Along the Grapevine


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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

  • Difficulty: Easy
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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

  • Difficulty: moderate
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 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:https://alongthegrapevine.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/purslane-and-cabbage-salad/


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Verjus – made from unripe blueberries.

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Basket of unripe blueberries

Since I learned about verjus, or verjuice, I have been looking forward to making it with wild grapes instead of the usual wine grapes. With the acres of grapevines around our place, I thought I would have lots to work with, but this year the grapes are just not co-operating at all, so that is one recipe which will have to be put on hold.

Verjus is made from unripe grapes, usually those which are removed from the vines when growers want to boost their crop. The grapes are put through a food mill, creating a green mush which is used like vinegar. It is used in Middle Eastern cuisine, and has been adopted by the French, who have given it its international name. Recently it has made its way into international markets, and if you are lucky you might find some in specialty gourmet shops. I myself have never seen it, or tried it, but if you are curious, you can read more about it and how to make it here.

It seems to be used primarily in salad dressings, replacing the vinegar or lemon with a less acidic flavour which will not interfere with the taste of your wine when eating salad. Makes sense to me.

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Blueberry Fields in Tweed, Ontario

So when I was out picking blueberries the other day at Wilson’s Organic Blueberries in Tweed and found it was easier to pick the unripe berries than the few ripe ones, I decided they resembled grapes enough that I could make my own version with these. They are a little too hard to put through a food mill, so I cooked them gently in water first until they softened. Some of them already had some pink or dark blue in them, so my version is far from green, but the taste was exactly what I had hoped for – fruity and slightly sour, but less acidic than a vinegar or citrus juice.

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Cleaned berries ready for poaching

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Pink Verjus

To make the salad dressing, I mixed one part to two parts olive oil and seasoned it with salt. Such a simple salad dressing. I kept my salad in the same colour theme, using only green and reds: green zebra tomatoes, French green beans, arugula, sorrel, lettuce and amaranth – all from my garden. But needless to say, it can be used on any salad calling for a vinaigrette. Next time, I will also vary the dressing with other flavourings, but here I just wanted to taste the verjus. And the wine did taste better!

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Salad with verjus dressing

 


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Gazpacho with Purslane

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If you are looking for a gazpacho recipe which is smooth and creamy, spicy, and can be whipped up in a food processor in a few seconds, you’d better keep looking. There are plenty of those recipes out there, but when I make this traditional Andalusian soup, I make it as my Spanish professor’s wife taught me several decades ago, and as I saw it made when I lived in Spain shortly after that.

Since that time, gazpacho has become a popular ‘ethnic’ dish, with so many variations it seldom resembles the simple, cold vegetable soup I came to know and love in Spain. Its predecessor was a soup made of bread, olive oil and garlic, and only after the ‘conquista’ did tomatoes enter into the picture, and with them a few other local, seasonal ingredients like onion, cucumber and sweet pepper.

So for this week’s Fiesta Friday, I would like to share this recipe I have made over the years, a recipe which has a distinctively Spanish flavour but which I am able to replicate with ingredients from my own garden – the best of both worlds.

I was instructed that a good gazpacho starts with dried, crumbled bread. Into that, crushed garlic, salt and vinegar are rubbed together, and then a generous amount of olive oil added gradually, forming a creamy base which blends easily with the fresh chopped vegetables. This is not to say that you can’t ad-lib a bit, with sweet herbs or other seasonal vegetables. I made a couple of minor changes. I used homemade whole wheat bread because that’s what I had, and I substituted purslane for the green pepper.

I have written about purslane before. To learn how to identify it and about its nutritional properties, please visit this post. You will see that by adding purslane, I actually upped the omega-3 content, among other things. I gather purslane does grow in Spain, because in researching it, I found it grows pretty much everywhere. I have small patches of it throughout my garden, and one pot where it volunteered and smothered the pepper plants I was starting.DSC01053

So it is appropriate I chose to replace peppers with it.

Gazpacho with Purslane

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

2 lbs ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded

1 slice dried bread, about 2 Tbsp

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup olive oil

3 Tbsp wine or sherry vinegar

3 cloves (or more) garlic

a handful of purslane, chopped

1 thick slice sweet onion (about 2 Tbsp once grated)

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded

Method

Grate the bread to make a fine crumb and rub in the crushed garlic, salt and vinegar. Gradually add the oil and mix it vigorously.

Chop the tomato and purslane very fine. In order not to waste any of the juice, I put the seeds in a colander and strained as much juice as I could to add to the tomatoes. Grate the onion and cucumber. Add all the vegetables and combine. Chill for a couple of hours, and garnish it with an ice cube if you want it really cold.

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Pickled Crabapples

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In my scrounging around for any crabapples I can find this season, I got a few of these very young, green ones. I have recently learned that young fruit has the advantage of having smaller seeds and don’t need much preparation, other than cooking.

Coincidentally, I came across a recipe for pickled young crabapples by the Forager Chef whose recipes are always excellent, so I followed his recipe which you can find here. I made it according to his instructions, except that as I had no orange zest I used sumac water in place of that and the water called for. I also only had enough apples for half the recipe which made two jars. If you read his post, you will see that he serves these crabapples with a very elegant pork dish garnished with purslane. If you don’t eat pork, these little pickled apples are tasty enough to be eaten on their own, and as he points out you can use the stem as a little handle.

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Crabapple, Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

At this time last year I was harvesting no end of crabapples and managed to use them preserved in some form or another for the whole year. I discovered several varieties, all of which were a pleasure to cook with. It became my favourite fruit – easy to pick and store, pretty, and useful in so many recipes – from spicy marinades to sweet treats. Some of my favourite recipes were: crabapple cordial; crabapple pastebiscottivinaigrettechips.

