Along the Grapevine


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Beans with Sumac (Two Versions)

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Many people keep sumac powder in their pantries to add some lemony tang and colour, particularly to Middle Eastern dishes. I see it being used in an increasing number of recipes, and am happy that this versatile and tasty spice is catching on. What many people don’t realize is that our local staghorn sumac in Ontario, as well as neighbouring provinces and norther states, is the same product. It is plentiful, easy to identify and gather, has a long shelf life, and is easy to turn into powder or liquid. For information on its nutritional value, I recommend looking at this article.

It has been a tough year for gathering sumac in this area – just too much rain. The rains tend to wash away the tasty bits, so I only collect sumac after a long dry spell. The good thing about winter here is there is little or no rain, and the sumac is still good for picking, so I set off last week to restock my pantry. A full five minutes of picking off a few clusters of berries was sufficient to fill a sack to be dried or soaked.

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I have figured out a few things about preserving sumac.

First, when drying, it is simpler to dry the whole cluster. It doesn’t take any longer, and the berries are easier to remove when dry. Just pop them all in a single layer in a low oven or dehydrator and leave them until they feel completely dry, about five hours. Each cluster is made up of several small cones, so if you just pull them apart, you can easily rub the berries off right down to the centre stalk.

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The dried berries need only be ground (I use a coffee grinder) and then sifted.

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The second thing I learned is if you want a liquid infusion, just covering them with tepid water and letting them soak for anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours. Strain off the liquid through a cloth. I then repeated this process with more water and the second batch was as dark and tasty as the first. I prefer this method to simmering them, which although gives a deeper infusion, will destroy the vitamin C. If cooking with the infusion anyway, this is not a problem, but when I use the product raw, it is best to preserve its full nutritional value.

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Now that I have a good stock of sumac, I will be posting more recipes using this super local super food. Meanwhile, I did make a recipe for baked beans I have been meaning to get to for some time now. A ridiculously easy and satisfying dish for the winter months, it needed a bit of a makeover to move with the times. The addition of sumac gives it a mildly fruity flavour and richer colour than the original recipe. It is as easy to make a big batch as a small batch, and any extra can be frozen for later use without losing any of its original flavour or texture.

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I divided the recipe in half – to make one vegan and the other with meat. For the meat version, I used pork crackling left over from my lard rendering, but bacon, pork or sausage, raw or cooked, would work just as well.

Beans with Sumac


Ingredients

3 cups cooked navy beans

1 cup onion, chopped

1 (or more) clove garlic, chopped

1/2 cup pork crackling (for a meat version)

1/2 tsp dried mustard powder

2 tsp chili powder

2 Tbsp sumac

1 tsp salt

1 cup pureed tomatoes

2 Tbsp dark molasses

1 cup sumac juice or water

Method

Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan or slow cooker. Bring to a boil and then simmer gently, covered, for 3-4 hours. Add more liquid if they become too dry.

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I am bringing this hearty winter dish to Angie’s 51st Fiesta Friday. You are cordially invited to drop in and join the party, with or without a contribution of your own. You are sure to meet some talented bloggers and find some original and tantalizing recipes. Hope to see you there!


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Feral Pears: Where Looks Don’t Matter

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Pear Tree

At this time of year, wild fruit is the easiest to find, although you might want to hurry before the real frost hits. The trees have lost their leaves, and the apples or pears are very visible on the almost naked limbs. There are probably plenty more on the ground too! The other day, I managed to pick a bucket each of pears and apples. The apples I used for my Turkish delight – but unaccustomed to finding pears, I wanted to use them in as many ways as possible – even with this small amount.

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Feral pears

Feral fruit, i.e. from fruit trees which have been abandoned and left to grow willy nilly, are a great source for cooking. They may be small, irregular, and have a few blemishes on the skin, but I find I can always count on them to be flavourful, chemical free and just plain free. I only buy organic pears and apples from the markets since the others are notorious for their chemical content, but these can be costly and hard to find, so when available I am more than happy to forage for them. I collected a mixture of pears with light green, brown, yellow and pink skins. I have no idea what variety they had been originally, but presume they have been hybridized.

