Along the Grapevine


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Solomon Seal Shoots

polybi4

The best thing about foraging is that while all the gardeners are busy planting and fighting the weeds, we foragers are already enjoying some of the best harvest of the season. The dandelion greens are at their sweetest, roots easy to dig, nettles young and not too sting-y, edible flowers blooming and my lawn looks like a veritable smorgasbord. We don’t have to worry too much about what the weather does either – even after a blizzard this week, it only freshened up the wild edibles of the garden.

One of the spring treats I have been anticipating has just made its appearance.  After learning about the edibility and nutritional value of Solomon seal shoots, I was eager to give them a try. Especially as I noticed last summer that my scattered patches of the plant have spread alarmingly, and really do need some control. Their arching branches and drooping white flowers in the early summer are beautiful, and among the most popular with the hummingbirds (who needs feeders!) which is why they grow near the house, so cutting some shoots had to be done carefully, just as a little spring tidying.

Solomon Seal Shoots on Punk Domestics

True Solomon seal or Polygantum biflorum can be a tricky plant to  identify. The edible shoots have similar lookalikes, namely hosta and false solomon seal, both of which are also edible. The mature plant is not edible, except for the root which is used both as food and medicine but best left till autumn to harvest. It grows in shady, wooded areas, but unless you are sure of its identity, better to leave it alone.DSC02997

If you plant it in your garden or somewhere you can track it, there is no problem recognizing it when it first appears in the spring, before any leaves form. I pick them when still tight spears up to about 3 inches in height, and remove the one brownish layer around the base of the spear. Most sites I read referred to boiling them in water for 10 minutes, so I stuck with that advice. The flavour and texture is very much like asparagus, and can be served as a substitute.DSC02999

After harvesting the shoots, I cleaned them and dropped them in boiling water for the suggested 10 minutes. I then sauteed them lightly in a generous amount of butter mixed with ramps and mint. If you don’t have those greens, you can leave them out or substitute them with garlic or other herbs. To this mixture I added some cooked egg noodles. A little shaved parmesan can be added if you like, but for me the richness of the butter was adequate.DSC03003.JPG

And that is one way you can enjoy a delectable spring green long before even the earliest asparagus is up.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday; Frugal Hausfrau; Unwed Housewife

 

 

 

 


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Ramps Butter

DSC00645Ramps (aka wild garlic or leeks) season is here in Eastern Ontario, and the window for picking it is brief. To make things tougher for us ramps fans, care must be taken not to over harvest and deplete the crop for future years.

In order to lessen our impact from foraging, especially where growth is sparse, it is possible to just remove a leaf or two from each plant and leave the bulb in the ground so the plant will still be there next year. The leaves on their own are

A couple of years ago I transplanted a small clump into my garden where it is doing very well, but still not the acreage I am aiming for. However, a few leaves taken will do it no harm and anticipate a larger crop next year.DSC02995.JPG

To spread it as thin as possible, I decided to make a spread! Butter mixed with chopped steamed ramps leaves and a little fresh mint – other herbs or seasoning as desired. DSC03005.JPG

This is not only an excellent spread, but can also be used to add flavour to soups and sauces. Stay tuned!

Related posts: Fermented ramps; Ramps omelette


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Maple Baked Beans

Somewhat sweeter and spicier than most baked bean recipes, this is a dish that is bound to please all those who love maple syrup. The mixture of spices gives enough flavour that no meat is needed, although for some a little chopped bacon could be added into the mix.

This has been a record year for maple syrup – a record that is for us in our third year of tree tapping. At this point the sap is still running, but with the sudden change in weather, I expect all will be dried up by tomorrow. Our small ‘operation’ of two trees gave us a full 8 litres of syrup, and would have been more had we not given up some time ago. This is more than required for our small household, so to celebrate I decided to splurge and add some to baked beans.

The difficulty was to choose the appropriate spices and quantities to do justice to this local specialty. Garlic, chili, sumac, mustard and bay leaves seemed like obvious choices, and I have enough experience with all of these that I wasn’t too worried about how to use them. But then I came across my asafoetida, and wondered if it would fit. I have used it many times before when following other people’s recipes without really understanding what it was. Time to do a little research. And this is what I learned.

