Along the Grapevine


Sumac Churchkhela Pieces


Churchkhela from Wikipedia files

I was thinking of making a sumac leather to use up my last batch of sumac juice. Then I remembered something very similar, something like a fruit leather covering walnuts linked on a string. With no idea what it was called, nor where it originated, I wasn’t sure how to find anything about it. I just knew that it is eaten in places like Greece and Russia. Actually, I needed only describe it and do a google search, and there it is. But I was reading  Anya von Bremzen’s “Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking” and she mentioned eating this in the Republic of Georgia, where according to Wikipedia, it originated. It is also made in many other countries in that general region, such as Greece and Turkey. The Georgian and Russian name for it is churchkhela.


Another wikipedia photo

It is not often available commercially. It is made in people’s kitchens, and sometimes sold at farmers markets, hanging in bunches much like hand dipped candles. It can be made with other fruits besides grape, so it seemed reasonable to use sumac, although you could use apple cider, berry juices, quince, and so on. I really like to recreate interesting recipes I have discovered in far-away places, and make any changes necessary to achieve a similar result in this part of the world. And churchkhela, even if I didn’t know the word before, is one of those recipes.

I had to make a few minor changes. Traditionally the nuts are dipped in a thickened juice and then hung to dry in the sun. No chance of that here right now, or maybe ever. So with nowhere to allow the strings to drip and dry, I decided to forego the string and just dip the individual walnuts. Instead of sun, I used a dehydrator, and did some partially in the oven with the electric light on. In either case, it is at a temperature of about 40-50 degrees Celsius.


Walnuts after first dipping in sumac juice


1 cup of walnuts

2 cups or sumac juice

4 Tbsp cornstarch (or other starch or flour)

1 cup brown sugar

Cover the walnuts and soak in water for a couple of hours. This step is really to make it easier to string the nuts and prevent them for cracking, but I recommend it even if not using string. It makes for a softer texture which goes with the coating, and I think prevents them from drying out too much during the process.

Mix a little fruit juice with the starch and then add to the rest of the juice in a saucepan. Add the sugar, and heat until it starts to bubble and loses the milky colour. Allow to cool.

Dip the drained walnuts (reserve the water for soup stock) in the syrup and place on the dehydrator tray, or on parchment if you are doing it in the oven. The first layer was dried only a couple of hours at a low temperature (about 40 degrees C). The second coating was left about 4 hours, and after that about 10 hours, until they are not sticky to the touch, similar to licorice. I did some three times, some four times, and had I had more sumac juice, could have kept going for a thicker coating, although that would have taken a lot longer. They are very tasty as they are, and remarkably like the real thing I bought from the experts.


Walnuts dipped three times

I hope, if nothing else, this contribution to The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday gives you some idea of how this traditional Georgian churchkhela can be adapted and enjoyed without the need to travel half way across the world.


Walnuts after being dipped and dried four times



Sumac Meringue Pie


Last Sunday it was a balmy -3 C, and for me the first opportunity of the year to get out and do some foraging. It just goes to show that even in this challenging climate, there is always something out there for the foraging enthusiast. Apart from having to negotiate the deep snow banks, I found this to be an ideal time to pick sumac. The flowers just snapped off, and the berries likewise were much easier to remove from the stems than they had been in the summer. In just a few minutes, I had a full bag of flowers, and the bushes still looked untouched.


I started by making a sumac syrup, this time cooking it for longer than in my previous experiments. I  filled a crock pot about 3/4 full, poured water until the mixture reached the brim, and then cooked it on low for 12 hours. Then I strained the deep red juice through a coffee filter to be used in some new recipes. Here it is after 12 hours of stewing.


The first is for a sumac meringue pie, which I present to The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday for this week. Since my theory that sumac is the new lemon, it can replace the imported fruit just about anywhere, and what better place to begin than with a festive pie.


To make the syrup: Measure off 4 cups of juice, add 1 cup of sugar and simmer until you have about 2 1/2 cups of syrup.

Pastry:  I used a recipe from La Petite Paniere, the one she uses for Tarte Tatin (which by the way I highly recommend) because I did not want a flaky, lard pastry but rather a buttery French style one. Or use your own favourite recipe for a meringue pie.


2 1/2 cups sumac syrup

1/4 cup tapioca or corn starch

5 egg yolks

Mix the starch together with the syrup until it thickens. Spoon some of the hot liquid into the beaten yolks and then add the egg yolk mixture into the syrup pot. Continue to cook and stir for a couple of minutes.


5 egg whites

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Beat the egg whites. When stiff, add the sugar and cream of tartar and continue to beat until peaks form.

The Pie

Pour the custard into a baked pie shell. Top with meringue and bake in a 350 oven until the meringue is golden on top. Allow to cool before cutting.


