are looking for a new angle.

    Whatever the driving factor, I think it’s really weird that we’re being encouraged to look at foods our parents and grandparents ate as “medicine.”

    If that’s “medicine,” then what’s causing the illness?

    Could it be …. JUNK FOOD ?!?

    (cue Church Lady music and dancing!)

    Seriously, though — it’s FOOD. Good food. Food we should all be eating.

    I have four very small Aronia melanocarpa shrubs at the edge of my ever-shrinking lawn. They are meant as a wildlife food source (apparently they last until late winter because even the critters find them too tart!), but I do plan to sample some of them when they start to bear berries.

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