Along the Grapevine


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Wild Grape Ketchup

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The wild grapes are finally beginning to ripen in our area, so I am now able to work on some recipes which were the ‘raisin’ d’etre for this blog. The birds have already taken many, so I picked what I could should they disappear soon. I am not sure of the exact variety of the ones I picked. These ones, as you can see are very small, about the size of a blueberry. I hope to find some larger ones for other recipes, but these small ones are excellent for this one.

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I started making grape ketchup a few years ago, as finding myself with a good supply of wild grapes, and not wanting to make either wine or jelly, I decided if there was not such a thing as grape ketchup, there should be. Sure enough, I was not the first to think of it, and there are plenty of recipes out there. However, most use cultivated grapes, which are larger and sweeter, but do not have the strong flavour or the nutrients of the wild variety. Also, I do not add water, which reduces the cooking time – good for me and the quality of the end product. Most any grape would work with this recipe, but I would recommend a fairly sour variety with a thick skin, which will add enough pectin to the mixture for it to thicken nicely.

It is good not only as a condiment but as a marinade for game and poultry, and I expect would go very well with lamb and pork too.

Apart from the picking, the ketchup is really very simple. Just wash the grapes and pick the berries off the stems, discarding any green ones. Place them in a pan, heat and simmer for about five minutes. Juice will begin to form at the bottom of the pan, but to help them along, use a potato masher to get as much juice out as possible.

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Then, strain the mixture through a food mill or sieve, measure, and return the juice to the pan.

For every cup of puree:

1/2 cup brown sugar (or more to taste)

1/2 cup wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. allspice

Simmer the mixture until it is the right consistency, a little over an hour. I test it by cooling a small spoonful. I make it less dense than a commercial ketchup, but about as thick as a creamy yogourt. I do not process the jars – just freeze them.

This is a fairly tart ketchup as I prefer it, but it could stand probably up to double the amount of sugar. You can easily add more as it cooks and taste it.

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I left a small amount in the bottom of a pan, and as a first use i deglazed it, added venison meatballs I had in the freezer and some quartered fresh plums. From that I deem the ketchup recipe a success.

One experiment often leads to another. Left with a pile of grape seeds, which are supposed to be highly nutritious and, I have noticed, are sold in granular form in health food stores, I decided to dry them and see what I could do. I rinsed and drained them, removing some of the skin that rose to the top, but certainly did not get it all. I then put the dripping seeds in the oven at 275 for about an hour, and as they were getting too hot and the water had mostly evaporated, I spread them out in the sun for another couple of hours. I don’t leave anything in the sun too long, for fear of botulism, but by that time they were sufficiently dry. I ground them in the coffee grinder – and then on to my next experiment.

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I mixed a large spoonful in some hot water. It was a creamy pinkish colour but the seeds at the bottom were not very appetizing. Next experiment was to simmer the same amount in a small pot of hot water for about an hour and strain. The colour was browner, but the taste was equally good and no junk at the bottom. All in all, a pleasant surprise as experiments go, and for anyone who wants to get all the goodness out of the grapes, might be worth trying.


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I was recently nominated by The Novice Gardener <thenovicegardener.wordpress.com> for the Liebster award, which is as I understand it, a blogger generated system to show their appreciation for other blogs and encourage their creators. I have only been writing my blog for a couple of months, and am yet to become proficient in the use of it, but am very flattered and pleased to have received a nomination – especially from a blogger whose posts I thoroughly enjoy, look forward to and recommend to others.

As a newbie, I am really not feeling able to comply with all the requirements of accepting the nomination – which are as follow:

Liebster rules:
1. Thank the person that nominated you and link back up to their blog.

2. Answer the 10 questions which are given to you by the nominator.

3. Nominate 10 other bloggers for this award who have less than 200 followers.

4. Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer.

 5. Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them.

I do not yet follow 10 other bloggers of this size yet, so I will regretfully pass.

However, in the spirit of the activity, I will answer the ten questions she put to me, to the best of my ability. Here goes.

Her questions to me:

1. Tell me something about yourself that is not obvious from your blog.

In two months time, I will have been living in this house for four years. This will be the first time in my life I have ever passed the four-year mark in one residence. It is weird and I have itchy feet.

2. Tell me more.

I love big cities and live in the country.

3. Which do you consider is your best post, the one you’re most proud of, the one you worked the hardest on, and you think it deserves more attention than it got. I will read it and tell you what I think.

Wish I could feel that good about one. The best one is always the one I am working on in my head – it always has wonderful pictures, witty comments and substantial content. Maybe one day I will manage to transfer the blog in my head to my page.
4. Can’t pick just one? Pick 2 more.

5. A relative once said to my mother that I had a wild streak in me because I peppered my wall with Gauguin, unnecessarily worrying her. Can you all agree with me that he was crazy?

Definitely. i once had my walls peppered with posters of Petula Clark (I just came across some and had to do something with them )- now that is crazy.

6. Do you have any hidden talent that you haven’t shared with us? (Mine is making jewelry, believe it or not.)

Afraid not, really. At least none I can think of now.

7. Tell me, who is more inspiring? Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., or Mother Theresa, and why?

Not a big fan of any of these, but MG perhaps had the greatest understanding of the world and how it worked.

8. Coffee or tea?

Usually coffee, but it really depends on the setting and climate (tea in hot countries works best and goes with spicy food).

9. Red or white?

Again, it is pretty much a weather-related thing – white in cool weather and red with meals and cold weather. Today is neither, so having vodka and cider which is good too.

10. Five Guys, In-n-Out, or Shake Shack? If neither, name your favorite burger joint. 

The only one I am familiar with is Five Guys, which I visited only recently. Don’t really like fast food or burgers much, which is probably why I write a blog on eating the slowest food of all – weeds. Have you ever tried seeding wild grapes?


