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High Bush Cranberry Jelly

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“To me, food is completely transparent, honest and generous, that has something true and original to it.” RenéRedzepi of Noma.

This introduces my experience with high bush cranberries last week. When I saw Kevin writing about them, and that he had been out foraging, I had to ask. Those of you who read me often, know I have learned to ask to be taught lessons I want to learn from those who clearly know what I want to know. In this case, it was: where are the cranberries and will you take me with you? Kevin is consistently generous with his time and his expertise,which I appreciate, and we arranged a time and a date.

Spoon by La Fourchette at lafourchette4@gmail.com

A couple of days later, we were in the middle of our city on a very popular nature walk and the berries were abundant. And, I mean abundant! The warm sun and the blue sky were settling as we met at 6 pm near Snow Valley Ski Hill just off the Whitemud Freeway. Seconds later, we were breathing in the beauty this late autumn has painted for us. Crimson leaves. Golden leaves, Crunchy underfoot…. and high bush cranberries!

Why have I not been picking these all of my life? Kevin did not know. Neither did my mom. I come from a long line of foragers and scavengers. I was elated and dumbfounded to discover an unknown edible wild berry in my midst that I was completely unaware of. And this year, the high bush cranberries (Kylina to the Ukrainians and Pembina, to the French) were absolutely exploding with colour as the brilliant bundles of glistening morsels saturated the landscape. Actually, you can smell them before you see them, if you pay attention to your nose.

They are tall, but the branches are easy to manoeuvre which made picking them incredibly rewarding and a heck of a lot of fun. Kevin pulled this tree over and we picked and plucked about a half bucket full each on the alone! See how plentiful the clusters are! But they are definitely not tasty as a fresh fruit. Tart would be an understatement. Yet, they are nothing like a chokecherry in dryness. There is a stinkiness to them that is sour and sweet and musty and musky. It is really very appealing in a completely unexpected, unusual, and unexplainable way!

I was delighted to be outside on a gorgeous evening practising a ritual that I have not participated in for a few years. I caught the berry picking fever. Getting something for nothing is a really great feeling. Especially something this precious.

As I said, the path was busy. People were consistently walking by and calling out to us, “What are you picking?” The interest was high. The berries are clearly a secret to most. Yet, here we are, in the heart of our metropolis, foraging an abundant supply of berries that are very high in vitamin C and can be used a variety of ways. Kevin is harvesting them to make wine. I am going to make jelly, and syrup, and juice, and try to dry some for baking or cereal.

They do have a very big heart shaped pit in them. Kind of like the purple grapes with the huge seeds, but these berries are much smaller, and the seed is bigger.

I love living where there are four distinct seasons. I don’t remember an autumn for a long time that has been able to age in full colour before the snow flies. Look at the bounty!

Are you getting the idea that there were berries everywhere? I have a little mental illness, or a fetish, that when I am berry picking, if there are more berries, I cannot stop. I just cannot. Even if I reach my goal. What will happen to them? What a waste if they are not used…

Woops! A little too over zealous, and my bucket slid off of my arm as I was pulling down a branch. I scooped them back up, dirt and all.

We were out a little less than two hours and it was getting too dark to see. My bucket is the short fat one. Kevin’s is the tall narrower one. I got 15 pounds; he got 21 pounds. If the sun had not gone down, I am not sure how long I could have continued one. Much longer than berries needed, that is for sure. I had a phenomenal time!

After they were all cleaned and washed, leaves removed, I had 12 pounds of fruit: beautiful.

I can’t help it. They are gorgeous. I can’t get enough of their brilliant translucent beauty. But, time for the juicing process. I read a lot of recipes. Most had too little fruit and too much water. All had far too much sugar, but that is what it takes to make jelly: a lot of sugar. The yellow berries are nor fully ripened, and contain a lot of pectin. Kevin told me this, and I learned it through my research. If you get a lot of them, you use less, or no pectin. I had a lot in my last two thirds. In my first batch, I didn’t have many. I used four pounds of berries to 2 cups of water. That seemed perfect for the juicing process. I actually put my hands right into the pot until it was too hot, and pushed and pinched the berries under the water to juice them. After that, I used a flat mallet to squish them. I set the timer for ten minutes and very lightly boiled the fruit and squished the plump globules to release their ruby juices. Between 8 to 10 minutes of doing this, I used a cheese cloth and folded it a few times over my sieve.

The berries were scooped up into the cloth covered sieve and left to hang overnight: no pushing or the liquid will be cloudy!

In the morning, I was very happy to see I had a little over three litres of juice. I then took the mash and squeezed it to make a cloudy drinking liquid. I tried to dry berries, but that did not work: too labour intensive. If you have done it, please tell me how!

