Along the Grapevine


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Fermented Unripe Blueberries

If you have been following this blog lately, you will have noticed that I have started to ferment many of my wild edibles from the garden. It is my new favourite method for preserving most of my harvest, and for using as a base for some interesting dishes. I mentioned that I had bought some air locks which I intended to use. My usual method is simply to pour a brine over whatever (e.g. vegetables, cucumbers, ramps) with whatever flavourings and spices I feel like using, weigh them down to keep them submerged, cover with a paper towel or cheesecloth to keep the bugs out, and that is it. Just wait a few days until the taste is right, put a lid on it and into the fridge. I have also used whey instead of the brine, but I seem to be favouring the brine method. I did promise that once I figured out the airlock, I would share it.

The one fermentation I have done with the airlock is with green blueberries instead of wild unripe grapes, which I would have used had I had any. Having shown up rather late to the blueberry picking, I found mostly green berries on the bushes, so decided I would have to figure out something to do with them. My first experiment was with my version of verjus, which has been an excellent substitute for vinegar in salad dressings. Those which remained, I fermented.

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The airlock is the same that is used in making beer or wine, and can be purchased wherever supplies for this are sold for between $2-3. The idea is that it allows carbon dioxide to escape while not letting any air in. You will need a bung, or rubber stopper as well as the airlock. The stopper looks like a cork with a hole through it. The airlock is fitted into the hole once the outer part is filled with water up to a line, the inner part place over the middle tube. The lid has small holes in it to let the carbon dioxide escape. Here’s what it all looks like.

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I filled a sterilized jar about 3/4 full with blueberries, covered it with the brine – made from 2 Tbsp salt per 1 quart of non-chlorinated water. I carved a hole in the lid in which to fit the bung, set the airlock in and left it for about 10 days – until lots of bubbles formed on top. The time will vary depending on the temperature of your kitchen, but ideally this should be not above 75 degrees F.  Then I put a regular lid on it, and put it in the fridge.

To try these probiotic-rich berries, I decided to add them to a salad made with what I had in the garden, which this week is beans and potatoes.

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I blanched the beans, boiled and peeled some blue potatoes (any colour of potato will work but I wanted to stick with the blue and green theme I had going), a mustard and garlic vinaigrette, and my fermented blueberries. By mistake, I added salt to the dressing, and thought maybe with the salty berries it would be too much, but as it happens the blueberries did not taste that salty, and the seasoning was just right. DSC01168

These would be good with just about any salad, but I would like to try them with fish, and possibly in a sandwich filling. This same method can be used with most other berries, though not strawberries. I could even be done with actual blueberries! but it was a great way to use the unripe ones.


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Burmese Semolina Cake with Wild Grape Glaze

Even though I am visiting Toronto for a few days, I am still able to attend this week’s Fiesta Friday and bring with me not only a delicious semolina cake, but also Bob the Dog, whom I am cat sitting for a few days. Bob has been with us now for 18 years when we adopted him in Singapore. Since then he has been the charge of and companion to our youngest daughter. He has lived in four different countries, 6 cities, and visited several others. He likes to travel. So here he is, well behaved as always.

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And now for my recipe. If you have been following this blog at all lately, you will know that the wild grape harvest is really not happening in my neck of the woods. I had a lot of ideas of what to do with grapes, but most of it will have to wait for a better season. However, with the very small amount of pressed grape juice I do have so far, I wanted to use it in a way in which its flavour and beautiful colour could be appreciated. You could use any fruit concentrate or jelly for this recipe, or if you have wild grapes, simply simmer in water until they are very soft, and then pass them through a food mill. The recipe I chose to make  is based on one from Naomi Duguid’s Burma, Rivers of Flavours, which is more than just your usual cookbook. The author’s own travels, photographs and research provide a fascinating account of this little-known country.

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There are many different versions of semolina cake and, in my opinion, they are all delicious. I have had a Sri Lankan cake with cashews, a Brazilian one with coconut, and a Greek one covered with orange syrup to name just three. Semolina is made from durum flour, usually used in making pasta, and when it is toasted, as in this recipe, it makes for a rich, nutty flavour. I followed Naomi’s recipe fairly closely with a few minor changes. I used butter instead of oil in the mixture, and omitted the butter she drizzled on top of the cake before baking. Where she grilled the cake with some almond flakes after baking, I just added some grape and honey syrup  thickened with cornstarch and sprinkled on some toasted coconut.

