Last week I found myself at the church with a few minutes to kill, so I picked a gallon of autumn olives. The kids had already stripped most of them off the bushes, but there was one bush tucked out of the way, and not dead-easy to reach, and it was still loaded. It took me 15 minutes to pick a gallon of berries.

When I got home I washed them and ran them through my chinois.

Autumn olives in the chinois

Autumn olives in the chinois


Note how the berries look nothing like olives. The leaves of the bush look a bit like olive leaves though, so I’m going to assume that that’s the origin of the name.

Squishin the pulp through the holes into the pot!

Squishin the pulp through the holes into the pot!


A chinois is like a conical sieve with a conical mortar. The basic idea is to squish the fruit through the holes and catch it in some sort of vessel. The vessel in my case is the pot I intended to boil it in. Why get two dishes dirty when one will do the trick?

I got a little too wild with the chinois at one point, and slopped some whole-ish berries over the edge. I tried fishing for them, but couldn’t find them in the pulp and juice below. They disappeared into the crowd.

Once I had processed all my berries through the chinois, I moved the pot to the stove, added an equal volume of sugar, and set it to boil.

As it boiled, the seeds that were in the whole-ish berries I slopped over the edge came to the surface, and I spent a lot of time fishing them out. I do believe I got them all, but it was a lesson I will try to remember – don’t slop berries out of the chinois! That makes it harder.

This is NOT tomato soup!

This is NOT tomato soup!


As the berry pulp was boiling, I set a second, smaller pot full of water to boil as well. I washed my jars and dumped them in the water, two at a time. I let them boil for a few minutes, extracted them with tongs, and then added another jar (plus lids). I guess that’s sterile enough.

After the berries boiled for 40 minutes (which was about twenty minutes too long according to Mom), I ladled it into jars.

I got five pints, plus three very small jars full. The small jars each hold about a tablespoon. I snagged these when I was at the ACS training weekend in Connecticut this summer – they seemed perfect for giving away small quantities of autumn olive jam.

I’m not worried about whether the little tiny jars will keep the jelly from spoiling. I’ve got them in the fridge right now and will instruct the jam recipients to do the same. These are not canning jars, and I don’t trust them for that purpose.

Unfortunately, the jam did not set. Autumn olive berries are very tart, and I couldn’t find anywhere on the innerwebs that said I needed or did not need pectin. Since they are so tart, I decided to try it without. Mistake!

But not a mistake I can’t correct. Last night Va brought some pectin home with her (at my request). I opened all my jars of liquid jam and dumped them right back into the pot. Then I added the pectin – a whole box of SureJel. As I brought it back to a boil, I washed the jars and re-sterilized them. I let the jam boil for ten minutes, and then ladled it back into the jars. In this process I lost a half pint of jam.😦

It still didn’t set up like I wanted it to, but it’s far more solid now than it was before. And indeed, it is acceptably solid now, so I’m not going to fret about it.

I brought the half-pint of jam with me to work this morning, stopped at the bakery downstairs from us, and bought a loaf of multi-grain bread.

Most people’s reaction was something like “Olive jam?” and I would have to explain to each person that it was not olives, it was autumn olives, and they are nothing like “regular” olives. They are a berry, and they are not native to North America. Indeed, they are quite invasive, but they do make excellent jam. Would that all our invasives were as tasty as this. (OK, I stole that line from Samuel Thayer, who wrote “Nature’s Garden” – an excellent book about wild foods).

Then my co-workers would try it and rave about how good it was. Hoorays!

Now I have to decide who will get the three tiny jars. I am going to keep the four pints I have left for myself, and hope that they last me until something else comes into season next year.

Or maybe I should break out the blackberries I froze a few months ago…