I think that it is very important to discover all that mother nature offers from her “plant pantry”, especially that which is sustainable, with no danger of an over harvest. This is how I came to start juicing Queen Palm Berries. When I’m up at the family farm in NY, I forage for wild grapes, dandelions, wild currants, wild berries, pig’s ears, wild grape leaves, shaggy mane mushrooms (when I can still find them), locust blossoms, maple…..and the list goes on. However, when I made the move to Florida, where I live when work doesn’t have me traveling, I had to begin to learn what I could forage for here. So, I have begun my new quest of learning what I can find in the wild, plant wise, to eat.
“Juicing” Queen Palm Berries
When the queen palms that my parents have in their yard began to produce huge bunches of fruits, I began to wonder if there was anything that I could do with them, or if they were even safe to consume. With curiosity getting the best of me, I began some research and discovered that a good many of the palm fruits are edible, and are used for jellies, wine and cooking sauces. (As the squirrels absolutely love them, I figured that they were most likely safe, but I wanted to make sure.) When they turned orange and began falling off their bunches, they were ready to harvest. However, the entire bunch is not always ready to harvest all at once, so depending on how many queen palms you have and how they are ripening, it could take a few days to collect what you may need for a recipe.
In the case of our bunches, it so happened that the palms were being trimmed of their dead fronds, so I had the tree guy remove the bunches and leave them. Half of one bunch was orange and half was still green. I removed the ripened fruit. Although they are orange when ripe, I only harvested those which came off of the stems with a gentle little twist. As the rest ripened, I would harvest them, checking once or twice per day. However, in using both methods, I did find that it is best if you can let the fruits ripen on the tree and harvest as they fall. The seem to be a little fuller in size and a little sweeter.
With my initial question answered and my bucket filling up with ripened fruit, I began to find out exactly what I had to do with them to get them to the point of becoming an ingredient for some of the recipes that I had found. The reason being is that the berries of the queen palm are 98% pit which has a very fibrous layer over it, with a thin skin over that layer. These fibers, while not exactly edible, are chewable, and are sweet and terribly sticky. (No wonder the squirrels like them!) There seem to be a number of opinions about what the taste is, but I sometimes get a banana like taste when I chew on the fiber, with hints of other flavors that I haven’t quite yet identified.
I decided to try to make a jelly from the fruit that I had gathered, so my next question was how to extract any juices from these little guys, as there was nothing to really cook down, like you would a raspberry, and with most of the thing being nothing but pit, a juicer was totally out of the question. So, after a little more digging, I discovered how to extract the juice from these fruits, which would be the base for a few different recipes.
“Juicing” the Palm Fruits
To begin with, I rinsed the berries well (I did this outdoors using the hose, but you can do this indoors too) and let them drain. This is basically to remove any dirt and debris from the berries, especially those that I had harvested before the trees were pruned, as the ripened berries fell to the ground.
Next, I placed the fruits into a large pot, and cover with water, covering 1” over the top of the fruits. I actually split my harvest into 2 pots for this process. It was just easier than working with a pot filled to the brim.
I then placed the pot of fruit, uncovered, on the stove until it came to a boil. (This can take a while.) When the pot finally began boiling, I lowered the heat to medium and still leaving uncovered, allowed it to simmer for about 1 hour. (Although I didn’t experience sticking, I did occasionally stir the fruit.) After simmering, remove from heat and let sit 1 hour to cool.
When the pot of fruit has cooled for the hour (you should be able to handle it by this time without burning your hands (although the fruit still may be warm or even on the hottish side), begin to put a handful of fruit at a time into a jelly bag and squeeze.
Depending on how large the seed of the fruit is, you may get very little of anything or you may get varying amounts of additional liquid. You may squeeze the fruits into the pot the fruits are already in or you may squeeze into a new bowl. Either way, you will be straining the liquid again when you are through, so it doesn’t really matter. The fruits may be discarded after they have been squeezed.
Once you have your thoroughly strained liquid, you may now use it for your recipes or freeze it. Freezing is simple and well cleaned, plastic, half gallon milk jugs work well. Be sure to leave open space at the top of the container to allow for expansion. Thaw and use when you are ready!