‘A Play of Jays’

January 13, 2018

We know the fun which comes from discovering how groups of birds are labelled and identified:

  • a convocation of eagles
  • a wake of buzzards
  • a parliament of owls
  • an exaltation of larks
  • an ostentation of peacocks

Jays have two possibles–a ‘scold’, or a ‘play’–and given their feisty nature, both can be true at once.  Here in Western Canada we have the Steller Jay, as well as the Whisky Jack or Grey Jay.  Eastern Canada is home to the more familiar Blue Jay.

A Play of Jays, watercolour, 8 x 30, Feb. 2017, for Visual Journey Show.jpg

“A Play of Jays”, watercolour by Lance Weisser, 8″ x 30″, 140 lb. Saunders Waterford Hot Press Paper. Sold.

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“. . . The Harry Potter series borrowed ancient Celtic views towards the European Mountain Ash also called the Rowan Tree. The Celts and other people of early British Isles thought the tree had magical properties. Its powers were to protect you from witchcraft, one of two reasons why it is also called Witchwood. The other reason is a pucker at the end of the fruit reminds some of a pentagram which is associated with witchery.”

“As one might think, animals also know the mountain ashes as food. It is a favored browse of moose and white-tailed deer. Bears, fishers and martens like it as well as snowshoe hares, squirrels, small woodland rodents, the ruffed grouse, ptarmigans, sharp-tailed grouse, blue grouse, American robins, thrushes, waxwings, and jays. . . ”  http://www.eattheweeds.com/mountain-ash-rowan/

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“American Blue Jays and Mountain Ash”, watercolour on Arches Hot Press 140# Paper, original available for purchase $85US (unframed, excluding postal charges), 5.5″ x 11.5″

From Canadian Author Sarah B. Hood [http://www.sarahbhood.com/]

“. . . A couple of years ago I made the wonderful discovery that the common ornamental tree I know as Mountain Ash is the fabled rowan tree, revered in the mythology of northern lands for its protective and divinatory properties. I was told about it by the mother of a friend who also informed me that rowan jelly is the traditional accompaniment to twelfth-cake in the Christmas season.

I have since looked at many different recipes for rowan berry jelly, and note that most of them advise one not to make jelly until the berries have been frozen (either on the tree or in the freezer), since this makes them sweeter. Apparently raw mountain ash berries can be toxic (I remember my father complaining that they were so acidic that they could eat holes in cars), but heat and freezing both change the chemical structure of the acids they contain.

Here’s a recipe that I’ve used. It came to a lovely set and a great colour, like rosé wine. The taste is something like a cross between grapefruit peels and cranberries: bitter, but tasty.”

Rowan Berry Jelly Recipe
Makes about 3 cups

  • About 4 cups of berries which have been frozen (unfrozen berries are very bitter)
  • About 1 cup of water
  • ¼ cup of lemon juice
  • About 1½ cups of natural pectin from apples (You can substitute commercial pectin, but you’ll have to change the quantity of sugar according to their instruction for a similar recipe such as grape jelly.)
  • About 3 cups of sugar
Day One
  1. Rinse berries and remove stray leaves, stems and shriveled berries
  2. Barely cover them with water and heat them to the boiling point, then cover and simmer until they have completely dissolved. You can use a potato masher to reduce them to a pea soup-like mush, as pictured below.
  3. Strain through a jelly bag. Hang the bag overnight to catch all the liquid, but do not squeeze the bag.

Day Two
  1. Use a turkey baster or pour carefully to extract the rowan berry juice without any sediment that may have collected. It should come to about 1½ cups (top up with extra apple juice if necessary).
  2. In a wide, deep non-reactive pot, combine rowan berry juice, apple pectin, sugar and lemon juice and bring to a rolling boil. It may be rather scummy, so skim if you like.
  3. When it reaches the setting point, ladle into jars and process for ten minutes.
  4. Label and date the jars, and refrigerate any jars that don’t seal.
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