Along the Grapevine


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Japanese Quince Ketchup

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Since I began writing about foraging over five years ago, I have learned that there are more than just wild plants which are usually overlooked for their culinary uses. Sometimes decorative plants which we have deliberately planted solely for their aesthetic appeal can also provide sustenance and flavour, and are as interesting to use as their wild cousins. Lately I have learned to use some of these landscaping plants such as solomon seel, hostas and roses to name just a few.

My Japanese quince bushes (chaenomeles) which I planted from seed a few years ago are just such a plant, and if you happen to have any of these in your garden, there is no need to just let the fruit drop and leave an unsightly mess. And this is the best time of year to harvest them, even after a few light frosts. If you have access to real quinces, (cydonia oblonga), they can be used in this or any of the recipes I have previously written, Japanese quince pastejelly and chutney.

This recipe is for a simple condiment, not so much a recipe as a method. Quantities, spices and sweetness can vary according to your preferences, but I will describe the process and ingredients I used as a start.

I had about two dozen small fruit, most of them still green. I placed the entire fruits in a pot, covered them with water, and cooked them gently until they were completely soft. I also added one red chili pepper to the pot, even though I wasn’t sure at that moment what I was making. Other spices, such as anis, cinnamon or ginger would also be good. Once the fruit was soft, I strained it and returned everything to the pot. At this point, it is very liquid.DSC03623.JPG

Continue to cook until it thickens, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching. When it is almost at the desired thickness, add some sugar, balsamic vinegar, and a little salt. At this point I measured two cups of fruit to which I added 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar. It then only needs to be cooked until it reaches the desired consistency. And that’s it!

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This makes a fairly tart ketchup, although the level of sweetness is entirely up to you. If using as a glaze, for example, some extra sugar could be added. It can be used anywhere you would the tomato version, and with its intense, exotic flavour, you may find this a preferable alternative.


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Cranberry and Sea Buckthorn Sauce

A delicious variation of the classic cranberry sauce, this recipe combines beautifully the tart fruity flavour of sea buckthorn with cranberries.

This Thanksgiving weekend in Canada I have been hearing lots of discussion on the topic of traditional dishes for this celebration. Among the things I have learned, cranberry sauce is a must, but few people actually like it. I suspect they are talking of the tinned variety, in which case the disdain is well earned, but cranberry sauce is arguably the easiest part of the menu, and making it with fresh berries is about as easy as boiling water. I usually just mix it with a little sugar or honey and water, and if available orange juice instead of water and some orange zest. It goes well not just with the turkey and dressing, but with any vegetarian alternative, with crackers and cheese, and best of all in sandwiches.

This year I decided to add some of my own garden produce – namely sea buckthorn which is now ripe and ready to be picked. If you are not familiar with this berry, please refer to this post. Although this berry is not native to here, it is making its way into markets as its nutritional benefits and sharp flavour are becoming recognized.DSC01282The best way to extract the juice from these berries is to cook them in a pot with a little water for a few minutes, then strain them. The less water you use, the better, but be sure to use enough the pot doesn’t boil dry.

For my cranberry sauce, I used 4 cups of fresh (or frozen) cranberries, 1/2 cup honey (or sugar) and 1 cup of strained sea buckthorn juice. Heat to a gentle boil until the berries start to pop and are all soft. Add more sugar or honey to  taste if you want a sweeter sauce.

DSC03235.JPGDon’t worry if it looks a little runny – it will thicken as it cools. Store any leftovers in a covered jar in the fridge where it will keep for at least 2 weeks. This recipe may even be the biggest hit of your festive dinner this year.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #140, Hostess at Heart and Fabulous Fare Sisters.


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Green Tomato Ketchup

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I don’t suppose I am the only one who had a lot of unripened tomatoes before the frost hit last week. I picked all I could, and tried to think of the quickest and easiest way of using them, but at the same time making something worth the effort.

Just as I was pondering all this, I came across this recipe by Chef Stef at The Kiwi Fruit for a green tomato drink  which I made one batch of. It was, as she promised, delicious – hot or cold, or even spiked. Something like a salad in a glass.

