Sunday, October 6, 2013

Minor alchemy

During an autumn walk in Switzerland we noticed the beautiful berries of the Rowan trees high in the mountains. I had once tried to make marmalade from them, but it was completely inedible, much too bitter. But once I had eaten a homemade compote and it was quite tasty. So I was ready to try again.
There are many recipes on the Internet, but this is the one Marketa K. uses. It is a traditional Czech way of preparing these slightly bitter fruits. It is most often used to prepare lingonberries and it might be interesting to try on cranberries:
Wash the fruits and put them in a steel pot.
Add a lot of sugar. Do not add water.
Put the pan in the oven at 80 - 100 degrees Centigrade.
Leave for approximately one hour until all sugar has dissolved.
Leave overnight to cool. The fruits now float in a sugary juice.
Separate the fruits from the juice using a sieve.
Cook the juice with cinnamon and lemon peel.
Put the fruits in sterilized jars and add the hot juice.

Some sources say that rowan berries are poisonous. Is this true?
For questions like these I Always refer to my trusted Gessner - Orzechowski. Just the names of the authors make this a "mad scientist" book and this is enhanced by the title: Poisonous and medicinal plants of Middle Europe. But is serious research, although it may be old fashioned because it was written in 1974.
The book sounds both ominous and reassuring:
  • Parasorbic acid is a strong locally irritating agent. Vapors from fresh fruit irritate the eyes and nose and especially the mucous membranes of the mouth and digestive tract.
  • Cases of poisoning in humans are very rare.
  • The parasorbic acid is destroyed by cooking.
Of course I tasted several fresh fruits and I didn't notice any negative effects. The success of the rowan berries inspired me to do some more minor alchemy, this time predictably and totally safe.
During a walk through the Utrecht hill range we saw a lot of elderberry bushes. The fruit looked beautiful and enticing and fortunately I had a plastic bag with me (note to self: do this always). It is very satisfying to find such richness in nature (but I know that this would not be sustainable at all).
I tried the first recipe I found on the Internet:
Cook the elderberries together with apple parts and lemon juice.
I used a volume ratio of 3 parts elderberries - 2 parts apple.
I did not have lemons so I used orange juice.
Cook 30 minutes until the apple parts are soft.
Puree the mix using a hand blender. Be careful: this sprays everywhere and the colour is very intensive!
Add a lot of sugar and cook for 15 minutes.

This marmalade will be excellent in yogurt and custard.
And what do Gessner - Orzechowski say? Just this:
  • Ripe berries are not poisonous. But not all hope is lost:
  • After eating fresh bark intensive vomiting has been observed. And:
  • Eating the fresh fruit could theoretically cause cyanide poisoning, but this has never been observed.

Gift und Arzneipflanzen in Mitteleuropa - Gessner-Orzechowski

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