Along the Grapevine


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Dandelion Flower Syrup

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With all the rain we have been having lately the fields are greener and more lush than ever – and that means the dandelions are at their absolute best. When I first started this blog four years ago this month, I had only a few ideas on how to use them in cooking, but in that time I have found they are a lot more versatile than I had imagined. I have been using the roots, buds and leaves, but today I decided to share a recipe I devised using the flowers. I am very pleased with the results, and more so because it is such an easy method for making a delicious floral syrup. A few minutes of picking the flowers and little else, as there is no need to separate petals or do any more than wash them.

Using 4 cups of flowers, I let them stand with 2 cups of sugar overnight or up to 24 hours. This will extract quite a bit of liquid from them just sitting there as you can see in the pictures below.

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At this point, I added 1 cup of water and heated the mixture to a boil, allowing it to boil for about 1 minute. I then strained off the liquid through two layers of cheesecloth into a sterilized jar and ended up with almost three cups of syrup.

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The consistency is like that of maple syrup, the flavour sweet and floral. It can be used as any syrup would be, as a sweetener for drinks, fruit salads, baking, glazes, etc.  A new and original recipe using this syrup will follow within a few days.

 


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Savoury Yucca Petal Biscuits

I am discovering that more flowers than I had previously thought can be enjoyed by almost all the senses – all that is but hearing. This season I have experimented with floral flavours, wild and cultivated, and in so doing have discovered that they add a whole range of tastes, colours and aromas to all sorts of dishes. It was only recently that I learned that one of my favourite plants, the yucca, has edible blooms. Not to be confused with yuca spelled with only on ‘c’ which is what tapioca is made of, the yucca is a perennial evergreen shrub of the asparagaceae family. It grows mostly in arid regions, which is no doubt why it is so happy in my parched garden. I have taken pains to grow some from seed, successfully so, only to find that it spreads quite well on its own. Still, you can’t have too much of this dramatic plant with its gorgeous spikes of white flowers.DSC03153

So far, I have only tried the blossoms. They should be young and not fully opened, as they tend to get more fibrous with age. The flavour is delicate, a little like artichoke. They should be parboiled before using, and avoid all but the petals. There is conflicting advice on this, but I am sticking with the safe and sure. I first tried them in an omelette, but there are lots of recipes out there already. So to come up with something a little more original, I thought of making them into a savoury biscuit. I probably could have used more than the ten flowers I chose. The flavour is very delicate, and you can remove a lot of these blooms before the the plant looses any of its splendour. DSC03156.JPGDSC03160.JPG

Savoury Yucca Petal Biscuits

Ingredients

2 cups flour, sifted plus extra for rolling

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp finely grated organic lemon peel

1/2 cup cold butter

petals of 10 yucca flowers

1 cup buttermilk, plus extra for brushing on top before baking

Method

Separate the petals and discard the centre part of the flower. Blanch the petals in boiling water for 20 seconds. Drain and chill.

Mix together the first five ingredients. Cut in the butter.

Add the petals and mix to combine. Stir in the buttermilk. Turn onto a floured surface and knead lightly until the dough holds together. Pat into a rectangle about 3/4 inches thick and cut with a sharp cookie cutter. Place on a parchment lined baking tin and brush with buttermilk. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden at 450 degrees F.

DSC03161To be honest,  these biscuits would be delicious even without the yucca, and I will undoubtedly try them with other flavourings too. I wish I could tell you that the yucca blossoms are some kind of super food, but I have been unable to find any information on their nutritional value. Nonetheless, I managed to satisfy my curiosity, and at the same time add to my repertoire of garden recipes. If you know something I don’t know about this plant, or have a recipe you have tried, I would love to hear from  you.

 


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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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Peony Jelly

Here is a way to preserve the exquisite colour and scent of your peonies – a flower which graces our gardens for an all too short period in the early summer. Serve it with your favourite buttered scone, as a garnish to fruit salad or just about any other dessert. 

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Freshly picked peonies

I have recently been experimenting with floral flavours from my garden as they appear – just the edible ones of which there are more than you would think. The easiest way to use them is often mixing them half and half with sugar, grinding them and allowing them to dry to be used as a sweetener. Jellies, perhaps the most obvious use, are a little more challenging. Pectin and some form or acid are necessary to get the desired consistency are necessary, but working out the ideal proportions and cooking time have proved to be a little challenging, leaving me at times with something either too thin or too thick. Also, not all pectins are made equal, so even when following a recipe the results can be disappointing.

Peony Jelly on Punk Domestics

For my first effort, I used a combination of white and red flowers – being careful to pick the ones with the best scent. I also used liquid pectin which might have been the reason that I needed a suspiciously large amount (2 packages) and long period of cooking. The result was satisfactory, the colour and flavour were better than I had hoped for, but the recipe was just too complicated and required too much cooking to share. So a second effort was called for.

