Along the Grapevine

Nannyberry Sauce

43 Comments

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Nannyberry (viburnum lentago), also known and sheepberry and sweet viburnum, is now ripe for picking. It is not yet a fruit which is widely recognized as being edible, but its sweet juicy berries and well-worth picking. Not only are they delicious, but they are easy to identify and very easy to pick. No prickly stems, no stooping, and the thick clusters of berries can just be pulled off in bunches, making them the most economical berries in terms of time. My little harvest took no more than 10 minutes (not counting the time spent nursing my bee sting). While I can’t vouch for just how nutritious they are, the deep black blue colour of the berries make me think they just have to be good for you.

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Nannyberries are native to the northern US and southern Canada. It is often found along roadsides, near creeks and swamps, wherever there is a combination of water and sun. It is also cultivated because of its compactness, beautiful white clusters of flowers in late spring, bright foliage in the fall, hardiness in cold climates, and of course the dark clusters of berries which ripen towards the end of September through October. One thing I discovered is that the honey bees love them, so be careful when picking and where you plant them. However, if you keep bees, or you want to attract pollinators, the plants are a great acquisition.

To help you identify it, it has oval leaves growing in pairs on opposite sides of the twigs, slightly serrated edges, and narrowing to a point. At the tip of some branches, you will see a beak shaped growth.

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The bark varies at different stages of the tree’s life – the younger ones are smooth with spots, and later those spots turn into vertical and horizontal cracks, giving the bark a rough surface.  At this time of year, the twigs are red, and the bark of the trunk is a reddish grey. The fruit is a round blue back drupe (18-16 mm long) growing on clusters with reddish stems. They have one large, flat seed, which may be a deterrent to eating them directly off the plant. Therefore, I took the berries, cooked and strained them, making a sweet, dark sauce. The flavour is similar to that of prunes, and I think this sauce could be used in any recipe calling for pureed prunes or dates.

To prepare, cover the berries with water in a saucepan, and simmer until the berries seem very soft – about 10 min. Strain through a food mill or one of these. (Photo of straining wild grapes)

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Return the pulp to the saucepan, and add about 1/2 cup sugar per 2 cups of pulp. Heat just to dissolve the sugar.

I used this sauce on some cornmeal pancakes as my contribution to this week’s Fiesta Friday, but there are many more uses I can think of: ketchup and dips, serve over cakes, in parfaits, puddings, and ice cream.

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Mullein Tisane on Punk Domestics

 

Author: Hilda

I am a backyard forager who likes to share recipes using the wild edibles of our area.

43 thoughts on “Nannyberry Sauce

  1. Nannyberries look like compact prunes to me. I have never heard or seen these before, but that dark sauce you made looks terrific over the pancakes.

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  2. Thanks, Ngan. They do taste to me a lot like prunes. I figure you can’t have too many blue foods.

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  3. Aw, bees!!! Yowch – I’m glad the sauce was worth it. I can’t recall seeing anything resembling a nannyberry near us, but I’ll be on the lookout. My brother in law told me once (to be used ONLY if I were ever lost in the forest not as a foolproof thing) that if you’re not sure if a berry is edible, check to see if the birds are eating it. If the birds eat it, it’s probably safe for humans, too. Do the birds like the nannyberries?

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    • Yes, the bee sting was quite serious, since I clutched a whole cluster of berries very hard. I should have mentioned the birds – they love them, although I can’t recall what kind visited last year. I left plenty for them on the top branches, and picked only what I could conveniently reach. All the viburnums are edible, although some not so tasty. I have heard the bird theory too, but that would be only one way to determine a berry’s edibility. On the other hand, birds don’t eat high bush cranberries, because of the smell I expect, but once cooked the smell goes away and they can be very good.

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  4. I have never heard of nannyberries before, and now I am feeling like I’m missing out on something. There’s not many foods people risk their lives for😉
    Hope you recovered from the sting, they can be quite nasty.
    Happy Fiesta Friday,
    Ginger

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    • Thanks. Well, that is the worst mishap I have experienced in all my backyard foraging. I saw the bushes were filled with bees, made a note to take care, and then just carried on, so it was my fault. I will take more care in the future, but glad the honey bees have found something they like so much in my garden. Happy FF to you too.

