Along the Grapevine


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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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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.