Along the Grapevine


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More on Queen Anne’s Lace and Kombucha

DSC03429Last year I experimented with Queen Anne’s lace (daucus carota) for the first time and posted a recipe for a flower cordial, which I now usually make without adding any other flowers. The rosy pink colour never fails, and the flavour is exquisite on its own. I use it mixed with sodas, in cocktails, sometimes just with water, and occasionally in tea.

I have altered the recipe slightly. I measure by volume, covering the blossoms with equal parts of boiling water. In fact, I use a little less water sometimes, barely covering the flowers with water and then press them down with a plate. Then I mix the strained liquid with half as much organic sugar, heat and stir just to dissolve. That’s all there is to it.

Since then, I have been determined to find other ways to use this beautiful flower, and especially this year when they are in such profusion, I want to share as many ideas as possible.

I did make a very nice jelly with it last summer but failed to post my recipe.  However, I recently came across another blogger’s recipe which is much the same, so I will take the lazy way out and direct you to it here at Forged Mettle Farm.

Apart from the jelly and the syrup, I have had difficulty coming up with recipes. I used it to flavour rice pudding, but found that the flavour and colour were both overwhelmed with so much cooking and the other ingredients. I remedied that to some extent by making a thick pudding without sugar, once with coconut milk and once with milk and cream, then thinning and sweetening it with the syrup as it was cooling, thus avoiding long exposure to heat. The colour was not there, but there was enough flavour to make a delicious dessert, although not as strongly flavoured as I would have liked.  Experiment will continue.DSC03574.JPG

Having recently acquired some scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) I have been experimenting with making kombucha. If you are not familiar with this super healthful drink, you might be interested to read this article I found which will give you the necessary info, and then some. It is so easy to make, and can be mixed with just about anything – fruits, berries, herbs, and even vegetables, in short, all the wild things I write about. And so I have Queen Anne’s Lace kombucha, made by mixing the syrup with prepared kombucha in equal parts, and then allowing it to ferment a couple of days or so. If left longer than a couple of days, remember to open the bottle to let any built up gas escape. You may want to add or subtract the amount of syrup, augment, reduce or even eliminate the final fermentation to get the flavour and sweetness you like best.DSC03588

If you are frustrated by not having access to a scoby, and you live in this area, I would be happy to provide you with one plus the necessary amount of ready made kombucha to get you started.

And this is what I bring to this week’s Fiesta Friday which I will be co-hosting with Mara from Put on Your Cake Pants.  Do drop by and see what our guests have for you. If you would like to contribute a recipe of yours, you are most welcome. Just check out the guidelines and join the party.

 


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Balsam Fir and Mint Cocktail

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In my most recent post on a recipe for Balsam Fir Body Scrub I suggested using this conifer in edible recipes, which I have since done with varying degrees of success. One thing that I learned is that the wonderful flavour gets lost in cooking, so it is best used as an infusion. I began by putting a few sprigs in some olive oil and leaving it for at least a couple of weeks. This has proven to be a favourite for making dressings for winter salads.

Another way to preserve the flavour of the fresh needles is to make a syrup which then can be used to flavour all sorts of things – beverages, icings, fruit salads, or simply served on pancakes or waffles.

To make the syrup, bring one cup of sugar and one cup of water to a full boil. Turn off the heat and add two tablespoons of fresh ground needles and stir. Allow to cool completely, then strain into a jar. This will keep at least six weeks in the fridge, but for longer storage, freeze it.

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I spent several weeks in the meantime pondering how to make the most delicious cocktail ever with this syrup. Cocktails are not complicated, but pairing the flavours is a delicate matter. I decided to use gin, as the flavour of the juniper would work well with the fir. Green tea seemed like an obvious vehicle, but I decided to make mint tea from leaves I had dried from my wild garden instead.  A little lime juice and/or some spruce tip bitters rounds out the flavour nicely.

