Sunday, July 10, 2011

Northern bayberry

Welcome to my new favourite spice. Or herb. Herb is fresh, spice is dried, I suppose. So let's called it a herb, since I have been using the new green leaves for a couple of months, now, and have just turned to the small green fruit (they turn purple as they ripen) for inspiration.

Their flavour intensifies as they become older, and becomes a little resinous. The ripe, bluish fruit are what the Old People used to make soap and candles. Juniper berries are used ripe and dried, and are far mellower when purple (and sweet when fresh, incidentally). Bayberries are as hard as stones when ripe, and are best used whole, as peppercorns would be, and then discarded. Dried and ground? Still working on that. the young, soft berries are milder and more interesting as fresh herb. 

There are many references to the use of dried bayberry leaves, adding them to stews as one would a normal bay leaf, but no one seems to use them young, which means that foragers also stick to tradition. But the young leaves smell so good when crushed that I have been chopping cupfuls up very finely and using them to season pork and chicken.  I can see them as a good match for mushrooms, too, especially if prepared a la Grecque.

For now: we have ribs.

For a large rack of baby back ribs I use:

One cup loose-packed, young, fresh bayberry leaves
1 lemon's zest
Juice of two lemons
salt, sugar, pepper

In early garlic season I also grated young, juicy garlic into the rub.

Chop the leaves very finely. They disappear in no time. Mix the chopped leaves with the grated lemon zest, juice, salt, sugar (about a teaspoonful) and pepper and rub over the ribs, leaving to rest in the fridge for an hour or more.

Cook under flaming hot broiler until each side is dark brown, adding a splash of water if you'd like to rescue any of the pan scrapings afterwards (the best part).

Or, barbecue/braai 4" above grey-ashed red coals, or as you know best.

Remember to let them rest. After ten minutes of nap time I slice the ribs apart, stack them high in a bowl and serve with a fingerbowl on the side.


  1. I'm very glad to come across this recipe Marie. The aromatic leaves and now the ripening berries have been beckoning this summer on beach visits. I will start with your concept of using them much as bay leaves and work from there. Thank you!

  2. Hi, Miss S :-)- I think. Yes, and it's time for me to collect some ripe berries. I love the smell.


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