Thursday, 10 March 2016

Fruits of the Old Waldensian Paths

(Do not pick or consume these plants/berries in the wild without first taking expert advice on their correct identification and safe preparation for human consumption)
A field study on the traditional uses of wild plants was conducted in the four Waldensian valleys: Val Pellice, Angrogna, Chisone and Germanasca. It was found that the old Protestant Waldensians had an advanced knowledge of herbs and herbal medicines. They also ate the wild fruits of the Alpine slopes. Clearly, sweet chestnuts on the lower slopes of the valleys in autumn were a nourishing staple. Sweet chestnuts can also make flour for pastries. But in summer, the old Waldensians could harvest mountain fruits and store as jam. Today, one must be knowledgeable about these fruits before one eats them. We can imagine the old Waldensians eating and making jam from these fruits (hover over links to click through to photos):

Marmot Plums by Pancrace Bessa
Marmot Plums or Briancon Apricots - known locally as 'Marmouti'. This genus, Brigantina, is native to France and Italy. Today, it is on the 'red list' as it is only found in a few alpine valleys near Briancon, between France and northwest Italy. In France it is confined to the three southeastern departments of Alpes-Maritimes, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Hautes-Alpes.
Alpine or Wood Strawberry known as 'Maiussa'. Eaten since the Stone Age but largely replaced by the garden strawberry today. Woodland strawberry fruit is strongly flavoured. It is still collected and grown for domestic use, on a small scale, for gourmets and as an ingredient for commercial jam, sauces, liqueurs, cosmetics and for alternative medicine.
The Alpine Currant known as 'Uopastrie'. The individual flowers are small and greenish-yellow. The fruit is red, clear and resembles a redcurrant, but has an insipid taste. The seeds germinate readily.
Black Locust (check toxicity) known locally as 'Gazhillo'. The flowers were fried in batter. The wood can be high quality firewood. In Romania, the flowers are sometimes used to produce a sweet and perfumed jam. This means harvesting flowers, eliminating the seeds and boiling the petals with sugar, in certain proportions, to obtain a light sweet and delicate perfume jam.
Wild blackberry known as 'Rounzo' and as 'elmleaf blackberry' or 'thornless blackberry' in English. Pink flowers and dark nearly black fruit.
Raspberry known as 'Ampolen Ampoulie'. This is Rubus Idaeus or 'European Raspberry'. As a wild plant, it typically grows in forests, forming open stands under a tree canopy, and denser stands in clearings. The species name 'idaeus' refers to its occurrence on Mount Ida near Troy in northwest Turkey (where the ancient Greeks were most familiar with it).The fruit is an important food crop, though most modern commercial raspberry cultivars derive from hybrids between R. idaeus and R. strigosus. The fruits of the wild plants have a sweet taste and are very aromatic.
Elderberry (see notes on toxicity) known as 'Seuc'. The dark blue/purple berries can be eaten when fully ripe but are mildly poisonous in their unripe state. The berries are edible after cooking and can be used to make elderberry jam. The flowers are made into a syrup or elderberry cordial. The flowers can also be dipped into a light batter and fried to make elderflower fritters. Both flowers and berries can be made into elderberry wine. See a video of the harvesting of Alpine elderberry.
Lingonberry or Cowberry known as 'Panfeino' is an important food for bears and foxes. The berries are quite tart, so they are often sweetened before eating in the form of lingonberry jam. The raw fruits are also frequently simply mashed with sugar which preserves most of their nutrients and taste. This mix can be stored at room temperature in closed but not necessarily airtight containers. The jam can accompany game and liver dishes. The preserved fruit is commonly eaten with meatballs (as in IKEA stores, sometimes)
Barberry known as 'Pitton' has some poisonous aspects. Difficult to harvest from a native shrub, the berries have been traditionally used as an ingredient in jam-making. The berries are high in Vitamin C and make 'Barberry jam'.
Blackthorn or 'Sloes' known as 'Agrenie Bouson Nier'.The fruit is similar to a small damson or plum, suitable for preserves, but rather tart for eating, unless it is picked after the first few days of autumn frost. This effect can be reproduced by freezing harvested sloes. In England, the fruit may be used to make much sought after 'Sloe Gin'. In Italy, the infusion of spirit with the fruits and sugar produces a liqueur called bargnolino (or sometimes 'prunella') as well as in France where it is called prunelle or veine d'├ępine noire. Sloes can make fruit pies. The bushes are very thorny so picking requires strong gloves.
Alpine Bear Berries (eat only edible types) known as 'Pan de Vouelp Pinmerles'. Food for birds, Arctostaphylos alpina is a procumbent shrub usually less than 6 inches (15 cm) high with a woody stem and straggling branches. It can make bearberry jam (or jelly) using ripe berries (if you know what you are doing - but as with all wild berries, take care).

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