Manzanita Madness – Gathering Time
This is one of my favorite wild food moments, when the Manzanita berries are ripe and ready to pick.
Manzanita, an abundant evergreen shrub that grows throughout California, is often overlooked. However, its berries have a long history of use as a food, both as a cider and a sweet sugar or flour. Manzanita berries are a local superfood that can be eaten raw, used as a condiment, added to smoothies or used for baking. Manzanita only grows well under drought-tolerant conditions, another convincing reason to look no further than our backyards for a gluten-free superfood that doesn’t overuse precious water to grow.
Here are a few tips on gathering and processing into a sugar that you can use as a sweetener or flour.
Gathering & Processing Tips
Collect the berries away from roads and on private property with permission. Never collect more than 20% of the berries in an area. To harvest, pull berries gently off the bush. Ripe berries are round, not shriveled, and dark red, not orange.
Lay out to dry on screens or a tarp for a day.
Rub between your fingers to remove any twigs and discard any leaves.
To process into sugar:
Add to blender, vitamix or food processor and blend on medium-low speed for about 1 minute.
Place a strainer over a bowl, and fill the strainer to about halfway. Press berry powder (aka sugar) through the strainer.
Store the berry sugar in a spice jar or mason jar to use in recipes. It will keep on the shelf for about 6 months.
To make the cider:
Cover the remaining seeds and skin with cold or room temperature water and let steep 4 hours to overnight.
Place a strainer over a mason jar and pour the liquid through the strainer, discarding the remaining seeds/skin in the compost.
Keep the mason jar of Manzanita cider in the refrigerator and enjoy cold for up to a week.
If you don’t have access to your own Manzanita bushes, visit Flavors of the Wild or local stores in Nevada City and Grass Valley to order Manzanita Sugar.