Along the Grapevine


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Dark Spruce Honey Nougat

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Here is another sweet treat for the holidays – a dark honey nougat flavoured with preserved spruce tips. I have written about foraging for pine or spruce needles, both in the winter and the summer. My favourite in the winter are white pine as written in this post because they are so easy to identify. My other favourites for cooking are the spruce tips collected in early spring which I preserve in either salt or sugar, a 1:1 ratio as described here.

I should add here that soon after I made this sweet preserve, I read somewhere that it was better just to salt them, as for some reason they taste bitter when mixed with sugar. Luckily I didn’t chuck them or use them for a while, and the next time I tasted them, they were perfectly sweet – so it is a question of giving them time to age in the sugar.

Always on the lookout for ways to use these preserves I was delighted to find this recipe from Gather Victoria for a Grand Fir Dark Nougat. Being on the west coast their evergreens are different from ours, but I saw no reason not to use my own, and wherever you live, as long as there are some sorts of edible evergreens, you might want to experiment with them. And if you are wary of making your own sweets, this one is a super easy one to start with you will be amazed at the difference of flavour from the store bought ones.

I had to alter her recipe just a bit, as I already had my spruce preserved in sugar, so I mixed some of the sugar with the honey.

Dark Spruce Honey Nougat


1 cup honey

1/2 cup spruce tips in sugar

2 cups roasted almonds (or hazelnuts)

a little butter

Mix and heat the sugar and honey stirring often. While this is cooking, roast the nuts in a pan on medium high heat. When the syrup reaches the hard ball stage, or 235 degrees F., add the roasted nuts and stir. Pour it into a buttered pan 50-60 square inches – any shape. Allow to cool and cut into squares.

As suggested by Gather Victoria, I served it with a light nougat, in the case my maple walnut nougat.

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It is quite soft and toffee like, and I recommend you don’t pile them up as they do have a tendency to stick, but can be separated with a sharp knife if need be.

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Linked to: Fiesta Friday; Caroline’s Cooking and Iwanttobeacook.


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The King’s Candles

I have only used the leaves on this plant, but this use of the flowers is beautiful and practical.

An Edible Landscape

… or Verbascum, and sometimes mullein, as this genus (Verbascum, of which there are some 350 species…) is known in English.

I do think, though, that the German Königskerzedoes for more justice to this plant which becomes truly regal when it flowers in July:

14_07_2013 Königskerzen

Favouring dry, sandy soils in the sun (and therefore often to be found flourishing on wasteland), the Königskerze is not only regal, it has a tradition of healing dating back to Hippocrates. The plant has distinct emollient, demulcent and astringent properties and, while Hippocrates reccommended it for the external treatment of wounds, the Königskerzewent on to develop a tradition of treating coughs, colds and respiratory complaints.

The flowers have robust, fleshy petals making them difficult to dry and so one of the best and easiest ways of extracting their healing properties is to use them to make an infused honey in readiness for the onset of autumn…

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Juniper Berries and Soup

DSC02831Since I began working on this blog, I have found two things about foraging which surprise me. First, that you can forage quite happily in the winter even in this snowiest of landscapes for some really worthwhile ingredients, one of which I am writing about today. In fact, the winter has the advantage of being insect-free, and as long as there’s not a blizzard and you are dressed for it, the venture is very invigorating and a great excuse to enjoy the outdoors. Just don’t remove gloves for too long while you take photographs or snip branches, both of which are impossible with furry gloves.

The other surprise is that some of the most overlooked and miniscule pickings add so much flavour and are every bit as valuable as the bulkier crops. Good seasonings and spices are essential in cooking, and if they are local, fresh and free, all the better.

I have always used juniper berries in cooking, usually to flavour fish, game, sauerkraut and choucroute garnie, but no longer will I buy little plastic boxes from the supermarket. I found my own source, and they are so good!

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These ones grow on what is usually referred to as the Eastern Red Cedar which is misleading because it is not a cedar, but a juniper, juniperus virginiana to be exact. This same cedar we use to add a scent to our linen trunks and repel moths is not a cedar at all – another surprise for me. There are other varieties of juniper, but I will only try and describe this one as I have direct experience with it. So here are a few facts you’ll need to identify it.

