Along the Grapevine


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Out with the Old, in with the Fermented

At this point in the holidays, some of us are looking for ways to render our indulgences somewhat healthful. These two shrubs are made with fermented ginger and apple. The ginger could be replaced with a dry ginger ale or better yet a ginger beer, but that would take the shrub out of it, which is the really healthful part. Likewise, the apple version could be made with cider vinegar. It is also worth noting that you could omit the alcohol, and that would be very healthful, but not to everyone’s taste.

Shrubs are usually made with vinegar and some kind of fruit syrup. They are delicious and definitely worth trying, but I find that using the liquids from fermented fruits are even better than the vinegar, and of course offer all the probiotics therein. If you have never fermented fruit before, this is a good reason to start. These are just two of my most favourites.

I have described the method for fermenting fruit scraps in the part on scrap vinegar in this post, and how to make the ginger ferment, called a bug, in this post.

These measurements each make one cocktail.

Cocktail #1: Apple Bourbon Shrub

1 part liquid from fermented apples

1 part bourbon

3 parts soda water

a splash of bitters (I used rhubarb bitter)DSC03333.JPG

Cocktail #2: Moscow Mule Shrub

2 ounces liquid from fermented ginger

3 ounces  soda water

1.5 ounces vodka

1 tsp lime juice

1 tsp maple syrup (or to taste)

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As a Happy New Year greeting to all, I share this “Canadian Gothic” picture made with some of this glorious white stuff recently besnowed on us along with a few foraged bits and pieces.DSC03318.JPGLinked to: Fiesta Friday #152


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Wild Grape Curd

DSC03249.JPGA delicious adaptation of lemon curd, this wild grape dessert has just as many uses. By using fresh or frozen wild grape juice, it is ready in a matter of minutes. It can be used as a topping for pound cake, ice cream or baked in tarts or pastry or even just as is – it’s that good. All you will need is a few wild grapes which are available now for the picking!

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This is a rare year in S.E. Ontario. The grapes appeared about 6 weeks ago and are still going strong. It is the first time I have been able to harvest them even after a frost which is when they are at their sweetest. The only drawback is there are few leaves left on the bushes, so they are a little harder to identify. Be sure that they are in fact grapes and not Virginia Creeper. The former grow in a dense, elongated bunch as seen in the photo above, while the Virginia Creeper grows in a widespread bunch, and have redder, fleshier stems as seen below.

20091003153904 Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) vine with blue berries - Oakland Co.JPGIn a past post, I produced the juice by heating the berries until soft, then straining them This time I tried a different method as I wanted some fresh, uncooked juice for making sodas and juice. For 6 cups of fruit, I added two cups of water and then pressed them through the food mill. It was this juice I used for making the wild grape curd.

Wild Grape Curd

Ingredients

1 cup grape juice

4 eggs and 1 egg yolk

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup butter, cut into small pieces of about 1 Tbsp. each

Method

Beat together the first three ingredients in a heatproof bowl. Place the bowl (or use a double boiler) over simmering water and stir constantly. Once the mixture coats a metal spoon (about 8-10 minutes) remove it from the heat and gradually add the butter one spoonful at a time and mix until it has all melted and blended in with the curd. Cool and refrigerate. It will keep for five days in the fridge.

I also used this same juice to make a quick and easy jam by mixing together 2 cups of juice, 1 1/2 cups sugar (1/3 cup of which was lavender scented) and 4 Tbsp chia seeds. I cooked all this together on the stove top until sufficiently thickened. I had never heard of making jam this way, but have since learned it’s been done before. No wonder, it so easy, can be made in small amounts and is also great for baking. I used it to make pop tarts.

As for the seeds and skin which get separated for the juice, no need to throw them all out. Fill a jar about 1/4 full with the pulp, then fill with white wine vinegar and allow to sit for at least three weeks before straining, longer if possible, and you will have a fruity vinegar which can be used as is or reduced and thickened with butter to make a gourmet sauce.DSC03268.jpgRelated posts: Wild Grape Ketchup;  Burmese Cake with Wild Grape Glaze.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #143; Cooking with Aunt Juju, Spoon in a Saucepan.