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Burmese Semolina Cake with Wild Grape Glaze

  • Servings: 10
  • Time: 1 1/2 hours
  • Print

Ingredients for the cake                                   Ingredients for the Glaze

1 cup semolina flour                                                1/3 cup concentrated grape juice

1 cup brown sugar                                                    1/3 cup liquid honey

1/2 tsp. salt                                                                1 Tbsp cornstarch

1 cup fresh or canned coconut milk

1 cup warm water

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup toasted coconut (optional)

Method

Heat a heavy skillet on medium heat and add the semolina. Stir it as it cooks until the colour turns noticeably from a pale yellow to a deep golden colour. Remove it from the heat and continue to stir until the pan cools down. Add the sugar and salt and transfer it to a bowl. Add the coconut milk, the warm water and eggs and mix until thoroughly combined. Let rest for about half an hour.

Melt the butter in saucepan over a medium heat and add the semolina mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon as you would making porridge, until it becomes thick and comes away from the side of the pan (about 10 to fifteen minutes). Pour it into a slightly greased pan or skillet and pat down until flat. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about half an hour, until the top feels dry and firm.

While the cake is baking, put the cornstarch in a small bowl and pour the grape juice over it and mix until well blended. Heat the grape mixture with the honey over a medium heat for about five minutes, until it is well heated through and slightly thickened. Set aside. If using the coconut, brown it in a skillet over medium heat until golden in colour.

Remove the cake  from the oven and drizzle the glaze over it. Sprinkle the toasted coconut on top.

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As you can see from the pictures, this is not a light fluffy cake. It is more like a halva with a distinct flavour of semolina. It stores well to.


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Clear Tomato Soup with Lemon Balm and Vodka

I’m not complaining, but I do have an awful lot of tomatoes to deal with this year. Every day I pick a pile like this, and then have to do something with them fast.

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We consume what we can fresh, and the rest I dry, roast, or make into a very thick sauce to freeze. But to-day I decided to use them in a completely different way, by straining only the colourless juice out of them and making a soup. So my contribution to Fiesta Friday this week is this unusual soup – a light broth with a zingy flavour, elegant enough for a dinner party, tasty enough to drink from a tall glass.

I will be co-hosting Fiesta Friday this week, now in its 32nd week. I look forward to meeting everyone and seeing what they bring. Even if you are not participating, I recommend checking out the contributions. Just click on the link above. You are bound to be entertained and inspired. And a big thank you to Angie, our gracious hostess, for making this event the success that it is.

For my recipe, I added some greens and garlic from the garden. As I was hunting for herbs, I had to pass through my healthy patch of lemon baln (melissa officionalis), a member of the mint family. In North America it has escaped cultivation and grows wild. If you have it in your garden, you will have to whack it back regularly or it will take over completely. However, a little is nice to have for its beautiful, lemony aroma. It is considered to have some health benefits for digestive problems and has a calming effect, usually taken in the form of oil extracted from it. As for cooking, I find heat removes the very mild flavour it has, and so it is not very useful. However, as I was using this raw, I hoped it would add a little something to my soup recipe.

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To make the soup, I filled the food processor with roughly chopped tomatoes (2 lbs), some chives, lemon balm, basil and a sliver of garlic. I repeated this four times. Then I strained it through a linen cloth, which took about three hours. If you are working in a cool place or have room in the fridge, it would be better to leave it overnight, but I was short of space. My eight pounds of tomatoes et al produced about 4 cups of clear juice. The strained tomatoes I then used as a salsa, so nothing was wasted. Just add a little salt and hot pepper.

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This soup could be heated, but since it was a summery day, I left it cold. And I added 1 tablespoon of vodka per cup of soup. This is not necessary – the soup was delicious without it – but the vodka does go well with it.  A sprig of lemon balm, and it’s ready to serve.

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The flavour of the clear tomato broth is surprisingly strong, and is a pleasant change from the usual pulpiness of the fruit. I think it might be good to make it from frozen tomatoes, where the clear juice separates so much more quickly once thawed. It would be wonderful to enjoy the flavour of fresh, uncooked tomatoes in the middle of winter.

 


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Wild Apple and Walnut Cake

This is my 100th post! It is also Fiesta Friday,  so I wanted to make something special. By special I mean something sweet which can be enjoyed with a glass of wine as easily as a cup of tea, but healthful and light enough that you will still be able to try the other treats at the party.

With all the wild apples almost on my doorstep, I used some to make an apple puree to flavour a walnut based cake, gluten-free and with a dairy free option. I made both versions, and they are equally delicious – with surprisingly little difference even in the texture. DSC01085

I admit these apples are never going to win any awards at a harvest fair. Most of them were picked up off the ground. But I love cooking with them for their tart flavour and dense flesh. Here is one cut open to give you an idea of how nice they can look, even if you wouldn’t likely choose to eat one raw.

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To make the apple sauce, I cut and cored them and removed any bad spots – quite a few. I then covered them with water and simmered them until very soft and put them through the food  mill. Because of their colour, they give a very rosy sauce which I know is free of any chemicals or additives.