This pie is not only local and organic, at least the sumac part, but also requires a lot less sugar than a lemon version. I hope this sumac meringue pie will help persuade the skeptics that even invasive weeds are sometimes worth considering as a valuable source of great food.


Homemade Ketchups


Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

If I were permitted only one type of recipe to work on, it would have to be for condiments. Even the simplest dish can be greatly improved with a good quality sauce, chutney, spice mixture or yes, even ketchup. Ketchup has a bad rep among foodies, no doubt as a result of the association with the over-processed, overly sweet products we find in the grocery store. Maybe we should call it ‘sweet and sour sauce’ instead, but the fact remains that a home-made ketchup has so many uses besides tarting up our macaroni and cheese or burgers. It can be used in dressings, marinade, added to sandwiches, soups, stews and vegetables.

I have already given a recipe for wild grape ketchup in a previous post, and I regularly make my own tomato ketchup. Instead of making a big batch of it in tomato season, I just freeze tomato puree, made by heating whole tomatoes, passing them through the food mill and then cooking them down to a thick sauce, to be used throughout the winter as needed. Now I can make tomato ketchup in a few minutes, and change the recipe according to how I plan to use it. Recipes vary according to the spices used: hot and spicy or sweet and tangy. For my recipe here I used sumac powder, but of course you can add any spices or herbs according to what you have around or what kind of flavour you are looking for.

This ketchup is not very red, because I used all varieties of tomatoes, including some yellow ones. If colour matters, then use red tomatoes, or even tinned puree if necessary. I have also made yellow ketchup  with yellow tomatoes, tumeric and mustard.


Tomato Ketchup with Sumac

Tomato Ketchup with Sumac

1 cup tomato puree

2 Tbsp sugar (any kind)

1/4 cup cider vinegar

pinch of salt

1 Tbsp sumac powder

Mix all the ingredients together in a pot, heat and simmer until the right consistency, about 10 minutes.


Frozen Highbush Cranberries

I have still quite a few highbush cranberries in my freezer to use. So far, I have used them to make liqueur, cranberry sauce and candied fruit. The good thing about them is, besides being easy to pick, they freeze well and are even better after being frozen because they become juicier. I was concerned they might be too runny, so decided to add apple sauce, but in fact after I strained them, they were pulpier than expected. I also decided to try a few sweet spices so that I wouldn’t need to sweeten them with too much sugar. Again, other spices can be used, but I was looking for sweet so came up with a mixture of licorice root, cinnamon and fennel seeds. This was made by putting 1 stick of licorice root, 1 stick of cinnamon and 1 Tbsp of fennel seeds in a cup of water, simmering it until there was about 2 Tbsp of dark syrup.


Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

2 cups highbush cranberries

1 cup sugar

2 Tbsp spiced syrup

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce

Put the cranberries and sugar in a saucepan with the spiced syrup and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer until the berries are really soft and appear cooked. They will get a little dark. This will take about 15 minutes

Strain this through a food mill or a sieve using the back of a spoon to press it through. Return to the pan, add vinegar and apple sauce. Continue to simmer until the right thickness, another 15 minutes.


Falafel Burger with Pickle and Cranberry Ketchup


Wild Cocktails


Crab apple Cordial

It’s another Fiesta Friday with The Novice Gardener, and although it has been a busy week with so many Olympic events to watch, I have managed to contribute some bar fare. After all, this is one party for which I don’t have to be the designated driver.

These recipes are, as often, not really recipes, but simply ideas of how to use the ingredients I have stored in the pantry/freezer/bar which this blog is all about – wild edibles. It is all very well to know what is edible, how to identify it, and maybe even why it is good for you, but it is just as important to know what can be done with it once you have it.

Anyone who has been reading this blog from last summer might remember that I made fruit cordials, all of them sugar and fruit in a 1:1 ratio, soaked in vodka for a few weeks, then strained and bottled. The fruits I used were grapes, crab apples and high bush cranberries. I also made some spruce infused vodka for which there is already one recipe posted. I have been enjoying all these since December, but luckily have not consumed them all yet.


Cranberry and Grape Cordials

I am not usually one for sweet or mixed drinks, but recently have enjoyed the odd cocktail in restaurants which has inspired me to try out some of my own formulas. I have limited myself to what I already have – no special purchases. I think this helps with originality as well as cost. I encourage you to do the same, and let me know what you come up with.

If the amount consumed is any indication, then the grape cordial is my favourite. The amount of sugar is right on – it is dry, but not at all sour. It makes a great little digestif all by itself, so I offer this with no frills – just straight up grape cordial.


The high bush cranberry has a very strong flavour on its own, and even with all that sugar is not sweet. It does benefit from mixing it with something to lighten, but not extinguish the flavour.