Balsam Fir Mint Cocktail on Punk Domestics

Balsam Fir and Mint Cocktail

1 part gin

3 parts strong mint tea, cooled

1 1/2 parts balsam fir syrup

a splash of fresh lime juice

a few drops of spruce tips bitters (optional)

 

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I singed some sprigs for garnish, but this should only be done if the needles are very fresh or else they risk being flambeed. Otherwise this was a huge success and I have definitely raised the cocktail bar with this one.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #208

 


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Wild Flower Cordial

DSC03429Queen Anne’s Lace (daucus carota), also known as wild carrot, bird’s nest and bishop’s lace is a white flowering plant in the familily Apiaceae. Its feathery leaves are similar to those of hemlock, fool’s parsley and water hemlock, all poisonous cousins, so it is important to identify this plant correctly. At this time of year when they are in full bloom it is easy to spot with its flat-topped white umbel, sometimes with a solitary purple flower in the centre.

Leaves, roots and flowers have all been used in cooking, sometimes as a sweetener as the plant is high in sugar. As this is my first time with this plant, I decided to use just the flowers, and to make something simple and versatile, so a floral cordial it was.

Somehow I got sidetracked by the pink milkweed blossoms from which for the first time I noticed a strong fragrant scent. And while I was at it, I added lavender to my collection. This recipe could be made solely with the Queen Anne’s Lace, but by using a mixture of flowers, I hope to convey the message that any edible, seasonal flower can be used the same way, either alone or mixed with others.

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I counted out 3 dozen flower heads including only 1 sprig of lavender. I heated 4 cups of water, turned off the heat and set the flowers in the water until the water cooled. I then strained the liquid and added to that 1 1/2 cups organic white sugar and the juice of one lemon. I brought it back to a full boil and simmered for a couple of minutes.

The milkweed gave it a rich pink colour. I presume that all the blossoms contributed to its delicious flavour.DSC03432

The photo above shows its colour in full strength, but I recommend diluting it with 2 – 3 parts water or soda water with one part cordial. Or if you are wanting something a little fancier,  dilute it 1:1 with vodka for a pretty summery cocktail.

Wild Flower Cordial on Punk Domestics

dsc03443-e1501854487122.jpg Linked to: Fiesta Friday #183; Caramel Tinted Life and Sarah’s Little Kitchen.


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Spruce Tip Bitters

This is arguably the greenest recipe I have ever come up with – not so much the actual colour, but the aroma and flavour are as green as it gets. This is my second bitters concoction, a process I describe in full detail in an earlier post on rhubarb bitters.

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When I collected this year’s crop of spruce tips, it occurred to me that they would be a perfect ingredient for a novel flavour of bitters, and mixed with other greens from my garden – namely dried hops, mint and fennel seeds, I had all l needed to come up with a unique recipe, which is what I did.

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Spruce Tips Bitters on Punk Domestics

If there are no longer any of the tiny spruce tips on the trees, you will probably find that the new growth is still soft and relatively sweet enough they can be used for this recipe.

Spruce Tips Bitters

Step 1

Mix together the following ingredients in a large mason jar.

1 cup spruce tips

1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried mint

1/4 cup dried hops

zest of two organic limes

1/2 tsp cinchona bark

1 tsp fennel seeds

Cover with vodka, approximately 1 1/2 cups. Cover and set aside out of direct light for two weeks, stirring at least once daily.

Step 2

Strain the liquid off and store in another jar. Place the solids in a pot and barely cover with water. Simmer it for ten minutes and allow to sit for 4 days to one week.

Step 3

Strain off the liquid and mix with the vodka infusion from step 1. Add 2 tbsp of honey or maple syrup.

If you think that bitters are only used medicinally or for cocktails, you may be surprised to find just how versatile they can be with just a little imagination. I have found they are a great flavour enhancer for ice cream using about 1 tsp per cup of dairy. I have also used it in baking, and hope to have such a recipe with these bitters very soon.

Until then, I leave you with this dry vodka martini to which I added 1/4 tsp spruce tip bitters and in lieu of the olive a spruce tip I salvaged from the discarded solids.

