Along the Grapevine


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Seabuckthorn Gelato

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To begin with, I don’t want anyone to think that this plant is in any way related to our local buckthorn. It is an entirely different plant, but the name is fitting because it does have nasty thorns on it. I presume the sea part might have something to do with the appearance of the silvery green leaves which in windy weather make a mass of them look like waves on the sea. I have no idea if that is fact or my own fiction, but it makes sense to me.

Usually found in China, Russia and adjacent countries, this berry is appearing more and more frequently in these parts. I have seen several posts and articles about people cultivating it here in North America. Small wonder considering how hardy it is, how easy it is to grow and how nutritious these little berries are. For more on the benefits of it you might read this. I believed it to be a remarkable source of everything ever since I read somewhere that Ghengis Khan had a constant supply of it for his soldiers so that they could take over the world. How’s that for an endorsement!

Having made some delicious jelly with my first pickings in my last post, I decided to try something new. I had never made gelato before and after reading some articles on making gelato I was intrigued and encouraged by the fact that only milk, starch, sweetener and flavour are required. So sea buckthorn gelato was my choice for this week’s Fiesta Friday.

The recipe requires only three ingredients, one being my recent jelly concoction. Other than that, just milk and some cornstarch. Obviously you could do this with other sweetened preserves too, so even if you haven’t come across these berries yet, you can still use this recipe for a not-too-rich but thoroughly delicious frozen dessert. If you use non-dairy milk, this would be a vegan dessert. Unfortunately I failed to think of that until after I had started – but next time.

I used four cups of milk, 1 cup of jelly and 4 Tbsp cornstarch. I used one cup of milk to dissolve the cornstarch. The remaining three cups were heated with the jelly, and then the cornstarch mixture added. Bring to a boil on medium heat continuing to stir. Once it comes to a boil turn down the heat further and allow to boil while you stir for another two minutes. Cool it, then chill it well and freeze in an ice cream maker. In the absence of one, just stir the mixture around every half hour until three or four times.

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Put it in a freezer container and freeze for a few hours more.

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Compared to ice cream, this was much easier to make. It is also a lot less rich, and the reduced fat actually lets the taste of fruit come through better. I won’t be giving up my ice-cream endeavours completely, but it will not be the last time I make gelato either.


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Sea Buckthorn Jelly

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My seabuckthorn plants are flourishing, and the three female plants are producing far more berries than I can pick. They are also reproducing at an almost alarming rate, although the lawn mower has unwittingly taken care of some of the shoots coming from, I believe, the male plant. Their rate of growth is encouraging, and I expect some of the seeds will find their way into neighbouring properties, so foraging sea buckthorn in this area might become a reality before long.

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I have written about this remarkable shrub in an earlier post, but since then have learned some practical tips about how to harvest them. They are difficult to pick. They are indeed thorny, and the small berries are soft with a very thin skin, so as soon as you apply a little pressure when picking, they tend to collapse and squirt you with sticky juice. However, if a few branches are snipped off and put in the freezer for a day, they can then be removed from the branches quite easily. As the plants need some good pruning anyway, this is the perfect time to do it.

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If you find them in a local market, this is the way they will be displayed – thick clusters still on the branches.

The delicate leaves can also be removed to make a delicious tisane.

Seabuckthorn Jelly on Punk Domestics

As for the berries, I decided to make a jelly which would be an easy way to preserve them, and presumably a useful addition to my pantry. I used only one cup of berries, and did not worry too much if some of the woody bits attached to the base were still attached as it would all be strained after the first cooking.

To make the jelly, I covered the berries with water and cooked them until soft – about ten minutes. I strained them, added a little hot water to the pulp and strained them again.

For two cups of strained juice, I added three cups of organic sugar. This I brought to a boil and then simmered until it reached a temperature of 235 degrees F or 120 C. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you will know it is ready when it reaches the soft ball stage.

 

Pour into a jar and let cool. The amount of sugar in this means that it will keep for a few weeks, so I didn’t worry about processing it. I didn’t even remove the foam from the top because it too is just as tasty!

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The flavour of the sour raw berries is not appreciated by everyone, perhaps because it is so unfamiliar, but once cooked with sugar it has a fruity caramel taste. It makes a wonderful spread, but can also be used in baking, desserts, as a glaze or a sweetener for drinks. In short, anywhere you might use honey.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #94


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Chokecherry Jelly

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I spotted a few chockecherry (prunus virginiana) trees in the spring near our house with their early white blossoms and determined then that this year I would watch for the berries to appear later in the year. This is the now the height of the season, but you have to be fast as the birds are fond of them, and have a distinct advantage over us in harvesting them.

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The berries start out red, but should not be picked until they have turned very dark – almost black and starting to shrivel. The flavour is that of a cherry, but somewhat more astringent, and this astringency decreases with age, and again with cooking. They are much smaller than regular cherries, and have a higher proportion of seed to fruit, but they are so easy to pick so you can still get lots of pulp from them.

