Along the Grapevine


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Grape Leaf Pesto

If you have wild grape leaves in your area, this is the best time to pick them while they are still tender and unblemished. I collect them in large quantities and those I don’t use immediately, I blanche and freeze for later use. They are particularly useful in pickles and ferments to help keep vegetables crisp while they also add some good flavour, but can be used in many other ways, some of which you will see in related posts below. For identification, uses and nutritional information, click here for my introduction to them.

Long before there was any green on the vines, I began to think what new recipe I could introduce this year, and came up with the idea of a pesto. The first try was a complete success, although I will definitely try it with some variations. For this recipe I mixed it with nettles to make it greener, as by blanching the grape leaves as I did, they tend to turn a kind of olive colour. Other greens could be used according to what you have available, so feel free to use your imagination. I used black walnuts from our area, but regular walnuts are also fine.

I picked very young ones, but when they are mature I recommend removing any of the central stem that looks a bit tough.DSC03525

Grape Leaf Pesto

Grape Leaf Pesto

4 cups grape leaves, loosely packed

1/2 cup stinging nettles

a small bunch, (about 8) mint leaves

1/3 cup walnuts

1 large clove garlic

150 ml olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Blanche the grape leaves and nettles for about 10 seconds. Drain and combine them in a food processor or blender with the other ingredients.

This makes a very flavourful pesto which I have enjoyed on pasta, in sandwiches and on crackers, but my favourite is to use it as a base for pizza, spread on an oven-fresh sourdough pizza crust.

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And then add whatever you like.

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Related posts: Wild Grape Leaves; Stuffed Fermented Grape Leaves ; Fermented Wild Grape Leaves; Grape Leaves with Roasted Vegetables; Pickerel in Grape Leaves with Mushroom Za’atar Sauce; Quiche in Wild Grape Leaf Shells; Grape Leaf, Herb and Yogurt Pie.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #228


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Black Walnut Oil and Maple Walnut Scones

DSC03477Some time ago I wrote about using black walnuts, and at that time I promised some recipes, but nothing happened. I’m not sure what I did with that first batch, but as I received another gift of fresh local nuts (thank you David) I have been giving a lot of thought to how to use them. Because they are either expensive to buy or labour intensive to harvest, I was thinking of recipes where a little would go a long way. Infusions seemed a good idea because if you have trouble separating the nut from the shell and you accidentally a few bits of shell get past you, you won’t have to worry about cracking your teeth. You can read about characteristics, identification, harvesting and shelling in my first black walnut post.

This time I found shelling them much easier. I presume practice is the key, but a few gentle raps with a heavy mallet eventually weakens them to the point where they really just do fall open and the nut is relatively easy to extract. After my smashing success I have been able to use them in baking with impunity. The smaller bits I have set aside for infusions.IMG_0341

Oil infusions are a great way to extend and preserve so many flavours. I have done this with several wild ingredients, most recently balsam fir, and it proves to be a most economical way to stock your pantry with gourmet ingredients.

This oil can also be made with English walnuts, but I would use about twice as much since the milder flavour is less aromatic. It is best to use a light flavoured oil, nothing as strong as olive oil but rather sunflower, rapeseed or avocado. I used the latter.

Begin by lightly toasting 1/3 cup walnuts, then grind them. Heat 1 1/2 cups oil until it’s just hot and then turn it off. Do not bring it to a boil. Add the toasted walnuts and leave for one day. Strain off the oil through a fine filter and store in the fridge. It can be used full strength for dressings, roasting vegetables and any other way you would use a nut oil.DSC03480.JPG

Of course, after straining the oil I was left with a small amount of ground nuts in oil which I was loathe to just toss. I considered many ideas, e.g. pesto, creamed walnut soup, homemade pasta or just baking. I finally settled on scones flavoured also with maple since we are in full syrup season.