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Where it grows:  Eastern North America, hardy to zone 3.

Description: A coniferous evergreen which in poor soil may just be a shrub but in the right conditions can grow as high as 40-50 feet with a spread of 8-15 feet.  It is pyramid shaped. The leaves change appearance with age. The young ones, on trees up to three years old and the new growth on older trees have sharp spreading needles about 2-4 inches long. Leaves of older trees are green and scale-like arranged in overlapping groups of four. The trees I picked from were of the younger variety. There is a good picture showing the leaves at different stages in this post. The fruit are small currant sized cones resembling berries, dark blue with a white waxy coating which makes them look sky blue.

Uses: The cones are used in cooking and making gin, the leaves are toxic. The bark is used as a moth repellant, and the wood is used in building fence posts. Oil is extracted from leaves, bark and wood.

Benefits and Cautions: The cones (which look like berries) have an antiviral compound called deoxypodophyllotoxin (DPT) which is used against some viruses. People used to add it to tea as a medicinal herb. They should not be taken in large amounts.

Juniper Berries on Punk Domestics

At this point I was just interested in using these little cones (berries), and as I am off rich and meaty dishes at this time of year, I decided to make a vegan soup – a pea soup, with some aromatic flavour. I also used some of my prickly ash, or szechwan pepper, but if you don’t have that you can just use more black pepper. And if you don’t have these plants in your area, you can buy both juniper berries or Szechwan pepper at a good spice store.

 

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I soaked, then cooked one pound of split peas. Once cooked I added 1 chopped onion, 1 carrot, 4 crushed cloves of garlic, 10 juniper berries, 1 tsp Szechwan pepper, 1 tsp black pepper and salt to taste. I simmered it until all vegetables were cooked.

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You can vary the spiciness  according to your taste of course. By using these less common flavours, you will find this familiar soup takes on a whole new character. If you have a favourite dish using juniper berries, I would love to hear about it.

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Linked to:  Angie at The Novice Gardener; Jhuls at The Not So Creative Cook and Mr. Fitz of Cooking with Mr. Fitz.

 

 

 


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How to Make Tonic Water

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I recently wrote about making sodas from the root of a common weed – chicory. Fermenting a root, often ginger, is the first step in making a soft drink. It is then mixed with whatever juice you choose, a little more sugar or raw honey for a further ferment, sealed, and that’s it. The full recipe can be found here.

How to Make Tonic Water on Punk Domestics

I found the chicory bug had a bitter flavour, but nothing that would interfere with other flavours, so it can be a good alternative to ginger. It reminded me of the flavour of tonic water, so the next challenge was to develop it into the real thing.

I dug up some more chicory root while the ground is not yet frozen. The flowers had wilted but there were some tasty young green leaves at the base of the plants not to be wasted.

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Chicory plants in November

The roots are easiest to cut up when fresh, so it’s best to chop them all so when they dry, they are ready to add to your bug.

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Chicory roots

Searching for a good tonic recipe, I came across this one by David Lebovitz which I followed very closely, except I used a pinch of lavender flowers in place of the lemongrass called for. Instead of mixing the prepared syrup half and half with soda water, I fermented it with the ‘bug’, some raw honey and more water.

First, a little about this syrup. The ingredient that gives tonic water its distinctive flavour is the bark of cinchona (quina), a plant originating in South America but cultivated also in Asia for its medicinal qualities, one of which has been a treatment for malaria. For more about the plant, its uses and contraindications, read this.

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Cinchona bark

You won’t likely find this bark in your local green grocer’s, but a good herb shop should carry it, and of course you can buy it on line.

It is wise to use organic fruits, especially since the peel is used.

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Tonic infusion after 2 days

The bark, some spices, fruit juice and zest are all mixed together, heated and allowed to sit for a couple of days to make a richly coloured, super aromatic, bitter syrup.

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Strained tonic syrup

The next step was to ferment this with my chicory bug. For this I used

100 ml. chicory (or other root) bug

125 ml tonic syrup

2 Tbsp raw honey

1 tsp granulated sugar (optional, for a little extra sweetness)

200 ml non-chlorinated water.