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  5. Pingback: Apple Pie | Fiesta Friday #35 | The Novice Gardener

  6. I don’t remember seeing this tree over there but it looks nice and tasty, it reminds me blackcurrant sauce, Hilda. Happy Fiesta Friday.

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  7. Hilda, I have to repeat the comment I made on your last post! Your repertoire on edible plants and delicious things to make from them is amazing and you should seriously consider writing a book! Thanks for sharing this at Friday Fiesta! Love the color of this sauce!

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  8. I don’t think I’ve come across these berries, but wow, have you made them into something so yummy!! Love it🙂

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  9. God how gorgeous these are with the red stems! Are there seeds? They kind of look like grapes. I am very intrigued. I like the pairing with cornmeal very much!

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    • Thanks, Sue. They look more like raisins, and one of the varieties is actually called the raisin berry. The seeds look a lot like seeds of a small watermelon, ranging from brown to black.

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  10. Never heard of these Hilda! Would love to try some!

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  11. Hey Hilda. I have never heard of these berries and I don’t even know if I have seen them. But, if you cooked them up, I’m sure they are delicious and with that intense colour, they must be wildly healthy!

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  12. Never ever heard of these, but just looking at these pictures makes me wish I had a pint full to pour over my pancakes of into my yoghurt. What a stunning colour!

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    • Actually I hadn’t heard of them till I moved to this house, although I must have seen some and just assumed they were another pointless berry. When I saw how the birds loved these berries, I thought maybe it was time for me to claim just a few. I did leave a lot for the birds!

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  13. How satisfying it is to use items from your yard/garden in this recipe. I have some viburnum but I do not think they are the right kind. The sauce looks delicious🙂

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  14. Hello Hilda! One more amazing recipe!🙂

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  15. Happy Fiesta Friday, Hilda! I have never heard of nannyberries before…it just amazes me just how many different species and varieties of berries there are… I’m always learning something new from you! The sauce looks absolutely delicious on those fabulous cornmeal pancakes. Thank you so much for sharing! Awesome post…and now I’m going to read up on nannyberries to see if they’ll grow in NY. ❤

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    • Thanks. I’m pretty sure you would get them in NY state, as that is only about one hour’s drive from us and pretty much the same geography and climate. Hope you find some.

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  16. Haven’t heard of nannyberries before or if I even ever saw them, but I do have a viburnum bush that gives similar-looking fruits. Different leaves, though. Didn’t know they were edible. Thanks for the info, Hilda!🙂

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  17. I’m constantly amazed by how much you know about all these plants! And I love the metal strainer contraption🙂

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    • Thanks, but I only know what I research as I identify things. Still have lots to learn. Not sure what that contraption is called – kind of old school but you can still find them in hardware stores. I think their main function is to make apple sauce, but they are super for straining just about anything. It is probably the most useful appliance I have.

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  18. I’ve not heard of these before but they do look really yummy and juicy! When you said virburnum I thought it said vibranium at first, which is what captain america’s shield is made of…. I’m not very good with plants lol

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  19. I have never heard of nannyberries …but they look good! That last picture …yummy! Gobble …nom, nom🙂

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  20. I’ve never had Nannyberries, but I love berry sauces! Looks wonderful!

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  21. I love the look of this sauce and the colour too. I’ve never heard of nannyberry let alone used it but I’m glad I’ve learnt something new today. Sorry about the bee sting…ouch. It must have hurt and swollen. Have a great week!

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  22. Sause is a brilliant idea!!! I boil these berries in big amount of water, and drink. In Russian it’s called компот, but compote in English is another thing.

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    • Thanks. I understand compote – the translation I think would be stewed fruit, something we don’t do much anymore. I am about to do some more on sea buckthorn (I think kalini in Russian). Any opinions on that? Presumably a compote would work too.

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  23. I’ve never heard of nannyberries before! The sauce looks delicious!!

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  24. Pingback: Nannyberry Cake | Along the Grapevine

  25. I missed this post a year ago and am so glad you pointed it out on your latest post. I wonder if they would grow in N CA near the coast? I will do some research. Do they deer bother them? I imagine they would love the berries as well. I’m starting a garden at our cabin near the coast this winter and looking for plants. We have huckleberries, this would be a wonderful addition.

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