Wild fruit is a food collector’s fantasy, a gift that practically begs to be taken. Starting in spring, the plants wave their white flower flags to show you where to find them come summer – juneberries and cherries in the hedgerow, strawberries in the sand, blackberries and raspberries along the logging cut, elderberries on the streambank, and blueberries from the mountaintop all the way down to the granite pond. With every passing day in spring, a new place flushes white with beacons of future food.
This is when I like to start dropping pins on my map and setting reminders to come back in high summer. In a past life I like to think my brain would have retained all of this information, but in this life I use my phone. When I return, and if my timing is right (after the bees and before the birds), the place will have turned from white flowered to gem studded. The bright colors of ripe fruit are like tails fanning, seduction by color designed to catch the eye when the fruit is ready to be picked, and the seed ready is to be spread. The bright colors also signal rich nutrition and phytochemistry, notably the peak of antioxidants, which act – conveniently and I’d guess not coincidentally – as an internal sunscreen at the very same time that the sun is at its highest and hottest. So, eat a few extra handfuls while you’re picking in the blaze of August and call it healthcare, just don’t forget to spit out a few pits or fling a few handfuls on your walk out so we can keep this win-win symbiosis going.
Make use of the whole plant, root to seed
I like to take the “nose to tail” approach with my plant foods, as I would an animal, and find ways to use the whole thing, root to seed. Using as many of the plant parts as I’m able deepens my familiarity with the plant, ensures diversity in my diet (which most modern humans are lacking), and it keeps me from getting bored.
If I liken the blueberry to the whitetail deer, making a little jam with the ripe fruit and stopping there is kind of like taking the backstraps, grinding the rest and leaving a whole pile of food and flavor forgotten in the field.
If I liken the blueberry to the whitetail deer, making a little jam with the ripe fruit and stopping there is kind of like taking the backstraps, grinding the rest and leaving a whole pile of food and flavor forgotten in the field. In my time with the blueberry I have learned that the leaves are good for tea – the flowers are sweet and crunchy and covered in wild yeast that can be used for fermenting fizzy drinks. The green, unripe berries are snappy and sour and are very good candied or capered. The shrubs sometimes need to be pruned and that wood is great for the smoker. The ripe fruit is well covered territory for most, but I encourage you to think beyond the muffin tin and maybe infuse a vinegar or make a pan sauce for a seared cut of meat.
While there are a million fancy things you can do with summer fruit, I’ll give a few examples of the simplest and most versatile, which is how I use them most often.
Fresh Picked Berries With Herb Infused Cream
The first thing I do with my first picking of any ripe berry is to fill a bowl with them while still warm from the sun, pour over heavy cream, add a light sprinkle of maple sugar or salt and grab a spoon. If you’d like the meal to feel more like breakfast than dessert, add some nuts. One of my favorite discoveries of recent years has been to infuse the heavy cream with herbs. Some of my favorites being sweetfern, wild bergamot, lemon balm, wild marjoram. Whatever herb you like will work here. For a pint of cream I’ll cut a few sprigs of my herb the night before and put them whole into the jar so the flavor comes through for use the next day.
Wild Strawberry Vodka With Sumac Infused Simple Syrup And Seltzer
My favorite way to make a small amount of fruit go a long way is to infuse its flavor into other things. Wild strawberries, for instance, are hard to pick more than a few handfuls of. Rarely is there ever enough for a jam or a pie, but their flavor is strong enough that those handfuls can infuse enough syrup, vinegar and booze for you to be sipping summer fruit all year long.
Here are a few of my basic methods for fruit infusions that can be added to nearly everything including beverages like the one pictured, salad dressings, desserts, marinades, braising liquids, compotes, chutneys and barbecue sauces or pan sauces like the one highlighted below.
- 1 quart jar
- ½-1 cup fruit
- Enough liquid to fill the jar
Instructions for infused vinegar or alcohol:
- Place fruit in the jar and lightly mash, just enough to break the skin of the fruit.
- Fill jar with vinegar or alcohol (I like vodka, whiskey or brandy best)
- Put the lid on the jar and give it a shake.
- Keep in the fridge or dark, cool cupboard while infusing.
- Taste daily until you like the flavor, usually about a week, then strain and store vinegar in fridge or alcohol in cupboard.
Instructions for infused maple syrup:
- Heat the fruit (lightly mashed) and syrup very gently making sure it doesnt burn.
- Stir over low heat until flavor comes through - I usually go 10 minutes or so.
- Pour through a strainer into a clean jar.
- Store in the fridge, or pressure can/water bath can to store at room temp.
Ingredients For simple syrup:
- 1 Cup water
- 1 Cup granulated sugar
- 1 Cup fruit
Instructions for infused simple syrup:
- Boil water, then reduce heat to simmer
- Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved
- Lower heat again to a low simmer
- Add fruit and put a lid on your pot, and simmer on low for about 10 minutes - checking to make sure it doesn’t burn.
- Turn off heat, crush the fruit in the pot, and let mixture stand until cool
- Pour through strainer into jar and store in fridge.
NOTE: Most fruits like blueberries, strawberries and raspberries can be added whole, but fruit like cherries and elderberries with pits or hard seeds will require the use of a food mill, immersion blender or your preferred method of removing seeds from flesh before infusing.
Seared Venison Chops With Elderberry Pan Sauce
This elderberry pan sauce can be made with a pre-made elderberry syrup following the infused simple syrup instructions above or with whole fruit. An important note on elderberries: the fruit needs to be cooked before it’s safe to consume. Stems and leaves are toxic. The best way to remove fruit from stems is to pop the fresh fruit clusters in the freezer overnight. Take them out the next day, and run a fork through them over a bowl or bucket while still frozen. The berries come off easily.
- 2 Venison chops bone-in
- salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp minced onion or shallot
- ½ cup elderberries lightly crushed or blended
- 1 tsp sugar (I use maple sugar)
- 2 tbsp chopped green herb ( I used sweetfern, but thyme, oregano, rosemary etc work.)
- ¼ cup wine or port
- ¼ cup vinegar
- 1 tbsp butter
- Season both sides of the chops with salt and pepper
- Heat oil in a large skillet over med/high heat
- When oil barely smokes add the chops and sear 2-3 minutes
- Lower heat to medium, turn chops and sear another 2-3 minutes for medium rare.
- Transfer to a plate and cover loosely with foil to rest.
- Add onions and garlic to the pan, still on medium heat.
- Simmer and stir till softened
- Add elderberries, sugar, and half of green herbs
- Simmer and stir for a few minutes, reducing the heat if it starts to stick
- Add vinegar and wine, and simmer, stirring until reduced by about half and until you like the consistency and flavor
- Add butter and other half of green herbs
- Stir to combine and turn off heat.
- Plate your chops
- Spoon the sauce over them, and serve while still warm.
- Leftover sauce holds well in the fridge.
Photos by Author