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This cake is completely original, and I am pleased with the texture and flavour. It is, after all, mostly a mixture of fruit, nuts and seeds with only honey as a sweetener. It is great on its own, but a honey glaze or other sweet topping just makes it that much more special. I made a glaze with honey and rose geranium leaves, since I am still experimenting with this winning combination of flavours which I first used in last week’s jelly.

 

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Wild Apple and Walnut Cake

  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

1/2 cup oil

2 eggs, separated (or 2 Tbsp chia seeds)

1/2 cup liquid honey

1 1/2 cups apple sauce

1 cup ground walnuts

1/4 cup coconut flour, sifted

1/2 cup flax seeds, ground

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

Method

Mix the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and add the oil, honey and apple sauce. Beat the egg whites in another bowl until they are stiff but not dry.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. When thoroughly mixed, fold in the egg whites.

If not using eggs, mix the flax seeds into the wet ingredients and let sit a couple of minutes before adding to the dry ingredients.

Pour the batter into a prepared tin, and bake at 325 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the cake springs back when poked.

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For the glaze, I infused some water with a few geranium leaves by simmering them together for five minutes. I then mixed equal amounts of liquid honey and the infused water (about 1/3 cup each) and brought it to a boil for another five minutes. Drizzle cooled mixture over the cake.

This cake is good any time of day and would make a great treat in packed school lunches – if you don’t mind sharing it.

 


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Mullein Tisane

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My interest in wild plants is really just for culinary purposes. The more I learn about the benefits of plants which are easy to identify and gather, the more I enjoy figuring out how to incorporate them into my cooking, and consequently come to rely on them as a food supply in my pantry or freezer. Of course, it is always nice to know that these ingredients sometimes have medicinal qualities, but that is just an added bonus. I am no botanist, or scientist of any sort – just someone who enjoys good cooking, so I avoid delving deeply into the home remedy domain which is better left to the experts.

However, as I research edible plants, I come across an overwhelming number of articles about the ‘weeds’ I encounter in my garden, and am amazed at the claims made about them – amazed but not moved. As a reasonably healthy person, I am not looking for remedies for what doesn’t ail me, but all the same, I can’t help but be curious about some of these marvels.

Last year I read about mullein (verbascum thapsus), which goes by a confusing number of other names. Around here it is often called elephant ears, and looks like a monster version of a similar smaller plant called lambs’ ears. It is a biennial which begins with a pretty rosette of large fuzzy leaves. In its second year it produces a tall stem (up to about 6 ft. tall) with a spike of small yellow flowers. They like to grow in sunny dry areas where the dirt has been loosened. Mine all appeared in a large flower bed and tried to take over. The roots are shallow, so it was not a problem to thin them out. However, be careful because the hummingbirds like to build nests in them. Growing these is a much safer way to attract these birds than those bird feeders you see everywhere.

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With its edible flowers, leaves and roots, and its myriad health benefits, I wondered why I hadn’t heard more about it. I was especially intrigued by claims that the leaves could be smoked and used in a tea as a treatment for respiratory ailments such as chest colds or bronchitis. I haven’t smoked any yet, but I did make a tisane with some dried leaves.

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As I expected, the taste was pretty bland, so I added a stick of cinnamon to the next batch for flavour. If I had chamomile in my garden, I would mix it with that, but I expect mint would also go well, or any other flavouring I like in teas, like fennel seeds . If making the tea from fresh leaves, be sure to strain it first to remove the fibres. Because mine had been dried first, I didn’t find that problem.

I am now wanting to try the flowers in a tea, which are said to be more aromatic. I might also try a tincture with the root and/or flowers, but I don’t think I am going to be able to come up with any gourmet recipes from this plant.

Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly on Punk Domestics

At this time last year I posted: wild grape ketchup


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Foraging for Mushrooms

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A mixture of slippery jack and boletus mushrooms

My attitude to foraging for mushrooms has long been similar to many people’s attitude to foraging: too difficult, too risky, and not worth the trouble. I love mushrooms, and from experience I know that wild mushrooms are much more interesting than the varieties we can get in the stores, but somehow I just keep hoping someone I can trust will provide me with these delicacies. The only mushroom I have actually picked on my own was a puffball, and that hardly counts.

When people tell me they don’t forage because they figure they would likely make a fatal error, I patiently explain that if you just stick to the few, maybe two or three things that you know, there is really not a danger. It is not difficult to find a crabapple, a dandelion leaf, a wild raspberry, or some other familiar wild plant. Stick to that, make sure the area it grows in is unpolluted, and have a little fun with it. Once you get started on a small scale, your knowledge will likely grow, because that’s what happens when we try new things. I realise now the same thing can be said for mushrooms. Just as I started with puffballs, I am now ready for my second edible mushroom.