With my small harvest, this is what I did:

Dehydrate: This method is not only a practical way to preserve and store the fruit, but results in a sweetness and flavour surpasses the raw fruit. To dehydrate pears, unlike apples, it is best to peel them, because the skin is tough and gritty. I did not soak them in an ascorbic acid infusion to prevent browning because I planned to use them baking, the colour didn’t matter and the taste is the same. If you want to preserve the colour, soak them for a few minutes in a solution of the juice of one lemon to one cup of water. I used a dehydrator because the recommended temperature is between 135 and 160 degrees F and my oven does not register that low. They are ready when they feel dry but are still a bit flexible, not brittle. Let them cool and store in bags or jars.

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Dehydrated pear pieces

Because I had peeled them, I had some very nice organic peels to use up. Taking my cue from a trusted fellow blogger, Urban Nettle who recently wrote about using the skins of russet apples to make a sugar-like powder, I decided to do the same with my pear skins. They need to be dehydrated until they are quite brittle. Once cooled, they can be ground to a fine powder and used as a sweetener. The taste is very sweet and the texture granular – much like sugar but with a definite pear flavour. I look forward to experimenting with this new (for me) ingredient.

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Dehydrated pear skins

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Powdered pear skins

Scrap Vinegar: With some pears still to use, I decided to make an actual recipe, which meant more peeling and more peels, so a scrap vinegar seemed in order.  The most quoted authority on this subject is Sandor Elix Katz and his book “Wild Fermentation” where the science behind this method is fully explained. It seems to be catching on, and no wonder, since it means you can turn all kinds of scraps – peels, cores, over-ripe fruit into a tasty and nutritious vinegar. To do this, I loosely filled a quart jar about half full with the peels and added two heaping tablespoons of raw honey. I then almost filled the jar with non-chlorinated water, put the lid loosely on and left to ferment in a cool place out of direct light. Stirring once a day is all the attention it needs for about a week when it gets fizzy, after which time it can be strained and left to ferment another few days, depending on how strong you want the result to be. This can be used as you would any vinegar, or mixed into a drink.

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Fermenting pear skins and cores

 

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Strained pear scrap vinegar

This vinegar will have to sit a few more days before I can use it, but at this point it has a delicious fruity scent. The rest of the pears I roasted and used them to make a vegan stuffing which I will post within the next couple of days

Feral Pears: Where looks don't matter on Punk Domestics


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Fermented Unripe Blueberries

If you have been following this blog lately, you will have noticed that I have started to ferment many of my wild edibles from the garden. It is my new favourite method for preserving most of my harvest, and for using as a base for some interesting dishes. I mentioned that I had bought some air locks which I intended to use. My usual method is simply to pour a brine over whatever (e.g. vegetables, cucumbers, ramps) with whatever flavourings and spices I feel like using, weigh them down to keep them submerged, cover with a paper towel or cheesecloth to keep the bugs out, and that is it. Just wait a few days until the taste is right, put a lid on it and into the fridge. I have also used whey instead of the brine, but I seem to be favouring the brine method. I did promise that once I figured out the airlock, I would share it.

The one fermentation I have done with the airlock is with green blueberries instead of wild unripe grapes, which I would have used had I had any. Having shown up rather late to the blueberry picking, I found mostly green berries on the bushes, so decided I would have to figure out something to do with them. My first experiment was with my version of verjus, which has been an excellent substitute for vinegar in salad dressings. Those which remained, I fermented.

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The airlock is the same that is used in making beer or wine, and can be purchased wherever supplies for this are sold for between $2-3. The idea is that it allows carbon dioxide to escape while not letting any air in. You will need a bung, or rubber stopper as well as the airlock. The stopper looks like a cork with a hole through it. The airlock is fitted into the hole once the outer part is filled with water up to a line, the inner part place over the middle tube. The lid has small holes in it to let the carbon dioxide escape. Here’s what it all looks like.

