Monday 13 October 2008

Cooking with Rowan Berries

This is this week's entry in my attempt to find a new autumn wild food every week and this time it's rowan berries (for a list of autumn fruit and when they are ready, along with links to recipes using them see this List of Autumn fruit and recipes).

Rowan berries are everywhere in late autumn and the bright red berries tend to stand out in scarlet bunches from the parent tree. These are the fruit of the Rowan tree, Sorbus aucuparia a member of the Rosaceae (rose) family of plants.

Many believe that rowan berries are poisonous and that's why they're not often picked. In a sense this is right as raw rowan berries contain parasorbic acid that can cause stomach upsets and liver damage. However, if frozen (and most especially if cooked) the parasorbic acid is converted into inert parasorbic acid (this is what makes rowan berries bitter) and they are safe to eat. This is probably the origin of the folkloric practice of not picking rowan berries until after the first frost. But these days you can pick them as soon as they are ripe and then freeze them for 2 weeks. This both makes them sweeter and renders them safer. But if you're cooking them for any period of time they will be safe anyway.

Rowan berries have a tartness and a sweetness that makes them excellent for making jellies and they also have a natural affinity for game meats, so rowan jelly is often used in game sauces.

Below are a few rowan recipes for your to try yourselves. Rowan berries tend to contain little pectin. As a result I tend to add a few crab apples to my jelly to ensure setting.

Rowan Jelly

1.3g rowan berries
3 crab apples, chopped
1.5l water
sugar (75g per 100ml of liquid)


Pick the rowan berries, remove any stalks then dry and freeze over night to help destroy the parasorbic acid in the fruit. The following day thaw the fruit. Wash the whole crab apples, removing any bruised parts and place the fruit in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, adding just enough water to cover them. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for some 25 minutes, until tender. Strain the jelly through a bag or muslin cloth (this will take up to 5 hours) but do not squeeze, otherwise the jelly will become cloudy.

Measure the volume of liquid you have and add 75g of sugar per 100ml of liquid. Add the sugar in an ovenproof bowl and place in the centre of an oven pre-heated to 170°C and bake for about 10 minutes.

Return the juice back to a clean heavy-bottomed pan and add the sugar, stirring until fully dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook rapidly for about 15 minutes, until the setting point is reached. Test for setting by placing a teaspoon of the mixture on a place cooled in the fridge. Allow to cool for a minute and then if a skin forms when you push the mixture with your fingernail it's ready to pot. If you don't get a skin continue boiling for a further ten minutes and test again.

Skim the surface when ready, allow to cool for about 7–8 minutes before potting. Then spoon into warmed, sterilized jars using a ladle.

Now you have your rowan berry jelly, you can make a red wine game sauce with it:

Rowan Berry Sauce

3 tbsp fat from game meat roasting (use duck fat or butter at a pinch)
2 tbsp flour
100ml water
150ml red wine
2 tbsp rowan berry jelly

Add the fat to a pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the top then stir into the fat to form a smooth roux and cook for 1 minute, stirring continually. Combine the red wine and cold water then slowly add the liquid to the roux mixture, stirring all the while to ensue you have a smooth sauce.

Bring the mix to a boil then stir in the rowan jelly. Continue cooking and stirring until the jelly has dissolved and the sauce has thickened. Serve hot with game.

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Celtnet Rowan Berry and Red Wine Game Sauce recipe.

There is more information about Rowan Berries and plenty of Rowan Berry recipes on the Celtnet Rowan Berry Wild Food information and Recipes page.

For more rowan berry recipes, including pies, jams, jellies and sauces look at the Rowan Berry Recipe collection.

For all the wild food recipes on this blog, see the wild food recipes page.

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