Mix these ingredients in a bottle with a sealable lid like the one in the photo above, and let it sit at room temperature for about 5 days, after which time it should be refrigerated. Even at a cool temperature, fermentation will continue, so to be safe you can occasionally release the seal and let some gas escape, then seal it up again.

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Tonic on the rocks

The syrup soda combination was very good, but the fully fermented drink was definitely superior and well worth the extra little effort. The recognizable flavour of tonic was more complex, and was so good I didn’t even feel tempted to add the usual splash of gin, although I’m sure that would be excellent too.

If you don’t have access to chicory roots, any bitter, edible root such as dandelions would be a good alternative.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #96

Related posts: Two New Flavours of Ginger SodaChicory Root Soda; Dandelion Gin Fizz

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Sunchoke Lemon Pesto

DSC01298We have had a few light frosts already but the ground is wet and unfrozen. This means it’s the best time to harvest some of my favourites, among them sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes. I have written several posts on these tubers, but if you are not familiar with them, refer to this post.

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The wonderful thing about sunchokes is that they taste just like actual artichokes. Also, they grow easily and are available from October till April at any time the ground is not frozen solid. They are inexpensive and if you have your own source, they are free!

On the downside, they do not store well. They can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but are best very fresh.  Once cooked, they have to be consumed within a day or two, and never try to freeze them. I have found drying and fermenting the best way to preserve them – until I came up with my latest sunchoke recipe, a pesto made with herbs, roasted sunchokes and roasted almonds. This kept well in the fridge for a week, and after that I froze the remainder, and neither the taste nor the texture suffered as a result. The artichoke flavour came through perfectly, and the lemon flavour and herbs were a delicious combination. Pine nuts, walnuts or filberts would work just as well, and as for herbs, use what you like and have on hand.

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Sunchoke Lemon Pesto

Ingredients

1/3 cup roasted sunchokes

1 cup lightly packed herbs (I used half and half mint and basil)

1 clove garlic

1/2 cup roasted almonds

juice of 1 lemon

a strip of lemon rind (optional)

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup olive oil

Method

Chop the nuts and herbs in a food processor. Blend in  the other ingredients, except the oil. Once everything is combined, add the oil slowly until you have the right consistency.

Like all pestos, this goes well with any kind of pasta. No need for cheese here, unless of course you really want it.

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Spread on crackers or bread, it makes a super and easy little snack.

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And it stores well!

Linked to Fiesta Friday #95

Related posts: Jerusalem Artichokes

Potato, Leek and Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

Jerusalem Artichoke Ravioli

Coconut Lime Jerusalem Artichoke Chips

Jerusalem Artichoke, Mushroom and Black Walnut Soup

Jerusalem Artichoke Gnocchi

Jerusalem Artichoke Tea Biscuits

Jerusalem Artichoke and Fennel Soup

Sunchoke and Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Sunchoke Dip

 

 

 

 

 


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Goldenrod Highball

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As promised in my last post, I have been working on a goldenrod drink suitable for after five. The flavour of the tea really is hearty enough that I knew it could stand up to other ingredients without being lost in the mix. A whiskey based drink seemed just the thing.

Using the same infusion as I used for the goldenrod tea, 1/4 cup flower and leaf mixture to 1 cup boiling water, I experimented a bit. The interesting thing was that while the goldenrod gave a distinctive herby flavour, the flavour of the whiskey came through very nicely. My conclusion is that a strong flavoured whiskey should be used where you can appreciate its taste, in this case Jack Daniels. My other experiment involved a Canadian whiskey, Forty Creek, but the whiskey was overpowered by the flower mixture, so I added 1/2 ounce of orange liqueur to make up for the weakness of flavour. Not bad, but the first attempt was definitely better.

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For two tall glasses I mixed 2 tbsp honey, 1 cup of goldenrod tea, 2 ounces whiskey and shook (or stirred) vigorously. I poured that into the two glasses and topped it up with soda water. A couple of ice cubes (which contained some goldenrod florets) and a new favourite drink of mine was born.

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I have always enjoyed cocktails using foraged plants, either ones I’ve made myself or found in those rare establishments that specialize in local fare. There is something about the bitter and sweet combination along with the complementary earthy flavours of the alcohol and flora that make a very satisfying drink.