Along the Grapevine


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Nannyberry Cake

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At this very time last year I posted a recipe for a sauce using nannyberries or viburnum lentago. It was my first experience with this berry, and I was surprised at just how easy to use and tasty it was. In that post, I give some description of the plant which I won’t repeat here, but if you think you might have access to this plant, you might find it interesting.

This year the trees are producing even more than last year, and I hope to try a few recipes with them, starting with one for a cake. There are no nannyberry cake recipes I can find, so here is my chance to create a ‘first’.

It is a pretty standard, old-fashioned sort of cake recipe, using butter, eggs and buttermilk, but the subtle fruit flavour of these berries, something like that of plums, mixed with cardamom, makes a super aromatic dessert appropriate for an autumn menu. If you don’t care for or own any cardamom, cinnamon could be substituted.

Nannyberry Cake

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups nannyberries

3/4 cup water

3 egg yolks

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup butter

1 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 1/2 cups flour

2 Tbsp ground flaxseed

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cardamom

3 beaten egg whites

Method

Cook the nannyberries and water in a covered pan until soft, about ten minutes. Strain the berries, pressing out as much pulp as possible. This will make about 1/2 cup of juice. When cool, beat in the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Measure the flour, flaxseed, soda and cardamom and mix well. Blend one third of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture at a time, alternating with half the liquid. When it is all blended, fold in the egg whites.

Pour the batter into a ten inch spring form pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 325 degrees F for fifty minutes. Allow it to sit for ten minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and allow to cool on a rack.

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This is a cake which can be served just as is, with cream or ice cream, or if you like given a full regalia.

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Linked to Fiesta Friday #87.


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Nannyberry Sauce

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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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