Cranberry Cream Cocktail

1 oz high bush cranberry cordial

1 heaping Tbsp coconut milk

1 oz pomegranate juice

5 oz. cold water

ice cubes

a few pomegranate seeds for garnish

Mix everything in a blender and strain into a glass.

The crab apple infused vodka has a wonderful apple flavour, but is a little sweet for my taste. Next time, a little less sugar. The flavour goes a long way, so it is possible to dilute it without losing its flavour. In this one, I just added a small can of ginger ale to 1 ounce of cordial and a splash of lemon juice to help cut the sweetness. I think a little ginger would be good too.


The spruce infused vodka has a very strong, dry flavour. Not so pleasant on its own.  I would call it an essence rather than a cordial. So I used very little and mixed it with sweet and cream, and it was perfect. Especially if like me you enjoy herbal drinks, such as Chartreuse or Fernet, this is a good one.

Spruce Cream


1/2 oz spruce infused vodka

1 oz Triple Sec

1 oz full cream (35%)

a pinch of nutmeg

Mix or blend all the ingredients and pour into a glass.

So bottoms up to all the guests this week at The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday. I hope you are inspired by the idea of making your own wild cocktails – and I would love to hear any suggestions you may have for names for these concoctions.

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Ice Fishing Hut on Sheffield Lake

I am thinking of taking up ice fishing. Especially when I am out on a frozen lake and the sun is shining, I think it is the quintessential Canadian winter pass-time and one I might actually be able to do. I think about bringing a lawn chair, a thermos of hot drink, bundling myself up, and then just taking in all the beautiful scenery around. I know there is more to it than that, but these the most important aspects.

This is the kind of set-up I have in mind, with chair, and sun.


With the idea of doing a little research on the art of ice fishing, this past weekend I dropped by Beaver Lake where The Lakeview Tavern was hosting  their annual fishing derby. Beaver Lake is a popular spot for fishing, with several huts planted there for the season every year. Pike and pickerel are the fish most often caught here. I would be interested in foraging for these – from my lawn chair.

Before I start, I will need to acquire the following:

a fishing rod

some kind of saw for cutting a hole in the ice


I interviewed two very kind men who were willing to break the silence by answering my questions. They had several holes and rods, and a lot of patience –  for fishing, I mean. I can understand the need for a hut on cold days like the ones we have been experiencing. This one looked very cozy.



If the season just holds out long enough for me to get my gear together, I will join the fishing ranks this season.

Here is one of the successful participants in the derby with his catch.


Fisherman Pat Lyman holding his catch of pickerel

Meanwhile, I do buy local fish when I can, and will post a recipe on cooking pickerel as soon as I get my next lot, by hook or by other method.


Snow Treats


Snow in a Bowl

It’s the end of the week and that means another Fiesta Friday with The Novice Gardener and her guests. Can’t wait to see what they post this week. My guess is that some will mention snow, or cold. Another event today is the opening of the Olympic Games. And this is my blog’s 50th post – so 3 good reasons to celebrate!

Instead of offering something to keep you warm and fight off the winter chills, I have decided to take you out into the snow and have some fun with it. This winter, after all, we are making memories of “that winter with all the snow”. Especially for people too young to have experienced a real winter, this will be talked about for years to come. So let’s enjoy it.

I do remember some very snowy past winters of my childhood, when eating snow was just what we did. ‘Safety’ meant looking both ways before you crossed the road – and that was it. When looking up eating snow recipes, I read several which said simply “Do not eat”. Apparently, flakes form around dust particles and goodness knows what else in the atmosphere. However, I did read one which said if it snows a lot, the atmosphere gets cleaned up, and the surface of the fallen snow is relatively clean. I also read quite a few posts where people did add snow to some rather fun recipes, and didn’t worry too much about its safety. After all, who hasn’t tasted snow, or dust for that matter? So, now I have that out of the way, I present some very simple, easy-to-make ‘snow ice cream’ recipes.


Some Ingredients for Snow Treats

This can be a great activity for children. It involves mixing one base ingredient (whipped cream, pudding, milk, yogourt, sour cream), some sweetener, and any combination of flavours such as fruit, seeds, nuts, sweets, chocolate, etc. I enjoyed combining ingredients in a way I hadn’t thought of before, and after this exercise I will take some of these ideas and put them to use in real cooking. I was not able to do all the combinations I thought of, as I found my hands getting too cold since I had to assemble everything myself and take pictures. I recommend, if you can do this with others, place all the ingredients on a work surface outside and assemble it there. If you can’t eat it right away, just cover the dishes and stick them in the freezer.


Some More Ingredients for Snow Treats

My first ‘recipe’ was made with 1 cup of whipped cream, 1 heaping Tbsp thick honey and a teaspoon of lavender infused sugar. It was heavy on the lavender (I made it with the flowers from my garden in the fall), and I feared it would be too strong, but I loved it. Add about 1 cup of snow and mix well. I sprinkled a few lavender petals on top.