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Wondering what to do with the rest, it occurred to me I had never made ketchup from green tomatoes before, and as ketchup is such a useful staple, it seemed like the best idea for using up the rest of my unripe harvest. In order to make a recipe I could safely can, I looked on line for a tested recipe which you can find here. I made a few changes, adding a bit of ginger, pureeing the mixture and skipping the salting step. I made only half the recipe and ended up with roughly 6 cups.

Green Tomato Ketchup

Ingredients

3 lbs green tomatoes

1 1/2 lbs onion

1 Tbsp salt

1 inch of fresh ginger

1 12 cups cider vinegar

1 3/4 cup sugar

3 Tbsp pickling spices

Method

Chop the tomatoes, onion and ginger and place in a pot. Add salt and vinegar and cook until softened. Puree them in a blender and return to the pot. Add sugar and the spices tied up in a piece of cheesecloth. Bring to a boil and simmer until the mixture thickens, between 40 minutes and a hour.

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If you’ve never made your own ketchup before, you will be surprised at how fresh and flavourful it is compared to the store-bought varieties.

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Green Tomato Ketcup on Punk Domestics

Besides, there are so many kinds of fruit and spices you can use. Other ketchup recipes I have made are:

Rhubarb Crabapple Ketchup

Tomato Ketchup with Sumac

Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

Wild Grape Ketchup

Linked to Fiesta Friday #91


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A Forager’s Branston Pickle

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Having acquired a taste for the most British of pickles, and having most of the necessary ingredients in my garden, it seemed only right that I should create my own version of this family favourite. Branston pickle is a relish made with a mixture of fruit and vegetables in a sticky, sweet, spicy, sour sauce. The main ingredients, carrots, apples, turnips and cauliflower are in season right now, so that is what I started with.

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I made a few changes in order to avoid imports by using nannyberries as described here instead of dates as the sticky sweet part, but if you don’t have any of these you can use dates. Simply substitute one cup of chopped dates soaked in hot water for the berry mixture.

A Forager's Branston Pickle

Ingredients

3 cups nannyberries

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

2 cups cider vinegar

1 lb carrots

1 mediums turnip or swede

1 cup cauliflower florets

1 summer squash or zucchini

3 small onions

3 medium apples

1 pear

1/2 cup pickles

4 cloves minced garlic

1 seeded chili pepper

1 Tbsp dry mustard powder

1 tsp ground allspice

1 cup brown sugar

juice of two lemons

1 tsp salt

2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water

Method

Cook the berries, water and sugar until very soft, about ten minutes. Mash and strain. You will have about 1 cup of berry juice.

Clean and chop all the fruits and vegetables into small pieces. Put everything except the cornstarch mixture in a pot and cook on a medium heat until the carrots and turnip are cooked, but still crunchy – about two hours. Add the cornstarch mixture and heat through until the sauce thickens.

Pour into jars and allow to cool.

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Unsure of whether I could safely can this mixture I plan to freeze the extra amounts. Ideally you should wait a couple of weeks before consuming to give it time to mellow, if you can wait. I couldn’t but I have noticed it just keeps improving with time and we are only at day 8.

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If you want a spicier version, use the seeds of the chili pepper. The quantities of spices I used are on the mild side, but the flavour is very close to the ‘real thing’.

A Forager's Branston Pickle on Punk Domestics

Branston pickle is excellent with cheese or and crackers, cold meats and sandwiches.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #89.


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Bear with me!

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I forage mostly within the confines of our property, except for the odd sortie beyond, usually for plants growing in wetlands. Lately I have gone a few feet beyond our property to a vacant, unused field next door for which I have been given permission to trespass. However, another has recently moved in – one who is a much more serious forager than I and who does not understand that foraging should be done sustainably and with consideration for others. I hope this new tenant does not stay too long, but am reassured that at least by winter he will have lumbered off to hibernate.

I have not seen him, although his relatives have been spotted only a few hundred metres from our house. I had seen his tracks around my favourite raspberry bushes, but wrongly assumed it was from a deer or raccoon. I shan’t be competing with him for these berries – and if I do I will take my trusty bear horn.

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An intrepid houseguest did get uncomfortably close to him, and warned me not to venture much beyond our driveway. I’m not arguing.