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To identify them, look for oval leaves with serrated edges. The leaf is dark with a lighter underside. The berries hang in cluster off reddish stems. They are popular not only with birds but also caterpillars. If you have these trees on your property, you should check for tent caterpillars and remove them.

The fruit is high in antioxidants and has many uses. Jams, jellies, syrups and wine are the most common, but they can also be dried, seeds and all, and ground into a flour. This is one of the ingredients of pemican, but I’m sure in modern-day cooking we can find other uses.

As I was only able to collect a small amount of berries and have never used them before, I decided to make a simple jelly. I had two cups of berries.

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I covered them with water in a pan and simmered them until soft. Then I strained them through a food mill. I returned the pulp to the pan, added more water to cover and repeated cooking and straining process.

I ended up with 2 cups of juice, to which I added 2 cups of sugar. After bringing it to a full rolling boil, I added one 57 gram package of Certo pectin and allowed to boil 2 more minutes, then poured into 6 sterilized 100 ml. jars with a little to spare. DSC02553

Chokecherry Jelly on Punk Domestics

Serving it on fresh scones with clotted or whipped cream or plain yogurt is just one of the ways this rich jelly can be enjoyed.

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Wild Berry Tarts with Rhubarb Curd

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When I read Lindy’s post on rhubarb curd, I knew I had to make it. Not only do I have a huge supply of rhubarb, but I also happen to be fond of all things rhubarb, and good rhubarb recipes are not easily found. I will not re-write the recipe, as her explanations are clear and easy to follow and can be found here.

It is a delicious variation of lemon curd and can be used easily for any recipe calling for that. I am always happy to find recipes where local ingredients can be used in lieu of imported ones. Not that I have anything against lemons, but I know the lemons we get here are not the same as where they are grown, so why not find a local alternative when possible.

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I figured this would be a perfect combination for the berries I have been picking lately, and the best way to pair them would be in small, bite-size tarts. Any berries would work, but I used mostly black berries, raspberries and red currants.

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Any kind of pastry is fine, but I made two versions of this one, a dark one with palm sugar and red fife flour and a light one with white sugar and white flour:

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups ground almonds

1/2 cup palm sugar (or other sugar)

1/3 cup butter

1 egg

Method

Blend all the ingredients together until you can form it into a ball. Cover and let rest in the fridge for about an hour.

It is difficult to roll this pastry, so just roll each tart separately using an appropriate amount for the size of mould you are using.  Once in the tin, weigh it down with some marbles or other weight (like beans or lentils). Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and bake for another five minutes. Allow to cool.

To make the tarts, fill the centre with some curd and arrange berries on top. They keep well refrigerated for up to three days.

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Blueberries, now in season, would be perfect too!

Linked to Fiesta Friday #79


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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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Snow Kachang

We are just now getting our first real blizzard of the season. It has been snowing all day, and tomorrow we may just be snowed in. This is what it looked like yesterday when we went for a walk on the lake.

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And this is what it looked like today in the early hours of the blizzard.

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So what do we do when we are getting snowed in? We make snow kachangs.

Actually, I’ve never made one before, but decided to give it a try for the second part of Angie’s Fiesta Friday first anniversary celebration where we have been invited to bring a main course or dessert.

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This recipe is based on a favourite sweet dish of mine that I used to enjoy in Singapore called Ice Kachang, usually spelt kacang. It was a while before I had built up enough curiosity to try it, but once I did I thought it the best way to cool down when on the town, and something that I would have to recreate when back home in Canada. It has taken me a long time.

When I first saw it, I was not impressed. All I could see was a tall pyramid of shaved ice, with 3 or 4 garish coloured syrups poured over it. I’m pretty sure the green colour was made from pandan, but have no idea what the others were. When I finally ordered one, I found that this pyramid covered a delicious mixture of adzuki beans, sweet corn, little cubes of agar agar or jelly and a very sweet brown sugar syrup. Sometimes other things like tapioca or coconut milk were added making a kind of sweet pudding salad. Of all the pictures I have found on line, none resembles what I had in Singapore. The original recipe is Malaysian, and seems to have a lot of the pudding on top of the ice shavings. Other pictures show all the ingredients including the ice mixed together. I am sticking with the pyramid shape and only syrup on top.

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For my recipe I used snow, of course. It takes quite a bit of the white stuff, and I failed to make a really tall pyramid. But as I assembled it outside to give me time to get pictures, my fingers were becoming numb with the cold and harvesting any more snow was out of the question.

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I intended to use adzuki beans, but was unable to find any, so settled for small kidney beans. I figured with the syrup everything would be sweet enough anyway, and I was right. Besides beans I used sweet corn, cubes from the pealed leaves of my aloe vera plant, and our own maple syrup.

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Once these ingredients are assembled in any proportion you like, just pile on the snow. The syrup I used to drizzle on top was some wild grape syrup I had lingering in my fridge, but any sweet syrup will do, preferably one made of fruit or berries, or pandan if you are lucky enough to have any.