No pics of the process as I did it at night. I measured the juice and had 15 cups. Wonderful! I measured 5 cps of juice and 7 cups of sugar into a heavy pot. Stirring it frequently, I brought it to a rolling boil, at which time I put in the pectin (one package of the gel) and let it continue to roll and boil for a minute; turned down the heat, and using my wide-mouth funnel, poured the soon-to-be-jelly into jars of all shapes and sizes. I had the canner on heating and when I finished the last bottle, it was ready to process the jelly. In they went at a low processing temperature of about 180″œF for 25 minutes; the water was not quite boiling. And see they gorgeous jelly I found the next morning?

I am crazy over it. It is a distinctive taste, but not stinky. It is just unfamiliar and bright and tart and as delicious as it is brilliant.

On the left are my jellies; on the right are the syrups.

I used the 10 cups of juice and 5 cups of sugar with 2 packages of liquid pectin to make the syrup. I was hoping it would be thicker. It is a nice thickness, but I was hoping for a loose jelly. I should have known better with so little sugar. But, I was hoping that the pectin in the fruit and the added pectin would work some magic. No matter. It is incredible: much stronger and more tart than the jelly. I thought I might use it in a verrine dessert and add gelatin to it to make a lovely high bush jelly layer. That would be a deadly panna cotta. So many ideas have come to Vanja and I. He just wants to drink it with sparkling water. It would be lovely with Champagne, too!

Interestingly enough, the high bush cranberry is not a cranberry at all. It is a member of the honeysuckle family. It is truly amazing what one can scavenge and create into a gourmet delicacy. If this isn’t Canadian, what is?

The video below is by Chef RenéRedzepi of NOMA restaurant in Denmark. He presents my food philosophy: not my ability, but I celebrated with him as I watched this. If you are reading this post, you will enjoy this video. Truly.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygTaJC5FeD4

Once again, I cannot reach into the jar. But, it is a little too wild for me, anyway! (Will reverse psychology psyche her out?)

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About Valerie Lugonja

Educator, Writer, Gardener and Traveler who believes in buying and eating locally, and most importantly cooking at home!

Join The Conversation!

  1. GREAT jelly photos. I made the classic mistake on my first forage to not add enough sugar – I have syrup. What a glorious high-bush cranberry year!!!

    • Kevin: You may know this, but you can take the syrup out of the jars, anytime, and put it back in a heavy pot, add the right amount of sugar; no extra pectin should be necessary if you added it first go round, then bring it to a rolling boil for a minute after sugar is dissolved, and reprocess. it won’t hurt a thing and you will get jelly. That is, if you want jelly. :)
      Valerie

  2. i live sort of by snow valley and always drive by there, but have never noticed these cranberry bushes before. i should take my kids there for a stroll and show them all these beautiful trees full of cranberries (that’s if you did leave some still hanging…haahaa). i don’t blame you if you didn’t though, they really are beautiful. you guys sure got a lot from from just a couple hours of picking. great pictures! they sort of remind me of those red fish roe. the jelly looks really great too.

    you and Vanja had some really good ideas of what to do with this. adding it to sparkling water sounds wonderful, and the panna cotta idea DOES sound deadly. can’t wait to see what you do with this.

  3. What an awesome little adventure. I love the idea of foraging, I’m just afraid that i would pick up something poisonous. Hubbykins does not trust me :P. The jelly you made looks wonderful.
    Love the spoon :)
    *kisses* HH

  4. Well I am continuing to learn each and every day through blogging. I am not sure that high bush cranberries would be growing in our semi-desert climate here in the valley where Saskatoon berries and Oregon grapes abound. It reminds me that I should head out and make some Oregon grape jelly which would be Okanagan foraging.

  5. Awesome post, and pics. You should post the pic of the jelly with the closeup of your imprinted spoon on food gawker and tastespotting. Great stuff, and I have to see if I can find these berries in NJ…

  6. My mom used to pick highbush cranberries and made the most wonderful jelly. Unfortunately I did not learn from her when I had the chance. Last year I was missing my Mom and remembering her jelly so much I could taste it. (Mom always went as much berry and as little sugar as she could get away with.)So I dragged my 82 yr young Dad out to show me his picking hotspots. What a wonderful time! Even though I still have juice in the freezer, your blog makes me want to go out again, if they are still pickable. For the record, in our house, we have taken to calling it Stinky Sock Jelly. Thanks for the wonderful story and pics!

