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

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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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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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Spruce Tip Gravlax

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Last year at about this time I collected spruce tips, the new growth found on the end of the tree’s branches. I ground and dried some with coarse salt and some with sugar as described in this post. I have since used these ingredients in marinades, baking and even a salty caramel ice cream.

The problem with foraging is that some things are only available for a few days, and by the time I collect them, make a recipe and post it, it can be too late for anyone to use until the following year. So before the tips make their appearance, I decided to show another way to use this fleeting but worthwhile flavouring.

Having recently been treated to some gravlax (cured salmon) made with juniper berries a friend made, I thought of trying it with my preserved tips from last year. I followed my friend’s method for curing the salmon, substituting spruce for the juniper.

Spruce Tip Gravlax


Ingredients

1.5 lbs (approx.) salmon fillet with skin on

3 Tbsp spruce tip salt

3 Tbsp spruce tip sugar

1 tsp black pepper

Method

Mix together the salt, sugar and pepper. Cover the bottom of a dish with half the mixture. Place the salmon fillets on top skin side down and sprinkle the rest on top. Give it a little rub. Cover with plastic wrap and place a weight on top to press it down. A plate with something heavy on it works fine. I used a large stone. Place it in the refrigerator, and each day for five days turn the salmon. On the fifth day, uncover it and either wipe off the excess salt mixture or run it under cold water and pat dry.

Slice it very thin with a sharp knife. It will keep in the fridge for about a week and can be frozen.

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I served them on crackers with cucumbers to bring to Angie’s Fiesta Friday 66 this week, co-hosted this week by Anna @ Anna International. 

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Sumac Mead

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Having successfully made and consumed mead this winter with a simple solution of roughly one part raw honey to five parts non-chlorinated water and allowing it to ferment for two to three weeks, I decided to try it with the sumac juice (pictured above). This juice was made by soaking staghorn sumac berries in water for a couple of hours and straining.

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I used the juice in the same proportion to the honey and left it covered for three weeks stirring every few days, although it was quite good after two. The longer it is left, the better it is. Once it goes a little fizzy and tastes good, you know it’s ready to drink or store. With the sumac mead, I strained it before serving to remove any of the sediment.

If you haven’t tried fermenting before, mead is a great place to start. Nothing could be easier, and it makes a delicious wine substitute. I tried to measure the alcohol content, but haven’t figured out yet how to use my special thermometer for the purpose. Fellow drinkers have guessed it to be about 7%, but I can’t guarantee that.

I also have no way of knowing what the PA reading is. I just know it tastes fine – actually much better than fine. It is a tad sweeter than any wine I normally drink, but still light and dry enough to be enjoyed with dinner. The flavour of the sumac adds just a touch of tang to the sweetness of the honey.

I must have mentioned the health benefits of sumac in one or more of my previous posts on the subject, but it is worth noting that sumac has many vitamins and minerals including a good amount of Vitamin C. It also has  anti-fungal, anti oxidant and anit-inflammaroty properties. Given that it is in its raw state and fermented to boot, I think this might actually be classified as a health drink.

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Perhaps after this experiment, I will have to try my hand at sumac wine, but this drink is so good I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble.


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Maple Chestnut Nog (Vegan)

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This is the time of year when we really can make the most of the maple syrup we made in the spring. Not much of it gets used during the summer months, so I find I still have a good reserve to experiment with. Of course, there are always the tried and true recipes, but using it as a sweetener for much more than baking and pancakes/waffles has become one of my favourite challenges during the winter months.

So for this first Fiesta Friday of 2015, I am bringing a vegan version of egg nog to drink a toast to all my friends at this event – especially to the ever gracious hostess, Angie @thenovicegardener  and her two co-hosts this week. Mr Fitz @CookingwithMrFitz and Kaila @GF Life 24/7.

I often choose to pair maple with walnuts – an easy match for so many recipes. For a change, I used chestnuts. They are rich and creamy, and I believe the sweetest of all the nuts. They are no longer grown in this area, and it is difficult to find really good ones, but I made use of what I was able to find. A vegan milk, such as almond, a hint of spice, maple syrup and possibly a splash of dark rum make this a wonderful alternative to the traditional drink.

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If you don’t have fresh chestnuts available, you might find tinned chestnut puree in specialty shops, or use unsalted cashews in their place.

If using fresh chestnuts, you will need to roast them first. Simply score a cross with the end of a sharp knife through the shell on the flat side. Roast them in the oven at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the nut feels soft when pierced with a knife. Allow to cool and peel off the outer shell. Pour boiling water over the nuts and leave for a couple of minutes. Cool under cold water, and the papery layer under the shell should slip off easily. Then chop and measure.

For this recipe, I used 3/4 a cup of chestnuts, hot water to cover, 2 cups of almond milk, two Tbsp maple syrup and 2 Tbsp of dark rum. This last ingredient can be omitted, in which case you might want a bit more syrup to taste.

Once chestnut mixture has cooled, put everything in the blender and process until it is completely smooth. Chill and pour in glasses. Sprinkle a little nutmeg on top.

