Monday, July 07, 2014


mahonia berries

Time was I would have placed this recipe on the other blog as although the fruit isn't foraged it's not the sort of thing you'd be likely to obtain on any market. However, entries here are a bit sparse and to be honest this is some of the closest I've come to real cooking for quite a while so here it stays.

This year a shrub in my garden has had an excellent crop of berries. The plant is Mahonia x media Charity which is sometimes known as the Oregon grape. I prefer not to use that name as the parents of this plant originated between China and Burma and have no relation to Oregon at all. The true Oregan grape is Mahonia aquifolium and for the purposes of the recipe there is very little difference in the two plants for fruit, I'm just a pedant.

Anyway, the flowers come out in the autumn and any fruit set is mostly lost over the winter. This year it was a very mild winter and there are lots and lots of these racemes of little purple berries covered in a waxy white bloom that leaves them looking rather ethereal, or a bit like grapes if you're more prosaic.

fruit and sugar

Of course, the rain was tipping down when I decided to harvest some and so I took a bare minimum before giving up the battle. The picture at the top shows, I think, on mature reflection, about 600g (1.3 lb) but I didn't weigh them.

Rinse the fruit. Strip the berries off the little stalks, I used a fork as you might for red currants and place in a large stainless steel saucepan with just enough water to reach the top of the berries, no need to make them float.

Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until soft. Now you have a choice; my original plan was to make a jelly and I still think this is a good idea as the colour is lovely and it would be a fine product but (and this was my mistake I'm hoping you'll learn from) after carefully mashing and straining the fruit to collect clear juice I looked at the luscious pulp, had a taste and decided the seeds weren't too bad really and the waste of the fruit criminal so I mixed them back together again and went for jam.

There is a third way which is rub the whole lot through a mouli or sieve which would homogenize everything and remove the seeds but I didn't do that.

Add sugar, 800g per litre of pulp+juice (1lb per pint (20 fl.oz.)) and stir until fully dissolved. Bring to a fierce boil and cook for 10 minutes or so. There is loads of pectin in these babies so a set is guaranteed without stress. You could play with that ratio and drop the sugar content a bit if liked. The jam might not keep as long but there are other benefits, like being to eat more of it at a sitting.

Because of the change of plan from jelly to jam I'd not prepared enough clean jam jars to take the considerable yield of conserve. Don't be me, for that much fruit you'll need about five 400g/1 lb jars.

So what does it taste like? Fruity, very pleasant and rich but not distinctively enough for instant identification.  Given the excellent set and subtle flavour it might be useful to add a handful of these to other lower pectin fruits like strawberries to improve their texture.

Mahonia Berry Jam
600g Mahonia berries, stripped from their stalks
1kg sugar

Large preserving pan (needs to be big as jam boils up high)
5 x jam jars, sterilised with clean good lids
Put the berries in the pan with enough water to just cover them. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until soft.

If making jelly strain the pulp through a jelly bag, discard the fruit detritus and measure the juice (you'll have about 700ml for this quantity)

If making jam, measure the pulp and all its liquid. This was about 1400ml for me.

Add sugar in ratio 4 parts sugar to 5 parts fruit (therefore  560g sugar for jelly, 1100g sugar for jam)

Stir to dissolve the sugar over a gentle heat, bring to a full boil and cook, stirring carefully and occasionally,  for about 10 minutes. Test for setting and boil a little longer if needed (but I very much doubt you'll need to). Divide into the jars and seal immediately. Provided the seal is good these will keep a year or more without further processing.
jam on bread