Mountain ash is that rare tree with fruit throughout winter.

Mountain ash berries are a useful festival fruit

Getting outdoors and picking wild fruit takes us back to an age when gathering, jam-making and crafting were fun-filled family times

During the festive season and throughout December, many of us recall memories of heritage activities back in a time before electronic indoor entertainment.

Getting outdoors and picking wild fruit takes us back to an age when gathering, jam-making and crafting were fun-filled family times.

It’s simply a joyous experience to find a tree full of bright, plump berries to cook up for Christmas dinner or string onto dental floss to make garlands for the tree … or the backyard birds.

Sitka mountain-ash (Sorbus sitchensis) — a member of the rose family — is an under-appreciated tree-fruit with Chinese-red berries hanging on well into winter.

A valuable source of nutrients, the berries are as rich in health-promoting B and C vitamins, fibre and disease-fighting phyto-chemical compounds as their cultivated counterparts and more fun to prepare. High in tannin, they should be used sparingly.

Best of all, after the first or second frost, the tart, unappetizing berries become more palatable and easy to strip from the twigs.

The fruit’s taste improves dramatically with cooking into yummy sauces (stew like cranberry), jellies (similar to red currant), jams or beverage. The flavour profile is superb when berries are combined with apples and/or ginger.

As with many festive revelers, waxwings and grosbeaks enjoy the post-frost fermented fruit in great quantity, often crashing into windows or dropping from the tree in a drunken stupor

Sitka mountain-ash is a wild native shrub in the Pacific Northwest. Discovering and utilizing this winter berry could be a perfect antidote to the cold, grey winter season.

RECIPE: Mountain-ash compote. Boil 4 cups of berries and 2 cups sugar in 1 cup water. Simmer until berries can be mashed. Spice with lemon rind and cinnamon. Serve over vanilla ice cream.

E-mail Christine at: wildernesswest@shaw.ca.