Autumn Olive is, in many states of the USA, considered invasive. Indeed, in 14 states it is illegal. I have seen it covering old fields of 40 acres in the sandier parts of Michigan. This doesn’t seem to be the case in the Pacific Northwest, although I’m not sure why. I have seen some seedlings pop up on irrigated sandy land in the Columbia River, so perhaps sand+summer water is the combination that sets it free to cover a landscape. The brightly colored berries with a central olive-shaped pit are obviously attractive to birds, and the genus is known for associating with Actinidial nitrogen-fixing fungi. It is “in the literature” that Black Walnut interplanted with Autumn Olive will grow faster, and with lycopene rich tasty fruit, that was enough for me to start planting them.
Many of the named varieties for sale by NW nurseries originated with Hector Black and Hidden Springs Nursery in Tennessee. A WW2 veteran, I got to meet Hector not long before he left us, and saw beautiful plantings of mature nut trees with boundary hedges of Eleagnus that was in full fruit.
BUT- what can you do with tiny berries besides make jam? Who eats that much jam? I took the challenge up, and this recipe is what I came up with:
Autumn Olive Chiffon Pie!
If you intend to cook the Autumn Olive fruit right away, you don’t need to pick the soft berries that carefully. The fruit are loosely clustered and so you can just grab and strip the berries, picking out leaves and twigs afterward. I then put a deep pot on the burner with a 1/4 inch of water in the bottom, and when it came to a boil I poured the berries in, slapped on the lid, turned the heat to low and let it sit for a couple minutes. Then I turned the heat off, and left the pot covered for 10 minutes while I got a Foley Food Mill and a bowl ready. I touch-tested the temperature of the pot lid to make sure the heat was nearly faded, and then poured the parboiled berries into the Foley. (note: no other kitchen tool can replace the Foley. You can often find them at thrift stores and they are very useful- indeed, wildcrafting author Euell Gibbons mentioned the Foley more than once in his wild food books!) The mill quickly separates pulp from seeds, one advantage being it’s easy to reverse the hand crank and loosen the accumulated skins and freshen the berries hitting the perforated bottom. You’ll end up with a beautifully colored tart pulp full of anti-oxidants and vitamin C. The mash that doesn’t go through the bottom of the Foley is a mix of skins and seeds. The rather soft seeds are rich in protein, and if you or a neighbor has chickens, they will LOVE the mash. People can eat them too; that recipe is for you to work out! (cookies?)
So what I did next was take this pulp and make a chiffon pie, following the recipe in Joy of Cooking. I had no difficulty doing this, so I leave it to you. Like the Foley, Joy of Cooking is standard in my kitchen, although I often update exact ingredients to what is healthier or available. The end result was a fine-looking trio of chiffon pies topped with whipped cream that disappeared almost instantaneously, to cries of joy and ecstasy. The color was a bit like tomato bisque (lycopenes color tomatoes too, right?) but if you used yellow autumn olives you would have a near-perfect impersonator of a lemon chiffon pie. If you want to taste more than one piece of your pie, I suggest you keep one hidden in reserve, preferably under lock and key.
Recipe courtesy of Rick Valley