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Floral Sun Tea

DSC03136.JPGLast year I experimented with making sun tea, a tisane really, made from mint, lemon balm and a little honey. I was pretty timid about the whole process, but figured the mint and honey would provide enough anti-bacterial properties to ward off any ill effects of infusing the herbs in the sunlight. It turned out to be one of my favourite summer drinks, so I have now continued to add and subtract to achieve a variety of flavours. This is one of my latest formulae where the addition of scented, edible flowers, and fresh stevia leaves to replace the honey makes a super, refreshing, low-calorie and nutritious summer drink. You can read about the benefits of lemon balm here and peppermint, which is what I used, here.

The idea of this recipe is not to limit yourself to the ingredients I find in my garden. Any sweet, aromatic herb can be used. If the herbs you choose do not have anti-bacterial properties, then I would recommend adding some unpasteurised honey dissolved in warm water to the mixture. Likewise, I chose flowers I have in my garden, but depending where you live and what the season, this can vary. No doubt edible leaves, berries or fruit in season would be an equally savoury addition.

I planted stevia in my garden for the first time this year and it is producing a steady supply of leaves which I have been using as a sugar substitute in several recipes. It should grow a lot more before the frost hits, at which time I will dry some for use in the winter. If you are not familiar with it, this article gives a good explanation of its origin, uses and health benefits.

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I filled each container almost full, loosely packed, with lemon balm and mint leaves, with about five fresh, chopped stevia leaves in each container. To one container I added and handful of rose petals and chopped rose-scented geranium leaves – to the other about 1 Tbsp young lavender flowers. My lavender is just beginning to blossom – a later version of this recipe will no doubt call for a similar amount of mature flowers.

I filled the containers with water, covered them with a lid and set them in the sun for about five hours. Then strain and chill – or chill and strain. I poured some of the strained liquid into ice cube trays to use without diluting the drink.

Because these herbs and flowers are not cooked, their flavour and nutritional value are not compromised. And what better treat after a strenuous bout of working in the garden than an aromatic elixir of flavours from the very same garden! DSC03135.JPG

Linked to Fiesta Friday #126

 

 

 


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Sumac Soda

DSC02869A couple of days ago I wrote about gathering and preserving rhus glabra, or smooth sumac, a departure from my usual rhus typhina, or staghorn sumac. These are only two of the roughly thirty five species of red berried rhuses, and as far as I can tell, their flavours are similar enough that they can be interchanged in recipes very easily. So while I have used the smooth sumac liquid, i.e. berry infused water as a base, you could substitute this with any other edible sumac.

I have made a few natural sodas lately, including tonic water, and the success I have had with all of them has encouraged me to continue experimenting. As sumac is great in a lemonade, tea or mead, I figured it would make a decent soda too. I was not disappointed.

Besides the sumac ‘juice’ as described in my last post, you will need some honey and some starter or bug for the fermentation to take place. The process for making a bug can be found here. Once your bug is ready, you mix the three ingredients in flip top bottles. Ginger is the most common root to use, but I also use dandelion and chicory root where I don’t want a strong ginger flavour as is the case with this drink.
 

My general rule is to mix the ingredients so that the initial mixture is sweeter than you want the end product, since much of the sugar gets used up in the fermentation process, so while there is a high ratio of honey, the drink is still quite dry. However, the fermentation is speedy and effective, so be warned. I try it after three days instead of the usual five, and open the bottles every two days to let excess gas escape. The drink will continue to ferment, so once you are happy with its flavour and fizziness, keep it chilled.
The proportions I used were as follows: 1 cup bug, 1 cup raw honey, 3 1/2 cups sumac juice.

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So here is a soda that is not only delicious but actually good for you. I will be sharing it with the guests at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #104, where I will be co-hosting along with Mila from Milk and Bun. Do drop by for some extraordinary recipes, and if you are a food blogger yourself, feel free to post a recipe of your own. The clear and simple guidelines are outlined here.