    • Mark and Candy,
      Thank you for stopping by and leaving such a heart touching story in your comment. I am sure there are still some down there. E-mail me and I can explain where they are if you are in Edmonton. I agree with your mom sugar wise, thus the syrup when I was trying to get a loose jelly with much less sugar. Jelly just needs sugar to jell. Usually it is a two to one ratio with most berries. I love that this recipe is 5:7 (berries/sugar) . But, the syrup is delicious and 9:5(berries/sugar), so I will have fun using it.I love the Stinky Sock Jelly Title. What wonderful memories from your family to mine. My parents are 80 and 81 and will be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in November. Preparing the video for it has had me crying almost daily, so I do understand your appreciation of the time spent with your dad. I am so blessed to still have both parents. :)
      Valerie

      • I have high bush berries in my yard. I made jelly yesterday, per the directions. Except I had pectin powder. It didn’t gel solid like jelly. What do I need to do to get it to gel?

        • Valerie Lugonja says:

          That is odd, Tracy,
          And lucky you to have these in your yard! I didn’t get any this year due to my dad in the hospital!
          You can see the consistency of mine in the photo. Mine isn’t ever a hard jelly, mainly because I prefer the softer gel. I find the powdered crystal pectin does give better results if you are having problems. It can depend upon the berries, but it has always been simple to make and turns out perfectly by following the instructions. You may need to cook a little longer up front, before adding the pectin and boiling hard for the one minute. Hope this helps. :)
          Valerie

  7. Stunning pictures! These berries look like ruby pearls!
    Do you really need to store so many bottles of jelly? :-)) I would love some for my Swiss Rolls!

    Angie

  8. Wow oh wow! So gorgeous Valerie, and oh so lucky you for having this adventure of discovery. High bush ‘cranberries’! Who knew?! Love the idea of ‘tart’… and the colour is of course spectacular. Wish I lived in your area, I’d be out there now picking up the few stays you might have missed in the falling light. The subject and photos are outstanding. Happy to see you having such big fun!

  9. I grew up with high bush cranberries as a kid. We had a bunch of bushes in our yard at the lake. We made jelly and pyrahi (Russian tart) with them. When we were visiting our daughter in Edmonton, I went for a run along the whitemud ravine and noticed the high bush cranberries. We were back in Edmonton this last weekend and I picked a 4 liter pail and made jelly out of them. I used 4 cups of juice to 8 cups sugar and two packages of liquid pectin. The jelly was already setting while I was putting it in jars, so I could have probably cut back on the pectin. The smell of dirty gym socks while cooking the berries has always been a bit of a joke among our family.

  10. The Redzepi video is well worth watching and so appropriate to for inclusion on this page about locally foraged foods. Nice to see!

  11. Bernie Hirkala says:

    I have been trying to buy highbush willd cranberry Jelly locally with no success except how to make the same. I am presently buying jars from Manitoba. Where and who can I buy from in Ontario?

    • Valerie Lugonja says:

      HI, Bernie
      I am in Alberta – so really don’t know. I gather and make my own, but just last year, our Jam Lady at the downtown Farmer’s Market started making and selling it. Have you checked out your local market vendors? :)
      Valerie

    • We just returned from Manitoulin Island with 2 baskets of cranberries.I have them boiled down and dripped and now ready for jelly making in morn.We pick these along a creek…in abundance.

      • Valerie Lugonja says:

        I hope you use my other recipe for traditional Cranberry jelly. Highbush cranberries are so different than the authentic berries I believe you probably just picked in Manitoba? :)
        V

  12. eff nord says:

    OMG, Valerie! Coming here is like … home reunion week!
    One of my most favorite memories in the world is coming home from school and the smell of cranberry jelly, with a knotted sugar bag suspended between the leaves of the kitchen table, the crock underneath catching the juice.
    We lived in “logging country” in BC: my father used to travel the logging roads to repair broken down trucks and such … and he’d notice the blossoms in the spring when the leaf cover wasn’t thick yet. Then later in the year, we’d all head out in the blue 50 Chev fastback (named Lizzy — after the Queen of England, apparently) with the windows down, as Mom located the patch by smell, and dad strode into the underbrush to find the stand: the parents handled the ripest red ones higher up. I best remember Mom picking with a baby or toddler on her hip, holding down the branch with the hand that supported the baby … Each kid had a lard pail attached to a belt or shoulder strap, getting the of golden berries blushed with red from the lower, shaded branches. We’d pick buckets and buckets full, tipping them into water pails, the enamelled baby bath and a small washing tub in the trunk of the car.
    Thanks for the memories. I *must* find a cranberry bush for my yard!
    BTW, I’m pretty sure she never crushed the berries: they popped when boiled. Mom mentioned many times that a bit of green apples would have made them thicken without Certo … *the* brand of pectin available in our stores then.

    • Valerie Lugonja says:

      Eff!
      Wonderful to meet you and to rise this gorgeous Saturday morning to such a vivid image. Thank you so very much for taking the time to share it with myself and my readers. This is why I share my stories and experiences – to foster a community of like-minded people and inspire these these kinds of moments – should I ever be so lucky. And, today, I was! :)
      Valerie

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