I was looking forward to finding more varieties this year, maybe planting a tree or two, and trying some new recipes. However, our one tree has so few fruits on it this year, I figure I will just let the birds have them all. Here is a picture of our tree last year.

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I did manage to collect some from a generous sister on a recent visit, enough to make a couple of new recipes. If you are lucky enough to have a source of crabapples this year, I hope you will find these recipes useful.

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The first I made was a jam mixed with rhubarb, which is still flourishing, and a little fresh ginger. Crabapples are wonderful to mix with other fruit as they have so much pectin you don’t have to add any. I made it rather tart, but if you like a sweet jam, just add another 1/2 cup of sugar. I did not strain the crabapples after cooking, but if I can make this again I would because it would be better without the skins. The fruit is young enough the seeds are not a problem, but later in the season you will want to eliminate all of them too.

Crabapple, Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

1 3/4 lb or 5 cups crabapples

1 lb or 4 cups chopped rhubarb

1 cup sugar

2 Tsp grated fresh ginger

1 cinnamon stick

Method

Sprinkle the sugar over the rhubarb and set aside. Put the apples, ginger and cinnamon in a large pan and barely cover with water. Simmer until they are nice and soft, about half an hour on a low heat. At this point, I recommend cooling it a bit and straining it through a food mill or sieve.

Return the strained juice to the pot and add the rhubarb and sugar. Continue to cook about another 15 minutes until the rhubarb is tender. Pour into 3 medium sized jars.

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No need to limit eating this jam just to toast for breakfast. It is also good with yogourt or with cheese.

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Fermented Cucumbers

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The wild grape vines this year are a bust.  Not just mine, it seems to be the case everywhere in this area. I will be lucky if I can gather enough wild grapes for one good recipe. However, the leaves are still useable, and although some of them are too mature to pick, there are still enough young ones to use for cooking.

Now that it is pickling season, grape leaves are especially useful for adding to pickles you want to be really crunchy. A few leaves in each jar will prevent your crisp vegetables from going mushy. This is because grape leaves contain tannins which inhibit the enzyme that makes the vegetable soft. If you don’t have grape leaves, a pinch of black tea leaves, or a few oak  or cherry leaves or horseradish will have the same effect.

In order to test this theory, I decided to ferment cucumbers, which takes a few days but no extra effort. To do this you will need a brine made of 2 Tbsp salt per quart of water (non-chlorinated) and some flavourings, such as garlic, onions, herbs and spices. You could just use a ready-made pickling mix, but I decided to make my own mixture using primarily seeds, herbs and spices mostly from my garden.

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For one jar, I filled it with whole, small cucumbers, a few cloves of garlic, 3 allspice berries, 10 peppercorns, 1 chopped dried chili pepper, 1 tsp each of mustard, fennel and coriander seeds, and a few dill flowers and leaves. I used about 5 young grape leaves at the bottom and top of the jar, and covered it all with brine. The grape leaf on top prevents any of the other ingredients from floating to the top. In addition, I placed a sterilized stone on top of the grape leaf to keep everything well immersed.

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I then covered it with a cloth and let it sit for about a week. When I figured it was ready by tasting, I put a lid on it and placed it in the fridge. It will continue to ferment a little there, and I hope the garlic mellows out a bit yet, but the flavour and texture of the cucumbers was perfect.

 

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Sumac and Rhubarb Soup

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Of all the forageables I have found in my area over the last year, the one that I use most frequently is the staghorn sumac. It is easy to identify, pick and preserve. It also has a relatively long harvesting period, from July to late fall, so I am able to collect at least as much as I need when I feel like it. It has also inspired some of my favourite and most innovative recipes which include among others:

Sumac DrinkSumac powder and molassesRice PuddingSumac Meringue PieFermented Hummus with SumacSumac and VegetablesZa’atar

I have also used it regularly in stews, sauces, dressings and pretty much anywhere where a bit of lemon or pomegranate juice would be called for.

For anyone not familiar with this wild plant, at least not for culinary purposes, here are a few pointers.

What is staghorn sumac? A shrub, also known as velvet sumac and sumac vinegar tree, it is of the genus Rhus and a member of the cashew family. It grows in most of Eastern Canada, and is used as an ornamental shrub in Europe for its fall foliage and distinctive fruit.

How to identify it. This shrub is between 1 and 8 meters in height and is commonly found along roadsides, at forest edges and in clearings. It has compound leaves with serrated edges. The flowers are cone shaped clusters with velvety buds. Its thick hairy branches resemble the horns of a male deer, hence the name staghorn. There are poison sumacs, but their leaves have no serrations and they have smooth white berries.

How to use it. For sumac powder, remove the berries from the clusters and dry them in a dehydrator or an oven at about 170 F. Grind them and then sift them. For the juice, it is usually recommended just to soak the entire flower in water for a few hours, and for a more concentrated liquid, remove the flowers and add fresh ones to repeat the process until you get the strength you want. I have also simmered them to get more colour, although I might lose some nutritional value in the process.

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I decided to make a recipe for Angie’s Fiesta Friday #28 using the juice, which is most often used in lemonade-like drinks. I thought to mix it with rhubarb since now is the time that these two ingredients overlap for a few weeks. I have always liked the Scandinavian types of sweetish fruit soups, but if you are not a fan of such soups, you can serve it as a drink and call it what you will. However you serve it, it is a deliciously refreshing dish with a beautiful rosey colour.

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Sumac and Rhubarb Soup

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

2 cups chopped rhubarb

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup water

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp water

1 cup sumac juice

Method

Simmer the rhubarb, sugar, cinnamon and water until the rhubarb is very soft. Strain and return to the pan. Add the cornstarch and simmer a few minutes longer. Add the sumac juice. Serve either hot or cold.

Milking the Weeds: Cooking with Milkweed Pods on Punk Domestics