 

 

 

 


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A New Year’s Eve Cocktail

Bringing in the New Year is a perfect excuse for a new cocktail concoction – and of course it is only fitting I should make it with some of my foraged hoard. Here I offer you a delectable drink made with my honeysuckle syrup, mixed with bourbon, prosecco and a dash of bitters. So let me drink a toast to all my readers who have encouraged me over the past year, and share with them a little taste of my garden which is now fittingly covered with snow.DSC02821

I first made a syrup with 1 part honeysuckle syrup, 1 1/2 parts bourbon and a few drops of bitters. Mix this half and half with prosecco in individual glasses. It is not sweet, but has a beautiful floral bouquet.

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And as I enjoy my drink on this the last day of 2015, I am again reminded of where we live and our beautiful surroundings by my originally decorated Christmas tree – still fresh and fragrant. Dried hydrangeas, sedums and milkweed pods give it a festive, foraged flavour.

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May 2016 bring you health and happiness, and great foraging!

 

 


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Goldenrod Tea

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This beautiful and, yes, edible goldenrod (soldiago) is in full bloom just now and has transformed our local landscape into a mass of golden colour. Unfortunately it is often confused with another plant which is also plentiful just now – ragweed. You can see from these two photographs the differences in the plants. Both are in bloom. One is bright, the other relatively colourless. Also, the leaves on the first are elongated ovals while the second has lobed leaves.

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Ragweed is the source of much discomfort for people who are allergic to its pollen. Because the two plants occur in the same places at the same time, goldenrod is assumed to be equally noxious. It is not. The difference between the two, other than their appearance, is that ragweed has a light and abundant pollen which is easily carried through the air. Goldenrod, which has a heavy and sticky pollen, is pollenated by insects. So if you suffer from hay fever at this time of year, you know which one to blame it on. My advice is to eradicate as much of the ragweed as you can.

Not only is goldenrod not a noxious weed, it has many health benefits, one of which according to much of the literature I have been reading (for example this article) is its ability to counter the effects of allergies.

Once identified, goldenrod is easy to harvest. No worries about over harvesting this robust perennial, and the blooming period is relatively long in this area – from late August until the first frosts. Pick only the top third of the plant, and preferably young flowers which have not fully opened or are still bright yellow. Leaves and flowers can both be used. Just watch for insects – the pollinators love the stuff.

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When I first try a new plant, I always prefer a simple recipe to test the flavour, so here is yet another herbal tea. Begin by shaking any small insects out of the flowers and rinse lightly under the tap. To make, remove leaves and flowers from the stems. For each half cup of these, add two cups of boiling water and allow to steep for 20 minutes. Strain and serve.

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The flavour is substantial, slightly bitter and a bit smokey. I advise adding some honey or sugar as a sweetener and you will have yourself a very pleasant and healthful drink.

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This is a fine drink for any time of the day, but my experiments don’t stop with this. I feel that this flavour is capable of so much more than just a tisane, so I will be posting an ‘after five’ drink soon

Goldenrod Tea on Punk Domestics


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Chicory Root Soda

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I recently wrote about making ginger soda, a simple process of fermenting ginger root until it bubbles (called a bug), mixing it with fruit syrups or juices and allowing it to ferment for a few days until a fizzy, sometimes downright frothy beverage is ready. These old- fashioned drinks have been a god send on these hot, sticky days of summer, but now I am ready for a change of flavours. Since a bug can be made from any edible root and since I prefer to use wild roots from my own backyard, I decided to make use of some of the vast quantity of chicory blooming not far from my kitchen window.

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Common chicory (cychorium intybus) is native to Europe but now naturalized in North America and Asia. It is a woody plant with blue flowers and cultivated for its leaves, buds, flowers and roots. At this time of year the pale blue flowers are visible along roadsides and in fields in this area. All parts are bitter tasting, although the flowers and leaves are popular in salads. Sometimes the leaves are boiled first to remove some of the bitterness and then added to cooked dishes.

The root is the most commonly used part of the plant, usually roasted and ground to be used as a coffee substitute, caffeine free and less expensive than coffee. It is also used as a food additive in all sorts of things because of its inulin content.

