Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Harvest Ingredient 7: Squashberry

These are crazy red harbingers of cold weather way up north; and by up north, I mean that most of their native range is in Canada.  They are a member to the Viburnum family, which includes species native to both the New World and to Asia.  This species closest relative is the so-called "Highbush Cranberry," though, again, names are confusing, as this specie, which is Viburnum edule is also called Highbush Cranberry...and Lowbush Cranberry...and Mooseberry, etc.  Not surprisingly it has a number of native names, including "pembina" also spelled "pimbina," and "moosomin" from Cree.  They ripen in later summer and can be picked through winter, if there are any left.  There is one school of thought that they improve in flavor after a frost.

Although it's range does reach deep into the range of the Rockies in the continuous US, most of it's habitat in the in the lower 48 roughly runs along the Canadian border, skipping into areas in upstates that lie next to our Northern neighbor.  In Canada itself, it covers most of the country, with the exception of the far north and the arctic, and the northwest coast.  It cover all of the lower 3/4's of the state of Alaska, including along coast lines there.  It should be noted that the Viburnum trilobum, which is more often identified as "highbush cranberry" in book on wild edibles, also shares habitat with Viburnum edule in it's southerly range, with trilobum being found further south than edule.  It hardly matters in terms of true indentification, since they are both treated in almost indentifal manners, with "Squashberry" being sweeter.  Squashberries tend to hang on longer berry stems and in much small clusters than Highbush Cranberries do; and their leaves are more elongated and somewhat more rounded (Highbush leaves sometimes look like small maple leaves).  All Viburnum were formerly placed in the Hydrangea family!  They especially like low to middle altitudes, and not at all common at higher elevations.

Though the vast majority of the harvest of squashberries is a wild harvest, the shrub is widely available for cultivation.  Though they will grow in most climates, except for the very hot, they hotter the clime, the lower the berry yield will be. High in vitamin C, they make excellent jam and especially jelly.  For a largely wild plant, there are a surprisingly large number of commercially available products out there made from Squashberries.  From preserves to juices.  There are also a surprising number of recipes on the web for them.

Commercial Squashberry Spread from Dark Tickle

For the home cook, the juice can be purchased, which is a plus for such a "wild treat."  The juice goes into jellies, meringue pies, fruit aid, syrups and smoothies.  Squashberry smoothies seems to be all the rage right now in Canada.  If you have the whole fruit, they are easily be made into jams, fruit pies, fruit butters, spreads of various sorts and fresh juice, which needs little diluting or sweetening.  They make an excellent jelly base for an unusual citrus peel marmalade.  The juice can also flavor muffins, cakes and bread, being used in place of dairy in such recipes.  The jelly can be made interesting with addition of hot peppers and/or herbs.  Mint is a great addition for a sweet herb jelly; while Mexican oregano would work well for a savory one.  If you really want to "go native" top freshly cooked frybread with squashberry jelly!!

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