My Grandmother told me the stories of how many of the early settlers to our area were Native Americans and Spaniards and how they survived by living off the land. Using what came from the land, one of the many things they would harvest were the Manzanita berries to use in their daily lives for eating and cooking. When the berries over ripened and became red and hard they were then ground into flour and used for porridge, which has a sweet taste to it.
The berries and many parts of the Manzanita tree have many nutritional and medicinal properties that were useful in their diet and as medicine. The leaves had a medicinal value and can be used as an astringent, for female disorders, bronchitis, kidney ailments, dropsy and were also used for smoking as an alternative for tobacco.
Harvesting Manzanita Berries
As history would have it, these berries that grow so abundantly in the foothills were also called Bear Berries, as they are one of bears favorite foods. So of course, any time I would venture into the woods to pick these berries I was extremely aware of my surroundings and any crackle of branches would send me running.
So with bucket in hand, I would head up the hill to pick the precious berries that I recalled from my childhood. The tree is easy to identify as it has red trunks and leaves are green and shaped like a holly plant. The berries are green and resemble a miniature apple. They grow in small clumps all over the tree. When picking the berries be sure to try to pick them without the stem whenever possible.
The best time for harvesting green Manzanita berries is April through May. They can still be found in the later months of the summer, but they are less abundant. Also they may have started to turn red in color and are too dry to make jellies or cider with, but can be used for porridge and flour. Manzanita berries are smaller than marble size, and it takes patience and perseverance to pick a half gallon.
Be prepared to wash the sap off your body as soon as you get finished collecting berries. For some people it can have an allergic affect leaving a slight rash. I usually wear long sleeves when I harvest the berries, to avoid contact with the leaves and sap on my skin, the sap is sticky and is hard to wash off once it dries.
I always try to take someone with me, as two pairs of hands pick quicker then one. I found it was easiest to hold your shirt bottom out with one hand, making a pocket to catch the berries as they fall, and can easily be picked with the other hand.
Making Manzanita Jelly
To prepare for making jelly
First, remove all the stems from the fruit and wash the berries well, drying them in a colander. Put the Manzanita berries in a large thick bottom pan and add twice the amount of water as berries. Making sure they have room to move when you are cooking them down. Slowly cook the Manzanita berries until your water has a sticky consitancy to it and the berries are soft.
Remove the Manzanita berries from the heat and pour the berries and the liquid though a cloth strainer, separating the liquid from the berries. Return the liquid to the stove, now becoming a syrup. Sweeten the mxiture with sugar, for me is always by taste. But use as much sugar as you see fit without overwhelming the taste of the Manzanita berries.
The taste is somewhat of a mix between honey and agave. Slow cook your syrup down, and add the lemon rind. I have tried using pectin versus gelatin to get mine to set. The pectin did thicken it but it still had a syrupy consistency. The gelatin gave me a perfect clear jelly. Use what works best for you, and cook down until it grabs onto a spoon when you dip it in. Leaving a sticky film.
Cinnamon can be added while its cooking down. I have found that if I use a stick of cinnamon its hard to say how much to use. A small bit might not be enough, and a large amount may be too much and your jelly will end up tasting like a Fireball candy. I have found that by just breaking a small piece off about the size of my little fingernail and throwing it in the jar with the processed jelly that it gives the jelly a slight cinnamon taste and makes for a decorative jelly to give as gifts.
- 2 gallon Manzanita berries, washed and cleaned
- 1 rind of a lemon grated
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Gelatin or pectin, follow the directions on the box.
- Water twice as much as you have berries
As a child picking Manzanita berries was always a family event, and giving the jars as Christmas gifts was always a treat for our family.
Roxanne Newman is a 4th generation homesteader, trying to live a better life.
(Roxy's Homestead is written exclusively for Survival Chops by Roxanne Newman)
Until next time…
Take care and God bless
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