Lavender and Honey Snow Cream

The next one I made was with chili chocolate made from a powdered drink mix I found in my cupboard. Also 1 cup of cream, chili chocolate to taste and another spoonful of honey. The same amount of snow, and voila!


Chocolate Snow Cream

I wanted to make dulce de leche with the evaporated milk, but ended up just using the latter. I simply mixed it with snow, and layered it with sliced banana. By this time, my hands were frozen, so I kept it simple.


Snowy Banana Pudding

The next one is a savoury ice cream, inspired by a dessert I had at St. Anselm in New York a while ago. Although it was delicious, I thought the presentation a little sloppy, so I improved on my own by chopping the bacon.


Blue Cheese Ice Cream at St. Anselm

It was a blue cheese ice cream with candied bacon and reduced balsamic vinegar. My version consisted of real yogourt (not 2% or fat-free) or you could use sour cream, mixed with a generous chunk of blue cheese. Mix that with the same volume of snow, and sprinkle candied bacon and dribble some reduced balsamic on top. This is fancy dinner party good. To sweeten the bacon I just sprinkled some sugar during the last few seconds of frying.


And the final one, also savoury, I could say is in honour of Sochi as a Russian inspired recipe, but really I just had some red caviar to use up, and thought it a pretty colour for a festive dish. This consisted only of yogourt and caviar. I think a small shot of vodka on the side would go well, but not necessary.


I did not manage to use any of my coconut milk or several other items I had lined up. But I hope you get the idea. I’m thinking maybe I should put some snow in a plastic bag and keep it in the freezer to make a snow treat on a hot day in July.


Crab Apple, Walnut and Sumac Biscotti


My Iris Garden

Winter has hit us hard this year in SE Ontario, and I couldn’t be happier. The greatest thing about winter besides the spectacular scenery it affords us is the beautiful contrast to all those other seasons – seasons we appreciate so much more because we know all that colour is not a permanent state. Winter is also a perfect time for the gardener or forager to rest, regroup, and plan for the next season’s labour. I still have a lot of reading to do before spring comes, but I have succeeded in working with some of my preserved harvests, and decided where I should focus my attention once spring arrives. Therefore, I feel this winter has been a fairly productive period.

This recipe is a result of some of my ‘thinking’ time during this snowy and bitterly cold season. I devised a recipe which uses three of my foraged products: crab apples, sumac powder, and my new favourite, black walnuts. I expected not to get it right the first time, but the result is exactly what I was hoping for. Not too sweet, a good balance of fruit and nut flavour, and soft enough I don’t have to worry about cracking a tooth.

I love biscotti, sweet or savoury. They are the true ‘biscuit’  or ‘twice cooked”. The variations are endless, including not only nuts and fruits, but also herbs and seeds. If you don’t have these exact ingredients on hand, just combine what you have with, say, one fruit, one nut and one flavouring (vanilla, lemon zest, almond, chocolate, etc).

Crab Apple, Walnut and Sumac Biscotti

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 heaping Tbsp sumac powder

3/4 cup dried crab apples

1/4 cup black walnuts

1/4 cup olive oil

3 eggs

Mix together all the dry ingredients. Whisk the oil and eggs together, and add them to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly, kneading the dough till it sticks together. Divide the dough in two parts and form into two loaves, 7″x3″. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet.


Biscotti loaves before first baking

Bake in a 300 degree F oven for about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool for about 15 minutes. Slice each loaf into twelve slices. Arrange again on the parchment, and return to the oven, lowered to 275 F, for 12 minutes.




Maple Taffy

This post is for blog event organized by The Novice Gardener. Bloggers are invited to submit a post showing how they celebrate Friday with some fun, fiesta-like activity. Surrounded by all this beautiful snow, I am certainly in a fiesta mood. As a forager, I can’t help looking at all this snow-buried landscape and wondering ‘what can I do with this while it lasts?’ So I am making a special treat with snow and maple syrup.

The Driveway

The Driveway

This is hardly a new recipe. I have seen it made and eaten many times, usually during the maple sap season and as part of the maple syrup production at a sugar shack. I have never tried it, so this seems a perfect opportunity to see if I can do it myself, and have some fun at the same time. The maple syrup is local – not from my property. The foraged ingredient is the snow!

To make this taffy, fill a cookie sheet with clean snow and keep cold. Boil some syrup until it reaches 235-245 degrees F, or the hard ball stage. Pour it in strips over the snow, and roll a popsicle stick or other similar utensil over the strip, rolling the maple around the stick as you go.




For a little variety, and to cut the sweetness to some degree, I added chopped salted peanuts.


Maple Syrup Taffy with Peanuts