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I recently posted a recipe for Dandelion Gin Fizz, a refreshingly light “superdrink” – a term I use advisedly because it is made with lacto-fermentation. Naturally fermented drinks are made with a starter, much as a sourdough bread is. The starter I used for that recipe was whey, perhaps the most common method. Another method is to use a ‘root bug’,  often made with ginger, and fittingly called a ‘ginger bug’. This involves allowing some root and sugar to ferment in non-chlorinated water for a few days in an anaerobic environment (no air) until it becomes fizzy – and delicious. This can be a base for all sorts of soda-type drinks, but so far I have only experimented with dandelion flowers.

I did not have access to a good quality, organic ginger, but read somewhere that any edible root will work. Even dandelion roots, of which I have many high quality, fresh and organic ones available – and they are free.

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I followed this recipe for ginger bug, substituting the ginger with dandelion root.

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To make the bug, I put 1 Tbsp of clean, chopped dandelion root with an equal amount of sugar in an 8oz mason not quite full of chlorine-free water. Just stir until the sugar dissolves. Every day, add a tsp. each of chopped root and sugar and give it another stir. Cover the jar with a clean cloth (to prevent any bugs of the other sort from getting in). After 3-5 days, you will see a lot of white bubbles forming on top of the liquid. I also taste it each day to see how it is doing. It is slightly sweet, and each day a little bit fizzier.

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When it is ready, you will want to add it to your dandelion flower infusion mixed with sugar syrup – all at room temperature. For this batch I had 2 cups of infusion and 1/2 cup of syrup. I added 1/2 cup of ‘bug’ and let it sit for about three days, covered with a cloth and stirring each day. Once it has fizzed up, it can be capped and refrigerated, but with the small amount I was making, we didn’t have any to store. I hope to master the storing process on my next batch.

The remaining root bug can be stored in the fridge, and used for making more by adding more of the same ingredients. I have not yet tried this repeat process either.

To serve, I added 4 oz. of gin and a little lemon to taste, but a non-alcoholic version would work just as well.

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I couldn’t detect any difference between this drink and the whey based one in terms of flavour. I intend to try it with other roots and, of course, other flavours. Any readers who have experience with this, I would love to hear what you used and how you made it.

 


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Dandelion Gin Fizz

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There is little time left to collect dandelion flowers this year. My spectacular crop is quickly going to seed, especially those plants which have been left unmowed, and which now exceed the typical maximum height of 45 cm. I was however able to collect a bucket full today from the mowed areas to make the season’s last batch of my new favourite summer drink – dandelion gin fizz.

There is no need to give descriptions of this plant for purposes of identification – if you have them anywhere in your area, you already know them. As for foraging, just make sure that they are picked only in clean areas, free of pesticides and other chemicals, or contaminated run-off. Around parking lots, train tracks, heavily travelled roads and polluted waters are to be avoided.

Roots, leaves and flowers are all edible. In fact, it is a common culinary and medicinal plant in many parts of the world. For more on the benefits and contraindications, check this post. Unfortunately, its uses and benefits are still relatively unrecognized in this part of the world, which makes it a great source of experiment for curious cooks.

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Which brings me back to my bucket full of flowers. Last year, at about this time, I wrote my first post on dandelions, including recipes using flowers for dandelion pakoras and syrup. Since then, I have come across a few recipes for lacto-fermented soda, such as this one and of course I had to try it. It is easy, economical, and full of all those wonderful pro-biotics found in fermented foods and drinks. I was also intrigued to think that this could be a home-made soft drink. I am not a fan of the overly sweet commercial fizzy drinks, with the exception of tonic water for my G&Ts, which despite its grown-up bitter flavour, has as much sugar as the worst of them. So I was thinking along the lines of a good gin and tonic type drink as a post-gardening/weeding refreshment.

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I made this one with whey as a fermenting agent. For the whey, you can strain some natural, plain yogurt through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. You don’t need much, and it keeps in the fridge for at least a week, and can be frozen. My next batch I will make with a dandelion bug, that is, a fermenting agent made with edible root, water and sugar. Most ‘bugs’ are made from ginger, but in fact any edible root works – so why not a dandelion root? To get a clearer idea of what I am referring to, check out this post for a ginger bug where the process is clearly explained.

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Dandelion Gin Fizz


The Soda

Fill a clean mason jar about 3/4 full with dandelion petals – only the yellow part.

Cover with boiling, filtered water and let stand for about 24 hours.

Strain the mixture, and squeeze out all the liquid you can from the petals.

For every cup of juice, ad 1/4 cup whey and 1/4 cup sugar syrup (made from heating until sugar is dissolved 2 parts sugar to 1 part water).

Cover the jar with a clean cloth and allow to stand for about five days at room temperature stirring once a day.

Small white bubbles will form on the top. If it goes mouldy, then throw it out. When you stir it, check the taste. It will have a dandelion flavour, but should be palatable.

The Gin Fizz

1 1/2 cup dandelion soda

1/3-1/2 cup sugar syrup

juice of 1 lemon

3 oz. gin

ice cubes

Mix the first 4 ingredients and pour into glasses over ice cubes.

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Not as bitter as a commercial tonic, this drink has a mild fruit taste, something like a pear nectar. The fizziness is lighter than a traditional G&T, but it is every bit as refreshing and satisfying.

 

Dandelion Gin Fizz on Punk Domestics