Along the Grapevine


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Hops and Cheese Biscuits

DSC03604A few years ago I planted some hops with the idea that I would get back into making beer. That hasn’t happened but I felt I should do something with this year’s harvest of flowers. Hops, or humulus lupulus, are mostly used for flavouring and as a stabilising agent in beer, and I wasn’t too sure if there was anything else they could be used apart from their shoots which in the spring make a delicious vegetable. It turns out that the bitter flavour  of the green cone-like flowers are often used as a herb. Each variety has a slightly different flavour, but to get an idea of how it will taste, just take a ripe flower and rub it between your hands and take a whiff.

The ripe flowers are dry and very light, and to store them I simply let them dry out on the counter. Alternatively, they can be frozen. Begin by using very sparingly as the flavour is strong and bitter, and will probably only appeal to those who appreciate the flavour of beer. I chopped a few to sprinkle on a vegetable quinoa salad, a tomato sauce on pasta, and allowed myself to be more generous in cooked dishes like stir fry and stew. In each case the hoppiness lent a distinctive flavour, not too different from adding beer to a recipe. I also used some of the flowers to make a tea which turned out surprisingly red. To that I added sugar and let it ferment with some kombucha – the closest I will get this year to making my own beer.

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The next test was to use it in baking, and hence these cheesy hop biscuits. I made two versions as I prefer anything with sourdough but made another version for those who don’t normally have excesses of starter on hand.

Hops and Cheese Biscuits

  Ingredients for Sourdough Biscuit
1 cup flour
1 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 hop flowers, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter
3 Tbsp grated cheddar cheese
1 egg
3/4 cups sourdough starter

Ingredients without sourdough
The same as above, except add 5 Tbsp flour and instead of sourdough use 1/2 cup milk mixed with 1 Tbsp lemon juice.

Method
Combine the dry ingredients and cut in the butter using a knife or pastry cutter. Add the other ingredients, combine thoroughly and knead it a few times. Roll out and cut into whatever shape you prefer. If you like you can brush them with some beaten egg and sprinkle extra grated cheese on top. Bake at 375 F. for 20 minutes, or until they are golden in colour.

DSC03612.JPGThis recipe makes 6 biscuits, but the it could be doubled. I started gingerly at first with only 2 hop flowers, but found it required 4 to give enough flavour to be noticed, but not overly bitter either. And there’s no reason not to add other beer friendly flavours such as olives or nuts.

At any rate, I am pleased to add another local dried herb to my pantry, and one at that which is not commonly found in conventional recipes. If you don’t have space to grow your own hops, some of the farmers’ markets might carry them at this time of year. Otherwise they can be bought in some specialty shops.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #240, Deb @ The Pantry Portfolio, and Laurena @ Life Diet Health


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Lilac Fizz

dsc03502.jpgWhile we wait for spring to arrive and hope it does before we get full-on summer, I have been feeling more and more impatient to get outdoors and collect some wild spring edibles. With bitter cold temperatures, snow and ice keeping me mostly indoors, I have been grateful to have saved some of last year’s bounty either dried, frozen or canned. So in anticipation of what I hope to be a great spring for lilacs, I decided to use some of my remaining lilac syrup to make a truly floral cocktail.

Some of you may not have such a syrup in your pantry just now, but as I post this well before the lilacs are in bloom, when they do arrive those of you who live in lilac country  will have the wherewithal to prepare enough of this treat to last you all year long. For flavouring ice cream, chantilly, meringues, icings and drinks it is definitely a flavour you don’t want to run out of.

To make the syrup I followed the recipe from this post, one of my favourite wild food blogs, which also has some appetizing lilac recipes to choose from.

For one serving I mixed in an 8 oz. glass:  1 oz. gin, 1 oz. simple lilac syrup, 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice,  then filled the glass with soda water and ice.DSC03501

It was a lovely way to celebrate the first warm rays of the sun we have felt in a long time, and a great reminder to harvest the flowers when they finally do appear.dsc03506.jpg

I used a mixture of sugar and wild grape juice as a final touch. And of course, if you prefer it not to be hard, omit the gin. It’s still delicious.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #220; The Not So Creative Cook; Frugal Hausfrau


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Sumac Soda

DSC02869A couple of days ago I wrote about gathering and preserving rhus glabra, or smooth sumac, a departure from my usual rhus typhina, or staghorn sumac. These are only two of the roughly thirty five species of red berried rhuses, and as far as I can tell, their flavours are similar enough that they can be interchanged in recipes very easily. So while I have used the smooth sumac liquid, i.e. berry infused water as a base, you could substitute this with any other edible sumac.

I have made a few natural sodas lately, including tonic water, and the success I have had with all of them has encouraged me to continue experimenting. As sumac is great in a lemonade, tea or mead, I figured it would make a decent soda too. I was not disappointed.

Besides the sumac ‘juice’ as described in my last post, you will need some honey and some starter or bug for the fermentation to take place. The process for making a bug can be found here. Once your bug is ready, you mix the three ingredients in flip top bottles. Ginger is the most common root to use, but I also use dandelion and chicory root where I don’t want a strong ginger flavour as is the case with this drink.
 

My general rule is to mix the ingredients so that the initial mixture is sweeter than you want the end product, since much of the sugar gets used up in the fermentation process, so while there is a high ratio of honey, the drink is still quite dry. However, the fermentation is speedy and effective, so be warned. I try it after three days instead of the usual five, and open the bottles every two days to let excess gas escape. The drink will continue to ferment, so once you are happy with its flavour and fizziness, keep it chilled.
The proportions I used were as follows: 1 cup bug, 1 cup raw honey, 3 1/2 cups sumac juice.

