Experimental forage: Rowan jelly

Experimental foraging isn’t a new thing for me, I was seduced long ago by the tales of my late great Canadian childhood hero, Farley Mowat. Those early days saw me pulling roots to munch from the marshlands and popping windfall nuts casually into my mouth whilst tromping through the woods with my parents. It never occurred to me then that I might just get it wrong. Today, I am a little wiser and a little more cautious but always searching and researching for those wild edibles that make me feel just a little bit more in tune with nature.

Growing up in the northern hemisphere, the Rowan tree, (or Mountain Ash) and I needed no introduction. It was a common yard tree in nearly every neighborhood I’d ever lived in. Finding it in the backstreets of east London’s Bethnal Green, lining the roads in front of council estates was just a reminder that I’d never explored what it’s bright red orange cluster of berries was used for.

It didn’t take long for me to find that this vibrant tree has a long history of uses from jelly and jam to wine. I have a passion for making wine, and this use excited me more than the others. I’ll use the recipe with my regular modifications to exclude any chemicals, but not this year. My impending move and Norway’s insistence on not allowing more that 3 bottles of alcohol in with a person per visit, places this firmly in the “to do” list.

I settled for making syrup or jelly. I am not a big fan of sweet jelly or jam, and as a rule I don’t make things I will not eat, but a savory jelly that apparently is nice with strong cheese or rich roasted lamb? That is something I can certainly try.

My overall quest is to know if Rowan will make a nice wine, but since I may not have three months to ferment, this will have to do. Rowan is often dismissed as poisonous but it has a long history of being used throughout the northern hemisphere the Welsh, English and Norwegian people all knew the secrets of how to use her berries.

It took me two attempts to make something palatable. Rowan is quite astringent and as I was using tiny quantities it was difficult to reliably determine from various recipes what amounts I might like best. Below is what I consider a moderate success, but one with enough promise that I am keen to harvest again next year for wine.

250ml of Savory Rowan Jelly:

2 cups rowan berry
5 heaping tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice  + white rind to help set it
1 inch cinnamon stick
10 peppercorn whole
4 crushed
Cover lemon, cinnamon and rowan with just enough water to cover and  boil for 20 mins
Remove cinnamon and large pieces of white rind
Mash berries and let cool in pan
Strained / hung for 2hrs, over clean pan. Do not squeeze.
Add sugar to the juice and place back pan to boil.  Add crushed peppercorns
Boiled til setting
Jar, cap and let cool.


“The land will provide a rich and diverse range for your plate, if only you know where to look”.  A thought that has stayed with me since childhood and a theory that continues to prove itself the more my knowledge increases.