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Making Verjus (Verjuice) with unripe wild berries (Currant in this case)
This could be of considerable interest for people who are into foraging, preppers or chefs interested to add wild ingredients to their culinary arsenal.
It took me a great amount of research into very old books from the medieval periods (thanks to google book and the fact that I speak French) and a couple of months of experimentation to get it right.
So what is verjus or verjuice?
The name says it all...Vert in French means green and Jus means juice. So it's basically "Green Juice". In reality, the juice isn't always green though as you will see.
Verjus was an extremely common ingredient for medieval cooks. Pretty much like we use vinegar and lemon today. Lemons were imported after the crusades so they didn't have access to it but from a modern perspective, think of it as an alternative to vinegar or lemon juice, it is quite acidic, a bit tart but also quite flavorful.
Currently Verjus is made from unripe green grapes and is making a comeback after being forgotten for centuries. A company in Australia started making some again a few years ago, some wineries in California and France are now producing it as well and many chefs are now experimenting with it. Verjuice was never forgotten in the Middle East though, in fact I was able to find some as my local ethnic market under the name "Green Grape Juice" or "Hosrom".
Verjus is used in many ways such as: dressing for salads, sauces, marinating meat, etc... use it as you would use vinegar, lemon juice,
A google search on verjus can provide you with a lot of information such as:
So why is this interesting for foragers or chefs interested in something unique?
The reason I like to study very old books is because wild edibles had an important place in the culinary arts, so you can learn again some old "tricks". Doing some research on Verjus was actually quite fascinating. Our ancestors didn't always have access to grapes so they made verjus from all kind of various sources.
Aside from green grapes, verjus was also made from various unripe fruits, berries and tart/acidic plants. As a forager this opens the door to many culinary creations and we don't have to "wait" for the right time to pick up berries or fruits, the right time may be when they're not ripe yet. It's all about perspective and uses.
Many centuries ago, our ancestors made verjus with green apples or pears, various unripe wild berries such as gooseberries or currant and even with plants such as Oxalis (wood sorrel) and various docks (Curly Dock for example). Later on other fruits such as unripe oranges were even added.
So foragers, use those unripe berries, fruits and sour plants!!!!!!!!!! Experiment with various berries and plants, when you get it right it's well worth it!
Having a large quantity of wild currant nearby I decided to make verjus with it. I started my verjus experiment 2 months ago and probably made every possible mistakes possible so I'll share my experiences so you don't have to go through the same errors.
The basic technique to make verjus is very simple:
1. Collect the berries/grapes/etc..
2. Juice them and pour the juice in a container (I use a jar)
4. Place the container in a cool dark place or in a fridge for a week and let the sediment collect at the bottom.
5. Pour the juice in another jar and leave the sediment behind
In a fridge the verjus can last for weeks, it's also very acidic and you can also can it as is (15 mins boiling water).
In the old days, when people didn't have a fridge, they boiled the verjus, reduced it (up to 1/4 of the original quantity) and added salt to it (2 tablespoons per gallon to avoid fermentation), placed the verjus in a bottle and added a layer of olive oil to minimize the contact with oxygen. But presently we know how to can and salt isn't necessary, in fact it didn't work well with wild currant (I tried it). If canning wasn't an option though, I would use it but it's so much better without the salt. (1 tablespoon per liter of reduced verjus).
Back to green berries, the old books were not always very specific. In fact they simply said green or unripe wild berries, gooseberries, etc... There is a very wide amount of time between extremely green currant berries and nearly ripe ones, around 2 months in fact.
My first attempt was with extremely young and green berries. Bad idea!
The "verjus" from very green berries was so bitter and tart, it was impossible to use.
So every two weeks, I collected some unripe grapes and went through the process of making verjus and it took me 4 attempts to do it right. That's a lot of man hours to forage and process the berries but I think it's well worth it and heck, you don't have to go through it.
The proper time to make verjus with wild currant (and probably other wild berries) is when they are NEARLY ripe. So if I use red currant, I'll wait until they're actually orange and use them. The best way is also to taste the berries. It should be acidic, flavorful and sour, a bit like a lemon juice/vinegar although it will be more tart. There is a fine line between verjus (quite acidic) and fruit juice. It's all about timing. On my side, the correct time to forage currant is June and I'm making good verjus in the middle of May.
Here is how I made my wild currant verjus:
1. Forage the nearly ripe berries, discard any green berries. It's actually important to not use the very green berries, it will make your currant verjus too sour/tart. It's probably applicable to other wild berries as well.
2. Extract the juice. With currant, the best way I found to extract the juice is by using a wheat grass juicer. If you were doing verjus with green apples or pears, a conventional electric juicer would probably work well.
3. Place the juice in a jar and leave it in the fridge for at least a week. The juice will clear up and sediments will deposit at the bottom.
By now you'll figure out that verjus or verjuice does not always mean the the juice is green.
After a week, take the juice and place it into another jar, leaving the sediment behind.
THAT'S IT...you are done! It's that simple! This will keep for 2-3 weeks in the fridge. For a longer period of time (months) in the fridge, you can also add some citric acid (see Hank Shaw web site for this method). Another option is to boil the juice for at least 10 mins (pasteurization) and place a fine cover of olive oil on top of the juice to minimize contact with oxygen. I would not add salt and worry too much about fermentation if it stays in the fridge. Note that boiling it will change the flavor somewhat.
To preserve it longer (year or more), you need to bottle/can it. The PH is really high (around 3.5 with the currant verjus) so you can use the boiling method.
1. Take your verjus and boil it for at least 15 mins
2. While this is going on, I place my bottles in boiling water for at least 10 minutes to sterilize them. I don't like boiling the plastic caps so I sterilize them using alcohol or bleach (rinse it in hot water at least 3 times afterwards) but some people do place the caps in boiling water as well.
3. Using a clean funnel (sterilized) and a clean cheese cloth (also sterilized in boiling water) to remove more of the impurities/foam, pour the juice into the bottle.
4. Immediatly place the cap and turn the bottle around (helps sterilizing the cap even more) and let it cool.
5. Voila! Your wild currant verjus is now ready. The same method can be applied to other wild berries and other ingredients to make verjus (green apples, etc...)
Now, stay tuned for what else you can do with unripe berries! The wild food lab is very busy right now :)