  1. It is the dried gum of the tap root of severals species of ferula, a perennial herb native to Afghanistan and Iran and cultivated in India. That explains why I had some in my pantry.
  2. As its name suggests, it is considered to have a ‘fetid’ smell. I actually like the smell, something like mild onion and garlic, but this smell is rendered less offensive to sensitive types once cooked. Interesting!
  3. It is used  mostly in the preparation of condiments, pickles and dals and has the effect of harmonising sweet, salty and spicy flavours. It is also used specifically in vegetarian dishes to add flavour and aroma. Perfect for a vegetarian bean dish.
  4. It also has a host of health benefits, not least of which being good for digestion and with the opposite effect of beans. This should have been my first choice of spices.

In short, what I learned is that this is a very useful spice, one I should and will use more often. If you are interested, here is the link to the wikipedia site where I got all this information.

Maple Baked Beans

Ingredients

4 cups cooked beans (I used navy)

1 large onion, chopped

5 cloves minced garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup tomato concentrate (preferably home-made)

1/2 cup maple syrup

a few bay leaves

2 Tbsp sumac powder

2 Tbsp chili powder

1 tsp mustard powder

1 tsp asafoetida

1 tsp salt

Method

Mix everything in a slow cooker. Set on high and cook for five hours, stirring occasionally if at all possible. It it becomes too dry, add a splash of boiling water.

When cooked, remove the bay leaves and serve.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, it can be done on the stove top, in which case it won’t take much more than an hour. However, with my bean baking experience, I prefer to give it about two to three hours at medium low, and just add water and stir if it gets too dry.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #115, Hostess at Heart and Too Zesty.


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More about Bitters & a Recipe for Rhubarb Ginger Ice Cream

This ice cream and the meringues are both flavoured with rhubarb bitters , the recipe for which I posted a couple of weeks ago. The flavouring is very subtle, not at all bitter, but really does enhance the flavour of the dish. These are just two examples of how a fragrant fruit bitters can be used.DSC02979

Since I made my first batch of bitters, I have been curious as to just how to make use of them. After all a good half litre is a bit much for the odd cocktail. I have used it to make a salad dressing for fruit salad, mixed with fruit juice, zest, ginger and honey;  I used it to glaze sweet buns; best of all I added a teaspoon or two to my coffee. In each of these applications, the bitters enhanced the flavour of whatever it was added to with the most delicious floral notes and aroma.

Ice cream seemed a good place to start, and if you have a favourite recipe of your own, I would recommend adding the bitters to that. Frozen desserts are one of my favourite ways to experiment with flavours, so I decided to stick with the rhubarb theme and mix that and fresh ginger in a sauce which was mixed into a standard ice cream custard mixture. If you are not convinced that it is worth making your own ice cream, just consider the wonderful variations you can create which you would never find even in the best ice cream parlours – much less any supermarket.

Rhubarb Ginger Ice Cream

Ingredients

1/2 cup sugar or honey

1/2 cup chopped rhubarb

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 cups 10% cream

3 egg yolks, lightly beaten

4 Tbsp rhubarb or other fruit bitters

Method

Mix the first three ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a boil and simmer until the rhubarb is soft and the ginger cooked, about three minutes.

In a separate pan heat the milk to just below boiling. Gradually add a small amount (about 1/4) cup to the egg mixture and blend, then add another of the same amount and do the same. Pour the egg mixture into the milk and simmer until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and mix in the rhubarb mixture. When the custard has cooled, add the rhubarb bitters. Chill, process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then freeze. Makes 3/4 litre.

And since I had three egg whites, I whipped them with 3/4 cup sugar, 1/3 tsp cream of tartar and a splash of bitters. Dried in the oven for an hour at 220 degrees F and allowed to cool in the oven once done. I made some ice cream sandwiches with the small ones, and the larger ones I used as a base. Either way they were great.

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Linked to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #113, Sonal at Simply Vegetarian and Laurie at ten.times.tea.

Related posts: Anise hyssop and Peach Ice Cream; Olive Oil Ice Cream with Balsamic Wild Strawberries; Salted Caramel Spruce Ice Cream