A word of caution: if you are allergic to ragweed pollen or any related plants, you might have a similar allergic reaction to this one. On the plus side, it does contain antioxidants, inulin and it is considered to provide functional help for the liver.

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To prepare the bug, I followed the same procedure as for my ginger bug. Beginning with about 1 cup of water, I added 2 Tbsp of chopped root and 2 Tbsp sugar. Cover it loosely to prevent any contamination. Each day I added 1 tsp each of root and sugar until it became bubbly. This took about five days.

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At this time, you can put a lid on it and refrigerate for a few days until ready to use. Once you use some of the liquid, replace the liquid with water and continue to feed more root and sugar a tsp a day.

At this point, it has a pleasantly bitter taste which I thought very much like tonic water.

For the first drink, I used the juice of one lime, 6 oz of water and enough honey to sweeten plus a bit more, since some of the sugar gets used up in the fermentation process. I then added 2 oz of bug, closed the flip lid to seal well and left it for five days.

The second drink was made with elderflower cordial I had stored in the freezer – the same quantities of drink and bug and the same amount of time.

The lime drink was quite dry and had a distinct bubbliness, much like a kvass.

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The elderflower was much sweeter and very frothy.

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It takes some practice to get the right amount of sweetness and fizz according to your taste, but I have not produced an inferior drink in any so far and they have all been far superior to any commercial soft drink. You can experiment also with any fruit flavours you like. The chicory adds a slightly bitter note which I like, but the flavour is neutral enough it does not overpower whatever flavour you are using.

To be safe, open the bottles very slowly and somewhere you can afford to have a little splllage just in case

Chicory Root Soda on Punk Domestics


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Two New Flavours of Ginger Soda

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Recycled beer bottles with flip lids

I am not a fan of commercial soft drinks whatsoever, but once I started making my own from ”bugs’, which are fermented roots (often ginger root) with sugar, I have had great fun making and consuming all sorts of variations of fizzy drinks. Especially after working several hours (or at least what seems like several hours) in the garden, I am rewarded with a tall cool drink of whatever mixture I have fermenting in the kitchen.

The process is really very simple, but it does take a little time. I try to make a couple of bottles a day so that I always have some on hand.  To begin, I mix a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh ginger with an equal amount of sugar in about a cup of water in a covered mason jar. Each day I add half that amount of ginger and sugar until the mixture begins to bubble which is around five days, at which point it is ready to make a drink of whatever flavour I want with a second fermentation.

The second part is where the interesting flavours come in, although because it is a ginger bug, there will be a good gingery flavour already. For these drinks I used ginger-friendly fruits, rhubarb for one and sumac for the other.

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You will need flip top bottles for this so that no gas escapes during fermentation. The bottles I used hold two cups so it made measuring easy – 1 3/4 cup sumac or rhubarb juice (descriptions below), 1 tsp sugar (or a little more if you want it sweeter) and 1/4 cup ginger bug. Mix well, bottle and leave to ferment from 2-5 days depending on the temperature of your kitchen and how much sugar you have used. For a first attempt I recommend opening it after two days to see how it’s doing. If there is no ‘pop’ at all when you open it, leave it for another day or two next time, although it will still be very good, just not too bubbly. Because I use little sugar, I like to leave mine for five days to give it a really good fizz, but then I do have to be careful to open it slowly and expect a little to escape. Kind of like opening champagne! If you want it for later, refrigerate it which will slow down any further fermentation – but not stop it all together.

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Sumac drink after five days of fermentation

For the juices, I cooked some chopped rhubarb covered in water with sugar to taste and strained. For the sumac, I simply used water infused with sumac berries.

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Rhubarb drink after two days of fermentation

After you have used the ‘bug’, add water to replace the liquid you have strained out of it, and continue to feed it ginger and sugar daily. Or put it in the fridge and carry on another day. You will have to remove some of the ginger from time time, which I do whenever I am making a soup, dressing or stir-fry into which it goes very nicely.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday # 76