Nonetheless, the berries this year are better than I have seen them since we moved here, so I take what I can and where I can. I have enough to make several delicious recipes, beginning with one for pectin-free black raspberry jam.

As this recipe is lower in sugar and acid than most jams, I am not recommending it for canning. In a well sealed container it will last a couple of weeks in the fridge or can be frozen.

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I started by mashing the berries in a pot with a potato masher to extract all the juice I could. For each cup of berries I added one cup of organic sugar plus 1 Tbsp of crabapple paste or dulce de manzana silvestre. This helps thicken it with its natural pectin. A quince paste would work just as well.

Bring to a boil for five minutes and simmer for a further fifteen minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. That’s it! Pour into clean jars and seal. The mixture will thicken when cool. It is excellent as a jam, tart filling or topping for ice cream.


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Eat Shoots and Score Part 2

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Last year at this time I experimented for the first time with lily shoots from the hemerocallis fulva, otherwise known as a ditch lily. These shoots, if picked in the spring when they are no more than 5 inches high, are similar to leeks but sweeter. I approached them with caution because they can cause digestive problems in a small percentage of the population, but having tried them and found them to be more than agreeable, I picked a lot more this year with impunity. See my original recipe here.

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At the same time last year, I also discovered that sturdy leafy plants are ideal for fermenting, resulting in a delicious, sometimes spicy pickle which are a welcome addition to just about any sandwich or snack. So why not increase my stash of ferments with these lilies which are in endless supply – at least for a few weeks each spring.

First – some words of caution.

  • Be sure you are picking the above-mentioned lily and not some other day lily, which look very similar. Some of these are edible, but some are toxic.
  • Pick them when they are 5 in. or smaller. After that they get too fibrous.
  • Try a little to make sure they do not disagree with you.

Like leeks, they need a good washing to remove any dirt after they have been separated from the tubers. Don’t worry if they break apart.

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For the ferment, I used 2 tsp of pickling salt for every four cups of chlorine free water. I also added some garlic and slices of chili peppers to give them a little kick and threw in a few of the larger white tubers scraped clean. Pack the leaves tightly into a jar with whatever spices you choose and pour the brine over them. Weigh them down so that none of the leaves are above the liquid. To do this, I covered them with cheesecloth and placed enough marbles on top to hold them down. A stone or other heavy object which fits well in the jar is recommended. After five days, taste a sample to see if they are ready. There should be a good vinegar-like flavour, but if it is not there yet leave them a few more days until they are to your liking. Cover the jars and store in a cool place.

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Remember, fermenting will still happen, so the flavour will get stronger and you should open the jars once in a while so the pressure doesn’t build up. You will  have some of the tastiest pickles for your burgers, sandwiches or salads for as long as they last or up to 6 months at least (my conservative estimate based on my other ferments).


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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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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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Homemade Ketchups

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Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

If I were permitted only one type of recipe to work on, it would have to be for condiments. Even the simplest dish can be greatly improved with a good quality sauce, chutney, spice mixture or yes, even ketchup. Ketchup has a bad rep among foodies, no doubt as a result of the association with the over-processed, overly sweet products we find in the grocery store. Maybe we should call it ‘sweet and sour sauce’ instead, but the fact remains that a home-made ketchup has so many uses besides tarting up our macaroni and cheese or burgers. It can be used in dressings, marinade, added to sandwiches, soups, stews and vegetables.

I have already given a recipe for wild grape ketchup in a previous post, and I regularly make my own tomato ketchup. Instead of making a big batch of it in tomato season, I just freeze tomato puree, made by heating whole tomatoes, passing them through the food mill and then cooking them down to a thick sauce, to be used throughout the winter as needed. Now I can make tomato ketchup in a few minutes, and change the recipe according to how I plan to use it. Recipes vary according to the spices used: hot and spicy or sweet and tangy. For my recipe here I used sumac powder, but of course you can add any spices or herbs according to what you have around or what kind of flavour you are looking for.

This ketchup is not very red, because I used all varieties of tomatoes, including some yellow ones. If colour matters, then use red tomatoes, or even tinned puree if necessary. I have also made yellow ketchup  with yellow tomatoes, tumeric and mustard.