Black Walnut Maple Scones

Ingredients

3.5 cups flour

1/tsp salt

1 tsp. baking soda

2 Tbsp chopped black walnuts or twice the amount if using English walnuts

ground nuts in oil mixture (about 2-3 Tbsp) plus enough butter to measure 2/3 cup

1 cup buttermilk, kefir or yogurt

2 tsp. cream of tartar

2 Tbsp maple syrup

Method

Mix the first four ingredients together and work in the oil nut mixture until you get a crumbly texture. In a separate bowl, combine the milk or yogurt with the cream of tartar and maple syrup. Add to the flour mixture immediately and mix until well combined. Form it into a ball and roll it out to about a 9 inch (diameter) circle. Score the surface to mark serving sized pieces. Bake at 425 F for about 18 minutes.

When coolish, you can add a glaze of maple syrup mixed with enough icing sugar to make it the right consistency.

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This is perhaps my favourite scone to date. The flavour of the walnuts came through well but was not too strong, and mixing the products of two of my favourite trees a total success.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #216; Petra at Food Eat Love; Zeba at Food for the Soul


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Crab Apple, Walnut and Sumac Biscotti

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My Iris Garden

Winter has hit us hard this year in SE Ontario, and I couldn’t be happier. The greatest thing about winter besides the spectacular scenery it affords us is the beautiful contrast to all those other seasons – seasons we appreciate so much more because we know all that colour is not a permanent state. Winter is also a perfect time for the gardener or forager to rest, regroup, and plan for the next season’s labour. I still have a lot of reading to do before spring comes, but I have succeeded in working with some of my preserved harvests, and decided where I should focus my attention once spring arrives. Therefore, I feel this winter has been a fairly productive period.

This recipe is a result of some of my ‘thinking’ time during this snowy and bitterly cold season. I devised a recipe which uses three of my foraged products: crab apples, sumac powder, and my new favourite, black walnuts. I expected not to get it right the first time, but the result is exactly what I was hoping for. Not too sweet, a good balance of fruit and nut flavour, and soft enough I don’t have to worry about cracking a tooth.

I love biscotti, sweet or savoury. They are the true ‘biscuit’  or ‘twice cooked”. The variations are endless, including not only nuts and fruits, but also herbs and seeds. If you don’t have these exact ingredients on hand, just combine what you have with, say, one fruit, one nut and one flavouring (vanilla, lemon zest, almond, chocolate, etc).

Crab Apple, Walnut and Sumac Biscotti

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 heaping Tbsp sumac powder

3/4 cup dried crab apples

1/4 cup black walnuts

1/4 cup olive oil

3 eggs

Mix together all the dry ingredients. Whisk the oil and eggs together, and add them to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly, kneading the dough till it sticks together. Divide the dough in two parts and form into two loaves, 7″x3″. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet.

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Biscotti loaves before first baking

Bake in a 300 degree F oven for about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool for about 15 minutes. Slice each loaf into twelve slices. Arrange again on the parchment, and return to the oven, lowered to 275 F, for 12 minutes.

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Candied Squash or Kabak Tatlisi

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Kabak Tatlisi with black walnuts

This blog is about wild food, which means I have to use a little imagination to incorporate the wild edibles with recipes I am eager to share. This dessert is a recipe worth sharing, with or without the wild element, but it does highlight the black walnuts in a spectacular way. If that sounds a bit of exaggeration, I can honestly say this is my all time favourite dessert.

I first discovered it in South America where it is called ‘zapillo en almibar’, and consists of cubes of squash in a sweet syrup. The addition of pickling lime, or calcium hydroxide gives it a firm exterior while keeping the interior beautifully soft and smooth.

I later discovered that this sweet originated in Turkey and is called Kabak Tatlisi. I have been making it for years, but just now learned its name. I found many recipes on line for it, a few even in English, but they are a little different from the way my Turkish friends taught me. Most of the recipes I found added some water, and they cooked it in a pot on the stove. I am sticking with my Turkish friends’ recipe, which is simple and fail-proof – no water and poached in the oven. Instead of using cane sugar, I used maple sugar, which should appeal to anyone who likes maple, which is to say Canadians. But any sugar is good. I also used black walnuts, which are a great contrast to the sweet syrup. You can use any walnuts, or other toppings such as sesame seeds, pistachios, filberts. I even saw it with a tahini sauce on top.

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Shelled black walnuts

This same method is used for figs, green walnuts, eggplant and tomatoes. I have tried the first three but not the tomatoes. Squash is still my favourite. The traditional squash, I have read, is butternut, but any squash which is firm when cooked works well. I used a hubbard squash.