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From Lawn to Table

Even in times of drought such as we are currently experiencing in this area, the wild greens are flourishing and there for the picking. Our vegetable gardens are still struggling, and as I am not a keen shopper I am happy that our lawn is such a great provider. This recipe is another example of what you can do with some of those nutritious, albeit pesky weeds. And if you don’t have such a lawn, you can find all these in any good foraging spots such as meadows, hedgerows and abandoned areas – even in the city.

The main ingredient for this is lambsquarters. This particular weed is most prolific, and as I tidy up my vegetable plots I still have to throw out the bulk of it. I have taken to drying it for use in the winter – in the dehydrator, the oven (at a very low temperature) and even on the dashboard of any vehicle parked in the sun, the most economical method of all. But be careful – vehicles can get really hot, so I had to stir them every hour or so to prevent from burning.

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I also used young goutweed leaves (top left) to give it a herbal flavour, and some plantain (on the right). The lambsquarters are below the goutweed. At the last minute, after taking this shot, I added dandelion leaves.

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All these mixed with some seasonings and topped with eggs made for an easy, inexpensive and super nutritious meal – and yes, even delicious! You can add more spices and herbs as you choose, and mix and match whichever wild greens you have growing. This is how I did it.

Foraged Greens and Eggs

Ingredients

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp chopped green chili pepper

1 tsp cumin powder

salt and pepper to taste

4 cups lambsquarters

1/2 cup goutweed leaves (only the young ones from plants which have not yet flowered)

a handful of dandelion leaves

1/2 cup plantain leaves

4 eggs

Method

If using plantain, boil it in water for four minutes, drain and set aside. It is tougher than the other greens and will blend with them better if cooked longer.

Fry the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and chili and fry another couple of minutes. Add the cumin, salt and pepper. Add enough water to the pan just to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Stir in all the greens and cook at medium heat until they have all wilted completely and the water has evaporated. Break four eggs on top of the mixture, cover the pot with a lid and allow to simmer for about 4 minutes, or until the eggs have cooked sufficiently. Remove from the heat and serve. I sprinkled a little sumac powder on top for garnish.

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Linked to Fiesta Friday #129; The Not So Creative Cook and Faith, Hope, Love and Luck.


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Fermented Wild Grape Leaves

I couldn’t let this season pass without giving a nod to my signature ingredient – wild grapes. Who knows if there will be any grape harvest with the serious drought we have been experiencing, but the leaves are as lush as ever and begging to be picked. You can read about how to identify them, where to find them and why you would want to here.

Always looking for new ideas, I decided this year to ferment them. Fermenting is arguably the most healthful way of prolonging their shelf life, provided they are stored properly. The flavour also gets a boost, – no disappointment there.DSC03139.JPG

The only consideration is they do need some acid added to them, so I decided to use a combination of fresh lemon juice and a little liquid from a previous ferment – in this case wild apples. For every two cups of water, I used a heaping tablespoon of salt, the juice of one half lemon and a tablespoon of liquid from fermented apples. If you don’t have any fermented liquid, just double the amount of lemon juice. After removing any trace of stem, I stacked the leaves in piles of five, rolled them like cigars, and placed them in a mason jar. I poured the brine over them to cover and allowed them to sit at room temperature for six days. It is important to keep the leaves completely submerged, so I used a porcelain egg cup, placed upside down on top as a weight. By the sixth day, shorter or longer depending on the room temperature, the bubbling will subside and the liquid will have a good, tart taste. At that point, put a lid on them and store in a dark, cool place. I do not recommend using a square jar like mine as round ones are safer – less likely to succumb to any pressure built up, but I intend to open mine every few days to be on the safe side and let any gas escape. Even in a cool dark place, fermentation will continue so the occasional ‘burping’ is recommended if storing over a long period.

