The book cover. (Mike Lascelle photo)

Gardening: Becoming a purveyor of fine jams and jellies

Nothing seals the deal like a tasty food sample

It’s finally done. All the writing, editing, picture selection, proof-reading and layout considerations are finally behind me, so all that’s left is the actual printing of my new book, which is due out in early March.

Extraordinary Ornamental Edibles – 100 Perennials, Trees, Shrubs and Vines for Canadian Gardens took me about three years to compile. I literally sought out every rare edible being grown in gardens from Vancouver Island to the Fraser Valley, interviewing fruit experts and painstakingly photographing the edibles in bloom and at maturity.

About two weeks ago, I finally got to see the finished book cover, and I have to say that the designer at Douglas and McIntyre did a superb job – as it conveys the spirit of the contents concisely.

My concern, while promoting it, was how to capture the imagination of potential buyers. And although this tome is well illustrated with some 300 colour photographs, when it comes to edibles, nothing seals the deal like a tasty food sample.

So I stole an idea from Bob Duncan at Fruit Trees and More on Vancouver Island, a citrus specialist who grows everything from Meyer lemons to Chinotto sour oranges. Bob’s wife Verna makes delicious marmalades from their unique crops and offers these for sale to the public who visit their demonstration garden.

So I decided that I would try to preserve as many of the unusual fruits in my book that I could source with any sort of volume. Essentially, I became a purveyor of fine jams and jellies with the help of my wife, who grew up on a farm and is an old ‘canning’ pro.

I started with a blended Osoberry (Oemleria) and wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) jelly, as the former is one of the first fruits to ripen in our local forests.

From there I moved onto numerous jams and jellies, using Chokecherry, quince, strawberry guava, rose petals (from Rosa rugosa), Oregon grape, Goji berry, crabapple and cape gooseberry.

Probably the most interesting preserve I made was a fruit butter based on the red ball-like drupes of the Korean dogwood or Cornus kousa. This common ornamental tree is not usually thought of as a potential edible, but the fruits have a pleasant tropical taste (think mild mango) when picked at peak ripeness and can be made into a jam-like apple butter.

While some people just puree these through a food processor, the outer skin can be a bit bitter, affecting the overall flavour – so I chose the slow route of scooping these out by hand.

The recipe is fairly simple, just bring four cups of strained dogwood fruit pulp and 1.5 cups of water to a boil, add five cups of sugar (the recipe called for seven, but I cut this back) along with ½ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. nutmeg and 1/8 tsp. of ground cloves for flavour. Stir and bring to boil again, adding one package of powdered pectin and allow to hard boil for one minute – after which you can ladle your creation into sterilized jars.

The resulting fruit butter is tan in colour (similar to apple sauce) and absolutely delicious when spooned generously onto hot buttered toast.

My canning season isn’t over yet as I have about eight pounds of medlars (Mespilus germanica) ripening in boxes in my garage. This fruit literally needs to rot before it is ready for consumption, and while both the fruit (which the French call ‘cul-de-chien’ or ‘dog butt’) and the mushy interior seem a bit disgusting, the jelly is absolutely delicious.

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery

manager and gardening author

(hebe_acer@hotmail.com).

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