This time I chose them for the colour – mostly red and some pink. I used powdered pectin, Certo pectin crystals to be exact. The cooking time was reduced by about one third and the consistency was perfect. While the white ones did give a beautiful reddish amber colour, the red and pink produced a stunning ruby colour, so if colour matters, go for the red as long as they have a good strong scent. This picture shows the difference of colour, although in photographs the contrast is not so pronounced.

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Second batch on left

Peony Jelly

Ingredients
4 cups peony petals, tightly packed
4 cups boiling water
1/2 lemon
1/2 package certo pectin crystals
2 cups sugar

Method: Put the petals in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Use a plate on top to press them down and make sure they are all covered in water. Leave to infuse for 6 hours. Strain them through a cloth and ring tightly to get all the liquid out. Discard the petals. Pour this liquid (I had 2 cups) into a pot, add the strained juice of the half lemon, the pectin and 2 cups of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, until it reaches 215 degrees F or 104 C if you have a thermometer. Otherwise you can put a small spoonful on a chilled dish and and when it cools it should set. Also, it is ready when the bubbling becomes so vigorous it does not subside when you put a spoon in it.

Pour it into sterilised jars and let cool. This recipe made 6 1/4 pint jars

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Petals after soaking for 6 hours in water

There are so many ways to use floral jellies. One of my favourites is to use it to sweeten tea while sometimes with fresh buttered bread or biscuits alongside tea is preferred. It also works well as a garnish.

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Fruit and granola topped with plain yogurt and jelly

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #124, Love in the Kitchen and Spades, Spatulas and Spoons.


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Rhubarb Flowers

DSC03071.JPGWell-established rhubarb plants tend to produce large bulbous flowers which quickly grow into large frilly masses. They can appear soon after the rhubarb is ripe for picking, and I always instinctively removed  and disposed of them knowing that once the flowers get going, the rhubarb will stop producing.DSC03079.JPG

I might at least have collected them to make a bouquet, but into the compost they went along with all the leaves of the plant. Once I learned that the flowers were edible, I was keen for my rhubarb to bolt, which with the hot spell we had recently is exactly what happened. Of course, knowing something is edible and figuring how to use it when there is not much literature on the subject opens the way for some more kitchen experiments.

The flowers can be picked at any stage – the tightly furled pinkish bulbs at first or later the loose creamy blossoms. Just be sure to remove any leaves which are still clinging to the early blooms as they are poisonous as are all rhubarb leaves.

I tried a number of things with them. First, I roasted some with vegetables such as kale, onions and mushrooms all drizzled with oil. Not as strongly flavoured or as sour as the rhubarb stock, they added a very tasty, slightly tart flavour. They did not get crisp as I had imagined – just soft. Still, they did add some interest to the usual roasted medley. DSC03077.JPG

I also added some to a salad. Delicious if I may say so myself.DSC03080.JPG

I also added them to pancake batter. Where I was using 2 cups of buckwheat flour I added 1 cup of flowers, broken into small pieces. It did not change the texture noticeably, but had a nice flavour, a little reminiscent of persimmons. Served with honeysuckle syrup it seemed a fitting breakfast for the season.DSC03081.JPG

With some flowers left over I dehydrated them and hope to use them in future recipes. Maybe they’ll find their way into this year’s Christmas cake!

Linked to Fiesta Friday, La Petite Casserole, and La Petite Paniere.


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Honeysuckle Ice Cream

The flavour of honeysuckle is, as the name suggests, just like honey. And like honey, it can be used to flavour so many desserts, at least as long as the short season allows. If you have a good source of this late spring flower, here is just one way to enjoy its sweetness.DSC03091.JPGI only discovered the honeysuckle growing on our property a couple of years ago, and this year the number of bushes seems to have multiplied. I don’t really believe that is possible – probably I just am able to distinguish them more easily from the masses of lilacs that bloom around the same time because now I know they’re there. In fact, I have spotted honeysuckle regularly on the road, most of the way between here in E. Ontario and New York City, so I know our garden is no exception.DSC02122

Last year I accidentally made a honeysuckle syrup which has been used to flavour many a dessert since then. However, for blog purposes I wanted to come up with something different this year,  and ice cream seemed a good choice. It did not give me the rich red colour of my syrup, or any colour at all to speak of. Next time I will add a few hibiscus petals to brighten the colour. But the flavour was a resounding success, and the idea of honey flavoured ice cream is too good to abandon on account of lack of colour.

Speaking of colour, I did not use a custard base recipe because I didn’t want the egg colour to overwhelm the pink, although if you have yellow honeysuckle, it would be a good choice. The recipe I came up with is kind of a hybrid of frozen yogurt and ice cream, and it was the softest, creamiest ice cream I’ve had yet. And perhaps the easiest I have ever made.