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I filled a sterilized jar about 3/4 full with blueberries, covered it with the brine – made from 2 Tbsp salt per 1 quart of non-chlorinated water. I carved a hole in the lid in which to fit the bung, set the airlock in and left it for about 10 days – until lots of bubbles formed on top. The time will vary depending on the temperature of your kitchen, but ideally this should be not above 75 degrees F.  Then I put a regular lid on it, and put it in the fridge.

To try these probiotic-rich berries, I decided to add them to a salad made with what I had in the garden, which this week is beans and potatoes.

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I blanched the beans, boiled and peeled some blue potatoes (any colour of potato will work but I wanted to stick with the blue and green theme I had going), a mustard and garlic vinaigrette, and my fermented blueberries. By mistake, I added salt to the dressing, and thought maybe with the salty berries it would be too much, but as it happens the blueberries did not taste that salty, and the seasoning was just right. DSC01168

These would be good with just about any salad, but I would like to try them with fish, and possibly in a sandwich filling. This same method can be used with most other berries, though not strawberries. I could even be done with actual blueberries! but it was a great way to use the unripe ones.


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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
  • Print

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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Lacto-Fermented Ramps

For this week’s Fiesta Friday, I had planned to bring a beautiful purple drink made of dog violets which are growing everywhere around me today. They are so beautiful, and I wanted to preserve them in a festive way. I spent much time picking them, then I candied some which are still drying and that was a job and half in itself. I then made syrup which is something less than the remarkable blue I was aiming for. Here are some pictures of how I spent my morning. It was entertaining, but for nought.

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In the meantime, I was ready to try my latest experiment – lacto-fermented ramps, which I hadn’t even intended to write about but they proved to be so good I wanted to share it with Angie’s guests, especially those who like me have never preserved anything this way before.

Lacto-fermentation is an age-old method of preserving which actually makes good food even better and more nutritious. The sugars in the food feed on bacteria that grow in the fermentation process, which converts the sugar to lactic acid and gives you all those great probiotics we hear much about.

There are so many recipes out there for fermenting just about anything you can think of, and such a variety of methods, I wasn’t quite sure I would be up for the task. Luckily for me, one article said all you needed besides the food you were fermenting was water, salt and clean jars. So that is all I used for this first foraged foray.

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Fresh Ramp Leaves

I sliced all my ramp leaves into strips, lay them on a large casserole dish and sprinkled salt on each layer. For about 4 cups of ramps, I used 2 tsp of fine sea salt. I let them sit for about 4 hours, hoping that the salt would draw out water. I even pressed them a little with a wooden spoon, but they remained pretty dry.

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Leaves after a couple of hours mixed with salt

I then stuffed them in a sterilized jar, pressing them down as I did so as not to leave any air pockets. Then I covered them with non-chlorinated water, put a weight (a small glass jar) on top and covered them loosely with a lid. Every day, I checked that none of the green was surfacing and pressed the weight down a little if they were. After about three days I noticed a few white bubbles on the top which indicates that fermentation is happening. Finally today, the ninth day, I decided to give them a try. This jar below is not the one they were fermented in, which is why you can see air bubbles.

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Fermented Ramps 9 Days Old

I knew I was onto something because they were delicious. The flavour of the ramps was intensified by this process, and they were a little more tangy than the steamed or fried ones I had tried just a week before. I could have added interesting spices and other flavours, but for my first attempt, wanted to make sure I understood the process. I served them just as they were, although I had several thoughts on how they could be used in other recipes – quiche, pizza, spreads and soups to name a few.

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Fermented Ramps with Scrambled Eggs

Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but I am so excited about all the possibilities this has opened up to me and look forward to continuing to experiment with this super economical and healthful method of preservation. Sadly, no more ramps this season, but as other plants mature in my garden, there should be plenty of new ingredients to keep me busy.

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