Of course, I don’t take mushrooms lightly, or for that matter any wild food. I never considered forging ahead (or foraging) on my own with no more than a picture or book as reference. As it happened, I was invited by a friend to visit her property with an actual mushroom expert with many years’ experience – someone with whom I felt quite safe. My intention was just to watch and learn, take a few photos and have a pleasant walk in the shade of the pine forest.

We spotted a number of mushrooms, but only a few varieties that we were allowed to pick. At this time of year, and in this area, the mushrooms ready for harvesting are mostly either slippery jacks (suillus luteus) or their close relative, boletus. The former I had never even heard of, although I’m pretty sure I have eaten them in the past. Boletus (also called ceps or porcini) were just a little more familiar, but not something I would have recognized on my own. We picked carefully, that is to say we checked for any previous predators (some kind of worm which is not visible but leaves a few minuscule holes).

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The slippery jacks were easy to identify for a novice like me. The tops are indeed sticky to the touch, the bottoms of the young ones a creamy yellow, and with a porousness which becomes more apparent as they grow bigger. We picked mostly pretty small ones because they were the least affected by whatever affects mushrooms. Not a big deal, we just wanted the nicest, cleanest and creamiest looking ones.

The boletus are similar but darker, barely sticky at all and are more porous on the bottom. It seems there are many varieties of this kind, and most are bigger than the ones we found. While I could spot the slippery jacks on my own in the future, I still lack confidence to identify these without confirmation from someone who knows. None of my pictures of these turned out well, but since they were only a few among my harvest, I will just leave you with the images of the slippery jacks. For more pictures, check out this post here.

I was pretty chuffed with my basket of mushrooms, and decided to take the plunge and cook them. Irina, our guide and expert, kindly looked over my stash to make sure I hadn’t accidentally slipped anything noxious in, and instructed me on how to prepare them.

I followed her tips which were:

  • Do not wash them in water. They absorb water and become mushy.
  • Cut off the bottom part with any dirt, wipe the stem and base of the cap with a paper towel, and peel off the sticky surface of the slippery jack.
  • Slice them and fry all together in a little butter for a few minutes.
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My interest in mushroom gathering and confidence in my ability to learn this skill have been bolstered by this first foray into the realm. The dish, simple as it was, was so tasty, with a flavour and texture I haven’t experienced in a long time (when I used to be able to buy these at markets in far flung places I once lived). If I go no further with this, I will at least be more determined than ever to find sources where I can buy fresh, or even dried, wild mushrooms. There is nothing like them

Foraging for Mushrooms on Punk Domestics


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Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly

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Although our crab apples are not doing well this year, we do have one wild apple tree which is doing fine. You probably know the kind of apple I am talking about, the ones no one wants to pick, much less eat. They are small, irregular in shape and full of spots. On the other hand, they are pesticide and chemical free, and when cooked retain a good flavour and have a lovely colour. They are perfect for making things like jelly, where their appearance as a fruit does not affect the appearance of the final product. And why use perfect looking apples to make something like jelly?

For Angie’s Fiesta Friday #30 I wanted to make a special jelly, so added some flavour with my rose scented geranium. I notice this week there are a few recipes with rose flavouring, so this is turning out to be a bit of a rose fest.

This is the first year I have grown such a plant, but I hope to add other varieties to my collection of one next year. Although they don’t flower profusely like other geraniums, they do provide a delicious home-grown flavouring with their leaves and flowers. Mine is not flowering just now, but it does have some new buds, and the plant itself has grown beautifully since I planted it in the spring. For more information about these plants, read this here. I highly recommend adding one of these to your garden, even if all you have is a balcony or stoop, as they provide a wonderful source of exotic flavour from leaves and flowers.

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If you don’t have a scented geranium, there are other things you could add to this jelly, such as a stick of cinnamon, some ginger, sweet herbs, orange blossom or rose water towards the end of cooking, or whatever you think mixes well with apple.

I began my recipe with two pounds of apples, but once I removed the cores, stems and nasty bits there was only one and three quarter pounds. This recipe can be altered to fit the amount you have just by changing the amount of the other ingredients proportionately.

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Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly

  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

 Ingredients

2 lbs apples

water, to cover

2 1/2 cups sugar

5 scented geranium leaves

Method

Chop and clean the apples without peeling. Place them in a saucepan and cover with water. Simmer them until soft, about 1/2 hour. Strain through a jelly bag or cloth lined sieve. Do not press, or the juice will not be clear.

Pour off the juice, which in this recipe measured three cups. Return to the pan and add the sugar and leaves which should be tied up in a spice bag or piece of cheesecloth.

Bring to a boil and keep boiling for about 25 minutes. To test doneness, just drop a bit of liquid on a cool surface and see if it gels.

If you make a large quantity, this can be processed in a 10 minute water bath.

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Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly on Punk Domestics

At this time last year I posted a recipe using purslane:http://alongthegrapevine.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/purslane-and-cabbage-salad/

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