"I stumbled across an interesting little fruit on a field walk
the other day, the 'Autumn Olive'.... [Do you] have any
experience with this fruit...?" Dewey Thompson, location unknown
Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), is a native of China, Korea and Japan and related to the Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), another Asian native. Both are related to North America's native Silverberry (Elaeagnus commutata) and to other Asian shrubs and small trees.
The Autumn olive was imported to North America in the early 19th century and quickly escaped cultivation. It produces many, many berry-like fruit which ripen in mid-August through September and are widely eaten and spread by birds. It grows as a shrub to about 15 feet in height with a similar width. It is rather weedy in appearance and quite invasive. It has alternate, simple, deciduous, elliptic leaves, 2-4 inches long by 1 inch wide. Leaves are bright green with a silvery underside.
Autumn olive fruit in July (left) and September (right).
The plant produces many silvery-white, funnel shaped, fragrant flowers in May. These are a half-inch in diameter and can be quite attractive. Flowers are on branching shoots of new growth and develop into green, globose fruit about a third-inch long. The fruit progresses through green, yellow, red and dark purplish-red--almost maroon--when fully ripe and possess a single large seed with thin surrounding pulp. Technically, the single seed makes them fruit, not berries. The fruit yield a fair amount of juice considering the size of their seed. Juice extraction is by pressing whole berries, running them in batches through a juicer, or by cooking. Heat extraction sets the color, which otherwise is quite fragile. The juice is both sweet and acidic.
Put 2 qts water on to boil. Meanwhile, wash and cull fruit for soundness. Put fruit in nylon straining bag, tie closed, and place in primary container. Bruise fruit by squashing with hands or a piece of hardwood, being careful not to crack seed. Pour boiling water over fruit and cover primary. Combine remaining water with sugar and stir until dissolved--may heat the water to aid in dissolving sugar. Add sugar-water to primary, replace cover and set aside to cool. When room temperature, stir in tannin, yeast nutrient and crushed Campden. Replace cover and set aside for 12 hours. Stir in pectic enzyme and again cover primary and set aside. After 12 hours, add activated yeast and again cover the primary. Stir twice daily until s.g. drops to 1.015 (1-2 weeks). Remove nylon straining bag, squeezing well to extract juice. Allow to settle and rack to secondary and fit airlock. Wait 30 days, then rack, top up and refit airlock. Repeat when wine clears. Allow another 60 days under airlock. Stabilize, sweeten to taste if desired, wait 10 days, and rack into bottles. Age six months before tasting. Improves with age. [Author's own recipe]
My thanks to Dewey Thompson of the rec.crafts.winemaking newsgroup for requesting this recipe.