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Hubbard squash

The recipe is simply this:  Chop or slice the squash and cover it in a bowl with sugar. Let it sit until the sugar turns into a syrup, several hours. You can hasten this a bit by stirring it gently, especially if using a coarse grain sugar like maple. Put the whole lot into a baking dish. I baked it for about half an hour at 325 F, until the squash feels soft when poked with a sharp knife. Serve with walnuts sprinkled on top.

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Squash after a few hours of soaking in maple sugar

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Squash in syrup ready for the oven

My Turkish friends told me equal weight of sugar and squash. So my first recipe, pictured above, I did exactly that. The next time, pictured below, I used only half the sugar and mixed cane and maple. The important thing is to have enough syrup that it doesn’t harden before the squash it cooked. One way to ensure that does not happen is to use a pan which will not spread out the syrup too thinly. I prefer to use more rather than less sugar, since  left over syrup can always be used in baking, on pancakes, ice cream etc.

It occurred to me to serve it with whipped cream, but did not bother. I am now wondering if there might be an ice cream dessert there somewhere.

Note: You can cut it in slices or cubes. Just be sure the pieces are all the same size so that they cook evenly. Also, if in slices, it should not be too thin, no less than half an inch, because the creamy texture of the squash would be partly lost.

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Reduced sugar version


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Whiskey Walnut Butter

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What butter and whiskey won’t cure, there is no cure for.

(Irish saying)

As one of my contributions to the Robbie Burns celebration, I have prepared a Scottish-inspired spread, making use of a few more of my black walnut stash. The flavour of the walnuts is well complimented by the whiskey, and the butter is a super vehicle for it all.

6 Tbsp butter, unsalted

2 Tbsp ground or chopped black walnuts

2 Tbsp whiskey

salt to taste

Cream the lot together. Chill and serve.

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Happy Robbie Burns Day!


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Black Walnuts

Black walnuts are another one of those local delicacies which have been largely ignored, or even avoided in the belief that they are inedible. But once I learned that they are indeed edible, and that there are lots of them growing in my own neighbourhood, I wanted some. We have none on our property, but a friend kindly offered me some of her harvest, and I eagerly accepted. Thank you Brenda.  And here they are, fresh off the tree, in October.

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And so began my black walnut project.

1. Peel. This is fairly simple. Just score the nut around the equator with a sharp knife and twist off the outer layers. It is essential to wear impermeable gloves to protect your hands from the black goo underneath which stains terribly. I found it took two weeks for the stain to wear off my one unprotected hand.

2. Wash. You can swirl them in buckets of water, a few times, still wearing the gloves, but we used a pressure washer and it did a super job in just a few seconds.

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3. Dry. Too large for my dehydrator, I put them in the oven at 175 degrees F for a few hours. Because they are so large and I wanted to do it slowly, I turned off the oven a few times, and extended the drying period to about 8 hours. When they felt lighter, I figured (hoped) they were ready. The wonderful scent peculiar to this kind of nut was my first experience with their distinctive, pungent flavour.

4. Set aside to age, for at least three months, in a cool, dry place.

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5. Shell. This is by far the most daunting of all the tasks. They are the hardest nut to crack that I have ever come came across, and I wasn’t too sure if I would be able to continue with this project. We did a few using a vise, but that required more strength than I possess, and this was my project I wanted to do on my own. So finally, I wrapped one at a time in a tea towel, and took a mallet to them on the basement floor.  A rock would also work, as you need a really hard surface beneath. I would not recommend doing it on your furniture or kitchen counter. The towel was supposedly to protect bits of shell from flying into my eyes, but with my gentle approach that was not a problem. The tea towel did help to hold the nut in place while I cajoled it open. It took only a few not very powerful taps with the mallet until I felt the shells collapse. After the first few, I was able to gage the force required to break it into a two or three pieces but not so much that the entire nut was in smithereens.

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If all this seems like a lot of effort, take note that these nuts have such a strong flavour that only a few are needed in any recipe. It is difficult to describe a flavour, but to me these walnuts are to the more common ones what pumpernickel is to white bread. I will soon be publishing some of the recipes I have come up with to make the best use I can of these precious nuts.