Autumn olive fruit leather has become popular wild fare, and for good reason. The invasive autumn olive shrub (Eleagnus umbellata) produces delicious, anti-oxidant rich berries. If you could eat them by the handful the way you eat blueberries, fruit leather would be unnecessary, but these tiny berries have seeds that are too annoying to chew in quantity. That’s my opinion — there are foragers who can pop them by the handful and swallow the seeds. But I think the majority of foragers consider autumn olive berries most useful as a puree with seeds removed. And a puree is just what you need to make fruit roll-ups. It’s also great for jam, and if that’s your thing, check out my Autumn Olive Jam Recipe.
Foraging for Autumn Olive Berries
Autumn olive berries can be quickly harvested in great quantity. To learn to find, identify, and harvest them, see my post on Autumn Olive: Foraging for Autumnberries. To learn more about responsible foraging, read Foraging Ethic.
Harvesting autumn berries is not without controversy. Some people favor chemical control of this invasive plant, and fear that encouraging consumption of autumn berries will encourage people to plant it. That would indeed be a problem. However, something about chemical control of an excellent food plant bothers me. Most of our food crops are chemically maintained, because they cannot stand up to pests and/or weeds. And now we’re going to chemically maintain even non-agricultural plants, by poisoning edible invasive plants? Sorry, that doesn’t fly with me. Let’s eat those plants which grow successfully without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. That could help reduce our dependence on chemically maintained agricultural mono-crops.
Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but I think people can learn that it’s okay to forage for invasive species, but not a good idea to plant them. Of course there will always be those who do whatever they want without regard for anything or anyone else, but there isn’t much we can do about them. Finally, it’s worth noting that the field of permaculture challenges the orthodox view of aggressive non-native species, as you can read here.
So, have you got it down pat? Autumn olive an aggressive non-native species which can crowd out native plants which are desperately needed by our native insects, birds, and so on, throughout the food web. Foraging it can help reduce it, as long as you don’t plant it. Most environmental scientists think invasive species are harmful, but others challenge that view.
To Boil or Not to Boil Autumn Berries?
I have read several times that the seeds can be removed from the pulp by passing fresh berries through a food mill or strainer. But even a food mill didn’t process the raw berries very well for me, so I didn’t bother with the strainer. The food mill yielded nearly clear juice with a bit of pulp. It was obviously going to take a long, long time of turning that crank to get most of the the pulp through, so I decided to boil the berries.
One advantage to boiling the berries is that it kills the seeds, which can then be tossed into the compost, without propagating this invasive species. If you do not boil them, you should dispose of the seeds in the trash.
I added a cup of water to my 9 cups of berries, but if you stir and mash continuously as you bring them to a boil, the berries will quickly release a lot of juice, and you can probably get away with adding less water. And less water would be better, because it would reduce the drying time.
To Sweeten or Not to Sweeten?
Autumn berries are quite tart, which may or may not appeal to you. Some foragers delay harvesting till after a frost, because they prefer the slightly sweeter flavor. I, on the other hand, think they begin to taste rotten after a frost, so I pick them as soon as they are deep red and plump. For this recipe, I picked them a little sooner than usual – some berries were not quite deep red. They were very tart, so I added a little honey to the puree. But if you pick them when fully ripe, you might not want any sweetener at all. If you do choose to sweeten, honey is better than sugar, for the latter tends to make fruit leather brittle.
Some autumn olive fruit leather recipes call for lemon juice. I don’t know why. Autumn olive is flavorful and tart enough without it.
Autumn Olive Fruit Leather
Makes 2 fruit roll sheets of fruit leather, using a circular Nesco dehydrator.
- 9 cups autumn olive berries
- 1 cup water (try adding less, if you want – see “To Boil or Not To Boil”, above)
- 2 tbsp honey (or to taste)
- Bring the berries and water to a simmer over high heat, while stirring and mashing the berries in a large pot.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 7-10 minutes, or until most berries have burst.
- Pass the boiled berries through a food mill to remove seeds. You will have thick mixture that might tend to separate into a red pulpy layer and an almost clear watery layer.
- Stir honey into the warm puree to taste.
- Spread the puree onto 2 fruit roll sheets lightly greased with a vegetable oil spray (or a paper towel moistened with a bit of vegetable oil), place each sheet on a dehydrator tray, and dry at 135-140 degrees F until fruit is no longer sticky. OR, spread puree on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and dry in oven at 135-140 degrees F, or higher if oven cannot maintain that low temperature, until fruit is no longer sticky. In my dehydrator at 140 degrees F, it took about 10 hours to dry.
- Cut fruit leather and roll it up as desired.
- Store in an air tight container. If fruit leather is still slightly tacky, it’s safer to store in freezer (which I do).
Got something to say about autumn olive? I welcome comments, questions, and lively debate, but they must be communicated with tolerance and respect. Anything offensive to me or anyone else will be promptly deleted.