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  • Writer's pictureAlex

Rowan berry jelly - a lost art?

A colander full of Rowan berries
Rowan berries picked and washed.

I made a jelly accompaniment to meats and cheeses out of the berries of the Rowan tree. These are bright red berries in their peak in September.

I remember as a child my parents telling me never to eat red berries as they're all poisonous, which is definitely not true (although some are!). I assume this attitude is because knowledge of the trees and plants has greatly diminished over the last few generations, and plants that were once used for food are now overlooked in favour of supermarket foods that don't require any effort to make and are much more gratifying to eat in the short term (highly flavoured, highly sweetened etc).

By boiling Rowan berries with crab apples that had fallen locally, the pectin in the apples causes the whole juice to set into a jelly. Straining through a cloth and boiling for 25 minutes with a fair bit of sugar saw the process complete (check out the Woodland trust for the actual recipe).

Despite the sugar there's a bitter edge to the jelly. Bitter is a flavour that's fallen out of fashion along with the skills used to identify and prepare bitter plants. Bitters stimulate the digestive system so were traditionally used to stimulate appetite before a meal and to help digest meats.

I value the Rowan jelly not because it has an incredible flavour (for my palette it's nice but not 'delicious'), but for the ability to connect with ancient skills that my ancestors would have used in daily life. I value being able to know what's growing around me, the knowledge to utilise those plants, and the feeling of satisfaction at having utilised the local environment for self-sufficiency.

I encourage you to try this recipe, and also to ask what can be done with other trees and plants you pass.

The finished orange coloured rowan jelly on a slice of cheese
The finished orange coloured rowan jelly on a slice of cheese

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