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Purslane and Cabbage Salad

Purslane (portulaca oleracea) is yet another weed I have growing wildly in my garden, but only now have I decided to stop thinking of it as a pesky weed. I am even considering collecting some seeds in the fall, and growing some in its own little garden – away from my onions and leeks which it likes to snuggle up to. Image

Canadian Gardening says this about it:

Nutritionally, purslane is a powerhouse. It has more than double the omega-3s that kale has and, as far as I know, more than any other leafy green ever analyzed. It has over four times the vitamin E of turnip leaves, more than any other leafy green ever analyzed. It has glutathione and other antioxidants and about as much iron as spinach. It also has reasonable amounts of other nutrients as well as phytochemicals, like all these leafy greens. So purslane is no slouch, not a poison, and definitely worth eating.

Rich in omega-3s
Many people studying the Mediterranean diet think that it is foods like purslane and other omega-3 greens that give the Greeks their good balance of fats. Olive oil only contributes some of the omega-3s; the greens, walnuts, oily fish, and a few other foods give them the rest of what they need.

To help you identify it, it is a spreading plant, looks much like portulaca, and has reddish-green or purple tinted stems that are very fleshy. It has small, inconspicuous yellow flowers.Image

If you pick only the succulent stem tips, the plant will continue to grow. Remove flowers as they appear, unless you wish to collect seeds. The flavour is lemony-sweet, and they are crunchy when fresh.

As my first experiment in eating it, I decided to try it in its raw form to see how I liked the taste. This salad is not really a recipe – just an idea for using fresh purslane.100_0423

I used cabbage, shredded carrot, purslane, olive oil, salt and cider vinegar to keep it as simple as possible. Other herbs, shredded beets, jerusalem artichokes, or even a base of lettuce or some other greens would work just as well.100_0426


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Grape Leaf, herb and yogurt pie

I just returned from my last harvest of wild grape leaves. They are getting a little tough looking, although I found some good ones in shady areas. We are in zone 5a, so I presume here or in colder zones, the leaves are still good for picking and preserving. Otherwise, you might find preserved ones in some specialty markets.

This recipe for grape leaf pie is one of the best reasons I know for collecting and using grape leaves. I have copied it from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, and though I have tried to make a different version using more of my own local ingredients, his original remains my favourite. Actually, he found it in an old book called Classic Turkish Cookery by Ghillie Basan, published in 1995. The combination of grape leaves with dill, mint, lemon and yogurt give it a true Mediterranean flavour even with most of the ingredients coming from local sources.The only variations I made was to add a little lemon zest and parsley to the breadcrumb topping, walnuts instead of pine nuts (because that’s what I had) and  chestnut flour instead of rice flour for no particular reason.

Grape Leaf Pie Recipe

Serves 4

20 to 25 grape leaves

4 shallots, finely chopped

4 tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1 cup Greek yogurt, plus extra to serve

2 1/2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted

1/2 tbsp finely chopped tarragon

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

3 tbsp finely chopped dill

4 tbsp finely chopped mint

grated zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp lemon juice

salt and black pepper

1/2 cup rice flour

3 tbsp dried breadcrumbs (preferably panko)

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place the grape leaves in a shallow bowl, cover with boiling water and leave for 10 minutes. Then remove the leaves from the water and dry them well with a tea towel. Use scissors to trim off and discard the bit of hard stalk at the base of each leaf.

Saute the shallots in 1 tablespoon of the oil for about 8 minutes, or until light brown, Leave to cool down.

Take a round and shallow ovenproof dish that is roughly 8 inches in diameter, and cover its bottom and sides with grape leaves, slightly overlapping them and allowing the leaves to hang over the rim of the dish. Mix the melted butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil; use about two-thirds of this to generously brush the leaves lining the dish.

Mix together in a bowl the shallots, yogurt, pine nuts, chopped herbs and lemon zest and juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then add the rice flour and mix well until  you get a homogenous paste.  Spread this paste evenly in the baking dish.

Fold the overhanging grape leaves back over the top of the filling so they cover the edges, then cover the filling completely with the remaining grape leaves. Brush with the rest of the butter and oil mix. Finally, scatter the breadcrumbs over the top and drizzle over the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the leaves crisp up and the breadcrumbs turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warmish or at room temperature, with a dollop of fresh yogurt.

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Sumac Drink

I have been using sumac powder as a spice for a long time, but am only now convinced that I can make the same thing with the sumac which grows all around us – except for the few hundred a year I pull out. It has a tart lemony flavour which is good in any spicy cooking, and can be used in place of lemon or lemongrass.

My experiment with that will have to wait, but meanwhile, here is a recipe for a concoction which can be drunk as a hot tea, a soft or hard cold drink, or an added ingredient to your own drinks. The flowers can be picked now, while bright red, or later after they have turned brown. The only difference is in the colour of the final product.

In some areas, the sumac is known as the lemonade tree, which gives you an idea of what the flower is like, and I hope to find more uses for it with a little trial and possibly error.

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Step 1
Pick some flowers from the sumac trees and rinse them.

Step 2
Scrape the flowers off the cone. I (I am not sure if this step is necessary, but it does make sense. If anyone thinks or knows otherwise, let me know).

Step 3
Mix 2 cups flowers, 2 cups water and 1 cup sugar in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes.

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Step 4
Strain through wet cheesecloth in a sieve (or some other material), squeezing out all the liquid. Discard the flowers.

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I used about 1 part tea to 4 parts soda water for a cold drink, but this is a versatile drink, so do as you like. It was also good with a little vodka thrown in.

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