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Tomato Ketchup with Sumac

Tomato Ketchup with Sumac

1 cup tomato puree

2 Tbsp sugar (any kind)

1/4 cup cider vinegar

pinch of salt

1 Tbsp sumac powder

Mix all the ingredients together in a pot, heat and simmer until the right consistency, about 10 minutes.

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Frozen Highbush Cranberries

I have still quite a few highbush cranberries in my freezer to use. So far, I have used them to make liqueur, cranberry sauce and candied fruit. The good thing about them is, besides being easy to pick, they freeze well and are even better after being frozen because they become juicier. I was concerned they might be too runny, so decided to add apple sauce, but in fact after I strained them, they were pulpier than expected. I also decided to try a few sweet spices so that I wouldn’t need to sweeten them with too much sugar. Again, other spices can be used, but I was looking for sweet so came up with a mixture of licorice root, cinnamon and fennel seeds. This was made by putting 1 stick of licorice root, 1 stick of cinnamon and 1 Tbsp of fennel seeds in a cup of water, simmering it until there was about 2 Tbsp of dark syrup.

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Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

2 cups highbush cranberries

1 cup sugar

2 Tbsp spiced syrup

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce

Put the cranberries and sugar in a saucepan with the spiced syrup and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer until the berries are really soft and appear cooked. They will get a little dark. This will take about 15 minutes

Strain this through a food mill or a sieve using the back of a spoon to press it through. Return to the pan, add vinegar and apple sauce. Continue to simmer until the right thickness, another 15 minutes.

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Falafel Burger with Pickle and Cranberry Ketchup


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Japanese Quince Jelly and Chutney

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chaenomeles Wikipedia

I am well accustomed to cooking with quinces, but when we moved here it was difficult to find a source. So I decided to try some Japanese quinces (chaenomeles) from those ornamental shrubs which are quite common in local gardens. Although I don’t have any of my own, most people are only too  happy if you volunteer to remove them in October when they start littering the ground around them. So, thanks Connie for my supply this year.

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They are smaller than the tree variety (true quince or Cydonia oblonga), and have a large centre full of seeds resembling apple seeds. The taste is very lemony – more so than lemons. Wherever you store them will soon become permeated with the most heavenly scent, and they can be stored in a cool place for several weeks. They can be used pretty much in any regular quince recipe. For centuries they have been used in Asia for medicinal purposes, and recent studies confirm this. For more about the nutritional and medicinal value, check out this site.

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With my small stash I made a jelly and a chutney. There seems to be some doubt as to the value of the fruit as a jelly, but I suspect people who claim that have never actually tried it. I find the flavour delicious on its own, but if you want to experiment, a little orange or chilli or whatever you might add to apple would work well. Also, even though they are rock hard, preparing them was not a big chore.

Japanese Quince Jelly

Japanese quinces, quartered (no need to peel, discard seeds or membrane)

water

sugar

Place the cut quinces in a pan and barely cover with water.

Bring to a boil and simmer for about two hours. Mash lightly with a fork.

Strain the compote through a cheesecloth lined sieve and let sit overnight, or at least a few hours.

Pour the liquid into a pan and add the same volume of sugar.

Cook slowly (about 1 1/2 hours) until it is ready.

Skim off the frothy bits as it heats, and keep a close watch.

I usually overcook jelly, so I tested a small amount of liquid on a plate straight from the freezer. When it stays in one place you know it is ready.

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I am more a chutney than a jelly fan, so I used the remaining pound of quinces to make some. I never follow recipes for chutney. To me, chutney is a way to use up excess fruit, just mixed with vinegar, sugar and spices. It is pretty hard to go wrong. And you have one of the most useful staples in your fridge to show for it – as a condiment, in a cheese or grilled vegetable sandwich, mixed with yoghurt or mayonnaise for a dip, or just with crackers and cheese.

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Japanese Quince Chutney

1 lb quince, seeded and chopped.

3/4 lb onions, finely chopped

1/2 lb brown sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

some raisins (optional)

chilli peppers, or chilli flakes to taste.

Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until thick (about 2 hours on a low heat).

I used two whole cayenne peppers, with seeds, chopped very finely. But the variety and amount are your call.