Rain, rain and more rain. What is it about rainy Sundays that makes me just want to curl up with a good book? Luckily, yesterday was a gorgeous day here in Westchester County; bright sunshine, cool breeze, 75 degrees. Tai & I took advantage and went to a nearby neighborhood street where wild red raspberries grow all along the sides of the road – thousands of crystal-red, delicious berries, ripe for the picking.
The particular berries that line this Westchester backroad are wineberries, a type of raspberry originally imported from Japan as an ornamental plant. Normally, I would not applaud the escape into nature of an invasive, non-native plant, but when the plant offers up such delicious bounty… I make exceptions! The berries are jewel-bright, almost like red currants but with a deeper, red-wine color. They are very juicy and quite delicious; however the berries are extremely fragile and do not freeze well. Jam, jelly or other preserves, puree, cordial or homemade vinegar are all good options for preserving the bounty during the short wineberry season.
Here I make a wineberry preserve, starting out with a jelly of wineberry juice and sugar, adding back in de-seeded wineberry pulp and some fresh, uncooked berries. The resulting preserve is exquisite: soft, spreadable, sweet but not overly so, with the tang of a good Beaujolais or a fruity red zinfandel and that indefinable je ne sais crois that comes from wild fruit raised by nothing more than sun, soil and rain (lots and lots of rain!).
This beautiful preserve would be a show-stopper as the filling of a Linzer torte or mini-tarts, the topping for cheesecake, angel food cake or as the filling of a layer cake. It’s just as comfortable in more downhome recipes, however, like the kick-ass PB&J that I am currently enjoying. If you have the chance, search out some wild wineberries near you; they are worth the effort!
Adapted from Red Raspberry Preserves in Gourmet Preserves by Madelaine Bullwinkel
Wild Wineberry Preserves
- 3 and 1/2 lbs wineberries (or other raspberries, blackberries, etc), about 10 cups, divided
- 1/2 cup filtered water
- 3 tbsp lemon juice, divided
- 2 cups + 4 tbsp sugar (I used natural beet sugar), divided
- large pinch sea salt
- If canning, prepare canner, jars and lids.
- Rinse and drain the berries; as wineberries are very fragile, and will fall apart under the pressure of the faucet or sprayer, I usually fill a large bowl with cold water, then fill a large colander about halfway with berries and dip into the bowl full of water. Swish berries in water for a few minutes until any leaves, small twigs, bugs, etc., come rising to the top and skim them off into the sink. Then lift the colander out of the bowl of water, change to fresh water, and continue until all the berries are rinsed. Combine 3 lbs berries with 1/2 cup water in a large stockpot. Cover and bring liquid to a simmer. Uncover and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Transfer simmered berry mixture to a colander suspended over a large, heat-resistant bowl. Drain berries for 15 minutes, collecting the juice.
- Return juice to the stockpot. Transfer the berries to a medium sieve or food mill and push through to remove the majority of the seeds (the medium disk on my food mill worked best). If you want little to no seeds in your preserves, try using the fine disk, or a fine sieve, to remove even more seeds (I like some seeds for added texture and visual interest). Reserve the berry pulp.
- Bring wineberry juice in the stockpot to a boil. Add 2 tbsp lemon juice and 2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the mixture to return to a boil each time before adding additional sugar. Boil, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches the gel point, which is 220 degrees F (or 8 degrees higher than the temperature of boiling water on your thermometer). This should take less than 5 minutes. Once gel is reached, remove jelly from heat.
- Add the reserved berry pulp to the hot jelly and stir to mix well. Add 1/4 lb of the remaining uncooked berries and stir. Allow jelly/berry mixture to steep for 15 minutes.
- Return the jelly/berry mixture to a boil. Add the remaining 1 tbsp of lemon juice, 4 tbsp of sugar and pinch of salt. Boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the preserves reach the gel point, 220 degrees F; if preserves keep sticking to the pot, lower the heat to medium and continue to stir. Once preserves have reached the gel point, add the last 1/4 lb of berries and return the preserves to 220 degrees F. Boil for one additional minute past the gel point, then turn off the heat.
- Fill hot, sterilized jars to 1/4-inch headspace and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Yields about 4 and 1/2 cups.
- The original recipe stated, after draining juice from the berries, to: “measure juice and reduce to 2 cups.” Originally I assumed that this meant “reduce” as in reduce by heating, or boil down the juice until only 2 cups remain, which I had planned to do. I measured 3 and 1/4 cups juice from my 3 lbs of berries. I put it all in the stockpot, then promptly forgot to reduce it down to 2 cups and just added lemon juice and sugar and started boiling away. I now think that the original recipe intends you to simply use only 2 cups of the juice (rather than reducing by boiling), as the very next line states “bring juice to a boil.” Most classic jelly recipes call for a 1:1 ratio of juice:sugar, so 2 cups juice to 2 cups sugar makes sense. I’m not sure why she would not simply say “measure juice and add equal amount of sugar” as most jelly recipes do; perhaps it has to do with maintaining consistent texture with the berry pulp. At any rate, I used 2 cups of sugar to 3 and 1/4 cups juice and the texture of the finished preserve was quite wonderful, so I am happy with the result. If you like a firmer set in your preserves, match the amount of sugar to the amount of juice you yield from your berries.
- The original recipe called for 3 lbs of fruit and did not include the addition of un-cooked berries in the later stages. I added those in, in order to try to have some whole(ish) berries left in the finished preserves. I can’t say that there were any whole berries left in the preserves; I think these berries are just too delicate, and they were boiled for 10 minutes in the water bath canner. However the texture of these preserves is lovely, so I would repeat this same procedure again.
- The original recipe also did not call for any straining to remove raspberry seeds; wineberries are a very juicy berry that are packed full of seeds. I think that, without removing any seeds, the preserves would be far too seedy. Even though the pulping through the food mill makes an extra step, it is worth it if your raspberries are quite full of seeds.
If canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. If refrigerated, use within 3 months.
Mid-summer. Near me, wild wineberries are at peak in late July/early August.