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The result, which we did bring indoors to eat, was every bit as good as the Singaporean version but with a distinctive Canadian touch. This is a recipe you can make your own with whatever local ingredients you have, and ice shavings if you don’t have clean snow available.

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Thanks to Angie at The Novice Gardener as well as this week’s co-hosts, Nancy at Feasting with Friends and Selma at Selma’s Table for managing this event, and to everyone else, enjoy the party!


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Sea Buckthorn leather: A Roll-up for Grown-ups!

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Berries on female bush

This is my third post in a row using berries. The first were juicy sweet blue black nannyberries, the second sour red sumac, and this one is a bitter sweet bright orange sea-buckthorn, or hippophae rhamnoidas.

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Male bush

This is a berry I began using when living in Russia and Central Asia, and one I thought I would miss when I returned home. Luckily by then (2007), the cultivation of this had finally arrived in the new world, and although it is far from common, I am sure you will begin finding it in good farmers’ markets before long if you haven’t already. And when you do, I hope my ideas will inspire you to give it a try. Since it can be grown in a cold climate like ours, perhaps people will realize we don’t always need exotic berries from other continents to enhance our diets. How nutritious is it? Just let me say that Ghengis Khan used it as nourishment for his army!

I first came across it at a garlic festival in Perth Ontario, and shortly after found some shrubs at a nursery in the east end of Ottawa. That was about 6 years ago. I have now had two harvests from my three surviving female bushes – I have only one male but he is doing his job well on his own.

I should clarify for those who are turned off the word buckthorn – a nasty, invasive plant that grows around here. This is not a buckthorn really, and have no idea why it has been given that off-putting name. As for the prefix sea, it is not because it grows near the sea. I don’t know for certain, but perhaps it is named so because when you see fields of it blowing in the wind, the delicate silver-green undersides of the leaves make the plants look like waves on the sea. That is just my humble thought.

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Bushes blowing in the wind

You are most likely to find this berry as an ingredient in health and beauty products, and it is being touted by some as the greatest superfood out there. I prefer mine unprocessed, and eat it either fresh or steeped in hot water. The flavour is so intense, you can use the same bunch of berries for several infusions. If you find the flavour too strong, it could be mixed with sweet fruits, like apples, pears or peaches.

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For this week’s Fiesta Friday, I decided to make a fruit leather. I have never made, or even bought or eaten fruit leather, but this seemed like a good time to start. I collected 6 cups of berries, then strained them through my apple sauce mill, but you could also use a blender or food processor and then strain. I mixed the juice with 3 Tbsp of liquid honey and poured it into a lightly greased, parchment lined cookie tin. I put it in the oven a 170 F for about three hours, at which time I noticed the carroty orange colour was getting darker, but it looked too runny for comfort. I therefore sprinkled evenly on top 3 Tbsp of chia seeds, hoping that would absorb the extra liquid. I returned it to the oven for another 9 hours, at which point the fruit could be peeled easily off the parchment, but it was still flexible and soft.

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It has a soft and chewy texture a very intense flavour, tart like a lemon but caramelized. For a less intense flavour, I would mix it with a sweet fruit, or add just a little to any other fruit leather recipe.

A big thank you to Angie and her co-hosts Selma and Elaine. A little tardy this week, I am heading over there now to see what treats await me.


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Sea Buckthorn

Sea buckthorn berries from Russia

Sea buckthorn berries from Russia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unless you live in North West Europe or Asia, you are not likely to come across this bush in your foraging expeditions, but luckily the plant has been introduced recently to the Americas and is gaining popularity for its health benefits, taken either internally or topically. Occasionally it can be found at farmers’ markets in the fall, and all kinds of beauty and medicinal products are appearing in pharmacies and on- line.

I was drawn to it long before I realized how healthful it is – it has a tart flavour and beautiful colour of leaves and berries, so I planted some in my garden five years ago and transplanted it when we moved one year later. The surviving four of the five original plants did not look promising, and I feared I maybe had bought all of the same gender (you need male and female plants). I was really excited when this year the three smaller plants produced an impressive quantity of fruit.

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If you are interested in reading more about this super plant, check out this site and this blog.

As it is not the easiest thing to pick, I harvested only about half, and so far have frozen some for further use, and used a few to make a Sea Buckthorn infused vinegar. This being my first attempt at using it, except as fresh berries, I wanted to keep it simple, and maximise the use of the few berries I managed to pick. The branches are thorny, and the berries grow so close to the branches that it was a bit of a challenge. Just remember when you see the high prices of the products made from these berries, that might be the reason.

To make the vinegar: Put a handful of berries into a clean mason jar. Cover with organic cider vinegar. Weigh the fruit down so none of the berries is floating on top and exposed to air. I used clean marbles wrapped in cheesecloth. One common method is to put water in a sealed plastic bag, but I did not want to submerge plastic into my pristine vinegar. Leave it in a cool dark place for a couple of weeks. This is particularly good on coleslaw. Sprinkle a few berries right into the salad.