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So here is a soda that is not only delicious but actually good for you. I will be sharing it with the guests at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #104, where I will be co-hosting along with Mila from Milk and Bun. Do drop by for some extraordinary recipes, and if you are a food blogger yourself, feel free to post a recipe of your own. The clear and simple guidelines are outlined here.

 

 

 

 


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Elderflowers Two Ways

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I have always associated elderberry (sambucus nigra) with Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. The delicate elderflower syrup was an import and a bit of a luxury to me. So when I discovered that it does grow here in Ontario, I determined to find some before the beautiful flowers disappeared.

This large shrub or tree can grow to about 6 meters high and wide. It has clusters of dainty white five-petalled flowers. The leaves are pointed and serrated, and about two inches in length. It grows in sunny, moist areas, usually near swamps, rivers or lakes. They have a pleasant but mild scent.

The leaves, stems and unripe berries are toxic. The flowers are rich in bioflavonoids, and have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. The one contraindication for them is that because they reduce blood sugar levels, they are not recommended for diabetics. If you are interested in reading more on the health effects, refer to this site.

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To pick them, it is recommended to pick just one cluster of flowers from each branch so that the rest can produce berries. Lightening the load a bit will not only not harm the plant, but will remove some of the excess growth. Wild plants need a little pruning sometimes too.

Once properly identified, the clusters are easy to remove. And just a few will go a long way.

They can be dried, fermented, infused, baked or fried. To start with my first batch I decided to make a simple syrup and some fritters.

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First I checked each flower for any insects and gave them a gentle shake. I did not wash them as they are delicate and didn’t want to wash away any of the flavour.

To make the syrup, I simply snipped off the umbrels (or individual clusters) and put them in a pot and covered them with water. I brought the water to a boil, strained the lot through a fine sieve lined with a paper towel.  Once the flowers are in boiling water, they turn yellow and develop a delicious aroma.

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I returned the hot liquid to the pot and added sugar, about 1/2 cup for 4 cups of liquid, at which point the yellow became even deeper. Heat just enough to dissolve and pour into a clean jar. This syrup will  not have a long shelf life, but refrigerated will last about a week. A small amount like this can be consumed in no time.

To serve, I mixed about 1 part syrup with 3-4 parts soda water, A little ice and you have yourself a refreshing and nutritious drink.

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For the fritters, I used a recipe which can be found here. The batter is a simple mixture of 4 Tbsp of plain flour, and enough sparkling water to make a thin batter. I used 10 Tbsp, slightly less than the recipe called for.

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Dip the umbrels in the batter and deep fry them for about 1-2 minutes. When the flowers become stiff, but before they brown, they are ready. Drain them well on absorbent paper.

For the sauce, I mixed together some crabapple paste, chipotle sauce and a little olive oil. The mixture of 1 tsp each of salt and sugar along with a spicy sauce really make these little fritters special.

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With the remaining flowers I have collected, I am thinking of fermenting some to make an elderflower ‘bubbly’, drying some for tea, and perhaps using some of my syrup to make a soda. More on that later

Elderflowers Two Ways on Punk Domestics


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Introducing Herb Robert

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You’ve maybe come across Herb Robert before, otherwise known as geranium robertarium. He can grow just about anywhere, is shade tolerant but is just as happy in full sun. I usually find him in my flower beds, lodged in amongst rocks, and I recently saw him in abundance while walking in the woods. A delicate plant with lacy leaves and dainty pink flowers, too pretty to pull out, but too invasive to just ignore.

I only recently started to find out more about this plant which has a long history of medicinal uses, most notably the leaves taken as a tea to boost the immune system. If you are interested in reading more about this remarkable little weed, its history and uses you can read here. I was most interested in the fact that it is considered a natural insect repellent. It has what is considered a ‘foxy’ odour which rabbits and deer stay clear of, but is not that strong to humans. I have followed some advice I read and planted bits of it around my cabbages and cauliflowers to deter bunnies. So far, it seems to be working!

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It flowers from spring through late summer or fall and spreads its seeds on a regular basis.

When walking in the woods, I decided to try it as an insect repellent to defend myself against the hoards of mosquitoes. I rubbed the leaves and smeared them on my skin. I noticed some difference, but was not ‘out of the woods’ exactly. Then a fellow joined me, and I noticed all the mosquitoes attacked him, so it must have made some difference.

I decided to try an insect repellent that could be applied more easily and evenly than the leaf-rubbing method. After all, the heat and sun are nothing when gardening compared to the discomfort of the mosquitoes.

I put two parts herb Robert leaves and flowers, one part mint and one part lavender flowers and pressed them down with a plate or lid which would fit inside the pot. I barely covered that with water, brought it to a boil, turned off the heat. Then I left it to cool covered with another lid to keep the essential oils from escaping.

Strain off the liquid and mix with equal parts of rubbing alcohol. Apply it liberally all over.

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In the late morning, I headed out with my pitchfork to do some heavy mulching and see if my concoction worked and if so, how long it would be effective. I lasted a whole hour with very little trouble from mosquitoes. I finally gave up because now the heat and sun were my biggest problems.

I’m not sure what its shelf life is, but it can be easily replenished and costs next to nothing. It has a lovely fragrance, and I expect I will go through it rather quickly to help me through the season.


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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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