The warm weather this week was welcome after last week's cold snap and frost. After a frost, many greens will mellow out their bitter qualities, like dandelion and garlic mustard.
The weather also encouraged some mushrooms to pop up. We had been keeping an eye on a cluster of honey mushrooms(Armillariella mellea) for a week, but the warm weather and rain encouraged a growth spurt and they were bad by the time we got back to them. Robert had gone for a walk in Pachaug Forest earlier in the week and found some gem-studded puffballs(Lycoperdon perlatum) and a beautiful Hen of the Woods(Grifola frondosa). The puffballs and the Hen of the Woods are the only mushrooms I feel safe eating right now with our current level of knowledge--which is almost nothing. We took a spore print of the Hen of the Woods, then made some risotto and a soup the next day.
We also picked some autumn olives(Elaeagnus umbellata) to freeze and make a batch of peasant wine. The autumn olives freeze well, when washed first and spread on a sheet pan in the freezer. After they are frozen, I bag them up and they stay unclumped. Two years ago we bought a small chest freezer to hold mostly foraged foods, berries, and pesto from the garden. It is currently filled to the top, and now we have 9 quart bags of frozen autumn olives, plus 3 pints of frozen purée that was left over from jam making. We ended up with 10 one-cup jars, and 12 half-cup jars of autumn olive jam. I think we will start the wine within a few days.
Autumn olive is a deciduous shrub that is an invasive species from eastern Asia. It grows along roadsides, open fields, and parking lots. It can fix nitrogen in the soil, so it can grow in areas with poor soil, and is spread easily by birds. The foliage is green with a silvery underside, and the ripe berry is red with silvery-gold specks. There is one soft seed in each berry. The flowers are clustered along the branches in the spring, as are the berries in autumn. The astringent berries start to ripen in September, but sweeten later in the autumn. Autumn olives can contain up to 17 times the amount of lycopene as tomatoes. They are easily Gillian's favorite wild edible. We have made jam, fruit leather, wine, and popsicles from the fruit purée.
We also installed a new shelf in the pantry, one dedicated to jellies and jams made this year. The shelf is 5" high, just enough to hold one one-cup jar, or two stacked half-cup jars. Unfortunately, we underestimated how much jelly we had, and it all did not fit. We crammed more than 65 jars onto the shelf, and still filled 4 mini-crates with the smaller jars. I think some family members will be getting jelly for Christmas this year!