Honeysuckle Ice Cream

Ingredients

2 cups 20% cream

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 cups honeysuckle flowers

1 cup yogurt (preferably full fat)

Method

Heat the cream and sugar until the mixture steams a little but does not boil. Stir constantly to dissolve the sugar. Mix the flowers into the hot liquid and allow them to infuse for a few hours (I left them overnight) in the fridge.

Strain the yogurt through a cloth lined sieve. To speed up this process I put a heavy bowl on top. Strain the flower mixture and add the yogurt to the liquid. Process in an ice cream maker. If you don’t have one, just pour it into a cold bowl, put it in the freezer and stir vigorously every 30 minutes until it is frozen through.

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Linked to Fiesta Friday #122, Frugal Hausfrau, and Aharam. Thank you to Angie, Mollie and Aruna for hosting this week’s event.

Related posts: Salted Caramel Ice Cream; Olive Oil Ice Cream with Balsamic Wild Strawberries; Anise Hyssop and Peach Ice Cream; Rhubarb Ginger Ice Cream; Sea Buckthorn Gelato


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Dandelion Blossom Madeleines

Here is a seasonal and tasty take on the classic French madeleines. Just add a few petals from everybody’s favourite spring flower to a simple cake recipe and voilà!DSC03042.JPG

I have made many variations of madeleines in the past. A simple batter of butter, eggs and flour, plus whatever flavouring you like, be it vanilla, lemon, lavender or chocolate makes a perfect treat to have with your tea. As I’ve recently come across recipes using dandelion flowers in muffins and quick breads, I thought why not make something just a bit fancier.

A couple of pointers on this recipe. You will need just the petals of the flower. Snip off the base and remove as much of the green as possible. Usually I find a few specks remain, but that is not a problem. If you have a madeleine pan, all the better. If not, small muffin tins could be used. The batter should be well chilled before baking, as should be the baking tin. This will give you a better shape with the distinctive hump which gives it its form.

Dandelion Blossom Madeleines

Ingredients

1 cup fresh dandelion petals

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup flour

2 eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla

4 oz  melted butter plus butter for greasing pan

Method

Mix the petals and sugar in a food processor. If not using a food processor, chop the petals as finely as possible. Add the flour to the petals and mash with the back of a spoon to avoid any clumps forming. Beat the eggs and vanilla well and add to the dry mixture. Blend in the melted butter. Cover the batter and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to 24. Grease the baking tin liberally with butter, then place in the freezer to chill it well.

Spoon the batter evenly into the pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes. When ready, the centre will be firm and bounce back when pressed. Best eaten warm, and within two days of baking. Serve plain or with a light sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.

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You may be wondering about the flavour. There is no bitter taste at all – just an aromatic floral flavour. It is comparable to the delicious scent of a spring lawn covered in dandelions – something that I experienced this afternoon as I happened to be cavorting in the garden.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #118, Life Diet Health and GFLife 24/7.

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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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A Forager’s Red and Blue Salad

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You needn’t be a full-time, experienced or savvy forager to take advantage of the wonderful wild food all around us. With simple additions of two or three wild herbs, flowers, seeds or greens, an ordinary dish can be made into something which is visually and nutritionally superior to its standard self. Salads are perhaps the easiest place to get started. The ingredients will vary from week to week, depending on what is growing in your garden, near-by wild areas or even in your flower pots. Just be sure you know what you are picking, and that it is indeed an edible plant.

My salad today was inspired by what I found in the garden while out weeding. The base for it is what is growing in the garden at this time of year, namely lettuce and cucumbers (of which I have an alarming amount!) and beet greens, which in this case are actually deep red. Beyond that I noticed a lot of red and blue and decided to work with these as if they were my palette for a salady creation.

Even though the colour didn’t fit, I picked some purslane, probably the single most nutritious plant growing in any garden. I have way more this year than any previous year, and am determined to make good use of it while it lasts.

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For the red theme, I also used the young leaves of red amaranth which has successfully seeded itself each year.

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And purple basil.

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For the blue, I used a few chicory flowers for a little bitterness

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and borage flowers for a lot of sweetness, like honey.

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and Johnny-Jump-Ups for a mild wintergreen flavour.

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I considered using the goutweed next to it, but it didn’t fit in with the colour. This was not the only plant that had to be excluded because of its colour.

A few blackberries and a vinaigrette made by mixing some strained blackberry jam into the vinegar before combining it with oil and seasoning.

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The final result was a wonderful mixture of sweet, bitter and sour, light and fresh with some robust flavour not always found in summer salads.

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I will not likely be able to duplicate this exact recipe as one or more of the ingredients will soon no longer be available, but I will continue to experiment with wild ingredients, and hope you will give it a go too.

Related posts:

Gazpacho with purslane

Waldorf salad with purslane