Wildly Rich & Delicious Foraged Oregon Grape & Lemon Curd
Oregon Grape: The Cinderella Story
Sometimes when you are a kid, you’re told things that just aren’t true. Like that if you don’t go to sleep – Santa won’t come, if you eat watermelon seeds they will grow in your belly, being a grown up is fun… And while those are outright lies (“adulting” is hard), some well-intentioned adults offer misinformation that stays with you. Like that the blue berries of the Oregon Grape are poisonous. They aren’t, actually – they just aren’t very tasty. However, even the humble, acidic and bitter berry can become the belle of the ball by way of Oregon Grape & Lemon Curd. This is the Cinderella of the foraged berry world.
Oregon Grape Identification & Medicinal Uses
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is the Oregon state flower. It is a landscape staple in municipal plantings west of the Cascades, its shiny foliage, yellow flowers and blue fruits acting as Mother Nature’s pretty, albeit treacherous, jewelry. While the name implies “grape” and the foliage screams “holly”, it is neither. A member of the barberry (Berberis) family, Oregon grape possess sharp, holly-like leaves making it a great, all natural burglary prevention landscape strategy – trust me, you don’t want to get into a tangle with this shrub. The core of the stems and roots is a bright yellow, owing its pigment and medicinal qualities to its berberine content. Oregon Grape root is a remarkable herb for a variety of reason – not the least of which is affordability and availability as many of its high berberine plant cousins are reaching critical levels of over harvesting. Oregon Grape is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial – it is the first herb that I turn to when those lymph nodes below my ears become swollen and tender. It is also a wonderful digestive aid, stimulating digestion and the flow of gastric juices. An “alterative” tonic, Oregon grape is thought to help cleanse the blood and detoxify the body, thus improving energy, skin tone and well being.
Oregon Grape & Lemon Curd
The virtues of Oregon Grape root (and stem core) are all well and good, but what about those bitter berries? High in vitamin C and healthy flavonoids due to the anthocyanin skin pigments, the berries are ripe with their own benefits. But they are unpalatable, to put in mildly. What is one to do? Too seedy and bitter for a jam and needing more richness, I felt that a berry curd was in order. Always inspired by my friend Jennifer from Gather (see her stunning Oregon Grape tart here), and blessed with a boatload of Oregon Grape delivered by a friend, this delicious curd was born!
The resulting curd is something kinda amazing. The flavor is dark and deep, almost musky and wild. The richness from the eggs and butter offset the tannic punch of the berries. The combined acidity of the lemon and Oregon Grape keeps the curd bright and lively on the palate. This stuff is good enough to eat by the spoonfuls, and there is no shame in that. It would also be wonderful with a graham cracker crust and topped with a meringue, spread between layers of yellow cake, or atop a shortbread crust. I fretted over whether this recipe would befit preservation by way of canning. The USDA does seem to indicate that lemon curds are safe to water bath can but does not approve of berry curds at this time. The acidity is indeed within the pH margin of safety, I decided that canning is not the best means of preservation of unused curd. I feel that freezing will actually maintain the flavor and texture far better that water bath processing anyway.
Need more ideas for your foraged berries — check out this sorbet.
Foraged Oregon Grape & Lemon Curd
- 1 cup Oregon Grape puree
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 1 1/2 cups raw organic cane sugar
- 6 eggs
- 8 tablespoons butter cubed
To create puree, place a heaping cup of clean Oregon Grape berries into a blender or food processor and pulse a couple times until juices start to release. Do NOT over puree.
Place berry puree, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar and eggs into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Over medium heat and whisking constantly, cook the mixture until it thickens (coats back of a spoon and whisk leaves traces in curd).
Remove from heat and pass through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl; discard solids. Whisk butter into hot curd until well combined.
Place a sheet of parchment or plastic wrap directly on top of curd and chill until cold. Serve within one week or freeze.