Fermented Wild Grape Leaves on Punk Domestics

Like any pickle or fermented vegetable, they are a great addition to salads and dips. They could also be filled and rolled like dolmas, something I intend to try next. I used some as a base to a quinoa salad, made with garden herbs, cooked sweet potato and fresh red currants. DSC03164.JPGRelated posts: Grape Leaves with Roasted Vegetables;  Pickerel in Grape Leaves; Quiche in Grape Leaf Shells; Grape Leaf, Herb and Yogurt Pie; Vegetarian Dolmas; Dolmas with Meat and Rice


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Fiddleheads – Dehydrated

Here is a method for preserving fiddleheads that will allow you to enjoy them any time of year just as if they were freshly picked.

I wrote about foraging fiddleheads (the young sprouts of the ostrich fern) in a post last year. Fortunately, this is another great year for them and I was able to pick even more than usual. It is one of those seasonal treats you generally enjoy fresh. Only if you have gathered way more than you can consume immediately do you worry about how to preserve them. Freezing is not really an option as it changes the texture too much. I have not tried pickling or fermenting them as I expect again the texture might not be so appetizing. So I resorted to dehydrating them, and with great success.DSC00651

First, they have to be cooked, boiled in water for about ten minutes, otherwise they are not easy to digest. After boiling and draining them, use all you can as is, in a stir fry, omelette or whatever. Any excess, dehydrate at 125 degrees F (52 C) for about three hours. They will look diminished and wizened and be very crisp. Store them in a cool dark place in a sealed container. To use for cooking, simply rehydrate them with hot water. In about two minutes they will regain their size, texture, colour and flavour. Even the tiny stems! Drain them and use them as you would fresh ones.DSC03067

In the aforementioned post of last year, I used fresh ones to make fried pakoras. This year I tried baking instead of frying them. Preparing them in the same way to cook, then placing the coated fiddleheads on a parchment lined cookie sheet and baking them in a hot oven (500 degrees F) for ten minutes gives a softer, less crisp pakora. Either way, they are delicious.DSC03066

Fiddleheads - Dehydrated on Punk Domestics


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Savoury Ramps Pastries

DSC03053This is turning out to be a great year for ramps (aka wild leeks or wild garlic). The cool weather has prolonged the season and I had the good fortune to have access to a bonanza of this seasonal delicacy on the property of a kind and gracious friend. If you don’t have access to them, you are likely to find them at good markets in any area where they are grown. For information on how to identify and pick them refer to this post here.DSC03059.JPG

I used a good bunch of them to ferment, perhaps my favourite use of them, but with so many I had the perfect opportunity to devise a new recipe. Sauteed ramps mixed with eggs and bechamel baked in a puff pastry made a simple yet elegant appetizer. No need for any extraneous ingredients – the ramps work just fine on their own.

Savoury Ramps Pastries

Ingredients

3 Tpsp olive oil

6 cups ramps, chopped

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp flour

1 cup milk

4 eggs

1 tsp salt

black pepper to taste

1 pound puff pastry dough

Method

Sautee the ramps in the oil until just cooked – about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool. Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour and gradually add the milk, continuing to stir and cook over a medium heat until the sauce thickens. Set aside to cool.

Divide the pastry in two and roll out each half on a floured surface to fit a pan measuring 9 x 12 inces (or equivalent). Line the pan with one half. Beat three eggs, then add the cream sauce, sauteed ramps, salt and pepper. Pour this mixture onto the pastry and cover with the second sheet. Secure the top edges to the bottom layer to prevent the top layer from shrinking. Brush the top with 1 beaten egg. Bake in a 400 degree F. oven for about half an hour, until the pastry is puffy and golden.

Cut the pastry in serving size pieces with a sharp knife.

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This can be served warm or at room temperature, as a side, appetizer or main dish. It also freezes well and makes a perfect picnic treat.

Linked to Fiesta Friday, Safari of the Mind and Fabulous Fare Sisters.

 


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Solomon Seal Shoots

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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