Saturday, October 3, 2015

Small Batch Creative Canning (wild love)

This fall, I've gone a little crazy about canning. I realized that once you know the basics (like that salt, sugar, acid, and alcohol are all preservation tools, and that processing in a hot water bath makes most fruits and vegetables safe to can), you can view canning as more a "guideline" than a specific recipe. I've processed lots of small batches of wild foods this fall from rose hips to elderberries to even rowan berries. Instead of using specific recipes for each food, I've stuck with a few "base" recipes and added on. If you're a first-time canner, I recommend following some actual recipes first so you can learn the rules and get the hang of it. If you vaguely know what you are doing, though, dive on in and get creative! It's really nice to just be able to do a jar or two of any particular kind of fruit to sample. 

Also it's worth mentioning that this bit  by the show Portlandia has been kind of my internal theme song all harvest season. ;) We can pickle that! We can pickle anything! 

Pickled rosehips flavored with some sprigs of yarrow and juniper berries 

Pickle Base: 

1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 Tbs. sugar
1/2 Tbs. salt
Pack your fruits/veggies into clean, sterilized jars and then heat this solution up until bubbling and the sugar and salt are dissolved. Then pour it into your jars, leaving about 1/2" headspace. You can add spices and herbs as desired to flavor the pickles, or keep it simple and let the produce shine. Once you've filled all the jars, gently wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth and then put the lids on, without screwing them on too tight. Process for 10-15 minutes in a hot water bath. Note: You can also try different kinds of vinegar (apple cider works well too) or try upping or lowering the sugar content to taste. 

Following my mantra "I can pickle anything," here are some pickled baby pinecones I made last spring. I made two batches; one more savory with cumin added, and one sweeter with fennel. They turned out pretty well with an interesting chewy texture and pine aroma. I think they'd be pretty good on a salad. 

Syrup Base 

(very heavy, which means the sugar content is high and the fruit will hold its shape better): 
1 part sugar
1 part water
Follow the directions above for pickling. If you are working with particularly tough fruits, you can let them simmer in the syrup for a few minutes before canning and processing. Add spices to flavor as desired. For some of my projects, I "recycle" syrups I made last year to flavor this year's canning projects. I made some rosehips in elderflower syrup I am particularly excited to try! 
If you'd like to try a recipe with less sugar, take a look at this helpful link detailing different options.  

Rowan berries in the Ambrosia base. I also tried some in the simple syrup (though with a slightly lower concentration of sugar) and pickled. Going to let these age for at least a few weeks before trying so their bitterness can be tempered. 

Elixir Base: 

Very simple, 1 part brandy (or other brown alcohol, rum is tasty too) to 1 part honey. I haven't canned with this recipe but I suppose you probably could, though the hot water bath process would weaken the alcohol and the heat may destroy some of the qualities of fresh fruit. My favorite plant to process this way is elderberries. Just fill your cleaned and sterilized jars about 3/4 of the way full with berries, then pour brandy to fill half and top with honey. You may need to come back later to "top it off" as it will take a while for the honey to fill all the spaces between berries. Let sit in a cool, dark place for 6 weeks before sampling. (Also, if you are using elderberries, keep in mind that they contain toxic compounds and should not be eaten raw. They are perfectly safe to eat after being frozen, cooked, or infused with alcohol.)

Sour pie cherries in an Amaretto syrup to be canned into delicious cocktail cherries. 

Ambrosia Base (similar to the Elixir base, but with a sugar syrup instead)

1 part water
1 part sugar 
spices as desired (I used fresh nutmeg)
Heat the above on the stovetop until it is slightly bubbling and the sugar is dissolved. 
Remove from heat and add 2 parts alcohol and a healthy squirt of vanilla extract and/or some almond extract. You can get pretty creative with the alcohol used- I used Amaretto but this would also be delicious with bourbon or brandy. You can mix and match too, if you'd like. Add the fruit and stir gently, then scoop the fruit out with a slotted spoon and place in clean, sterilized jars. Top with the syrup and process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath. This recipe is loosely based on this link about making cocktail cherries. I was inspired to research some ideas as my mom and I were cleaning out our freezer and stumbled upon a bag of pitted sour cherries that she'd bought and processed this summer. I recalled tasting some pretty spectacular brandied cherries at a fancy bar and we decided to re-create the recipe. I also tried this recipe with Rowan (Mountain Ash) berries since I'd read here that they are vaguely similar to cranberries and need some sweetness to temper the bitterness. Let sit for 6 weeks to cure before sampling! 

Now, about the plants: 

As always, be mindful when foraging. Here is a post I wrote about foraging guidelines, in case you need a reminder! 


These lovely bight red fruits are super high in Vitamin C and other antioxidants. They're kind of a pain to process, though. You have to painstakingly cut each one open and scoop out the seeds and hairs inside to make them palatable; otherwise I would worry about the hairs being an irritant to the digestive tract. This will take a long time. Don't plan to make huge amounts of these guys, unless you have minions to do the work for you... I made some pickled rose hips with yarrow and juniper and some sweet canned rose hips in elderflower syrup and honey. Can't wait to see how they turn out! 

Rowan berries (aka Mountain Ash):

I had thought for a long time that these berries were poisonous, but apparently not! They contain the same toxic compounds as elderberries so they shouldn't be eaten raw- though it would be unlikely that anyone would eat enough of them to cause any damage since they are very bitter. Processing these berries destroys that compound and makes them safe to eat- cooking, freezing, canning, or drying are all good options. As I mentioned above, they are said to taste similar to cranberries so I tried processing them in sweeter syrups but also tried pickling them as well, just out of curiosity. These are also pretty high in antioxidants. Stay tuned for a post going into more details on this cool plant in about a month. 


These beautiful blue-black berry clusters are full of good stuff. Like the Mountain Ash berries, they need to be processed in order to be edible. When you process them, be sure to remove all the berries from the stems as the stems are toxic. These are particularly good cold medicine; the elderberry elixir mentioned above is a standby for flu season in my home. It's best to take small doses more frequently rather than a large dose once a day. These berries are slightly sweeter and less bitter than Rowanberries but still do well with the addition of some sugar. One of my friends cans hers in a salty brine to make faux "capers," which are delicious in salads! 

Cherries (bonus!) 

Not a whole lot to say about cherries, since they're more common and well-known. I didn't forage the cherries I processed this year, but I know that in many places you can find "feral" sour pie cherry trees. You can can sweet cherries or pie cherries, but I prefer the sour pie cherries because I think the cherry flavor is stronger in them. Naturally, you should use more sugar with less-sweet produce. 


  1. Interesting information here, I love the experimental recipe ideas too. I did not know of the potential cyanide contained within elder! I will have to stop eating so many raw berries in the autumn! And start cooking or jarring them. Thanks for sharing your art here and keep up your hard work Betsy! A fantastic little blog.

    1. Thanks Stu! Yes, you should be cautious with elderberries for sure. It's a cumulative kind of poison, so a few berries won't hurt you too bad but if you eat a lot over the years they could start causing damage. It doesn't take much to make them edible though. :)