Making up recipes with foraged ingredients in the winter usually means a little foraging in the pantry for all that is dried, pickled, frozen or fermented. I never actually expected to find fresh edibles well into February in this area, and certainly not juicy berries. But here is one little shrub, much overlooked and maligned, which is at its best in late winter. Highbush cranberry (viburnum trilobum) is not a cranberry at all but a deciduous shrub which can grow to 4 meters in height. Its leaves are similar in appearance to maple leaves. Clusters of white blossoms appear in the spring, and the green berry turns to orange and then a bright red in October or November. No wonder it is often used as a decorative landscaping plant, standing out particularly in winter months where the berries afford a beautiful contrast to the snow. It is an easy plant to identify with its clusters of berries measuring about 15mm in length and 12 mm in width. They have a single, flat white seed, and a pungent smell which is less strong in the winter after a few freezes and thaws. Rich in vitamin C, it is maybe a too bitter for many palates, but like many bitter foods has a good flavour once sweetened. Further to my experiments with cooking with these wild cranberries, I decided to make a vegan toffee using just sugar and coconut milk with the berries. First I pureed 1 cup berries. If you want a very smooth puree, pass them through a food mill to remove all the seeds and skin. This was added to 2 (400 ml) tins of coconut milk and 2 cups of sugar. Cook the mixture on a low heat until it reaches 270 degrees F on a candy thermometer, or between the hard and soft ball stages. This took approximately one and a half hours. Once cooked, pour into a 9 inch sq. pan lined with parchment paper and allow to cool completely. Cut into whatever size and shape you like and store in a very cool place. They are quite sticky when at room temperature. The flavour reminds me of a tamarind sweet – very creamy and soft. I will be taking these to Fiesta Friday – do drop by to see what the other guests have brought.
When in New York last week, I had to visit the famous Rice to Riches in Lower Manhattan. Their website is under construction, but you can find a list of their rice pudding flavours for delivery, and will give you an idea of how this little shop gives this lowly dessert a whole new makeover. Something like an ice cream parlour, and just as busy, they serve puddings of every imaginable flavour with catchy names, like Almond Shmalmond, Take me to Tiramisu, and Fluent in French Toast. And toppings!
When I first heard about it last year, I decided to try my own hand at making rice puddings of an unconventional sort. As a base I used 1 cup arborio rice, 2 cups water, and 1 cup coconut milk. To that I added flavourings, such as rose or orange blossom water, or lavender. But vanilla, nuts, fruit or whatever would work just as well. I combined all these ingredients, added a little sweetener (I usually used coconut sugar).
But this is a blog about wild foods, so I can’t try and recreate even their Secret Life of Pumpkin for this space. However, I can share with you my recipe for sumac rice pudding, which by the way cannot be found at this NYC restaurant. I’m sure there are many other wild edibles which would make interesting puddings, but one at a time.
I used sumac molasses for this, so there was no need to add any sugar. However, you could probably use powder or sumac tea and add sugar as necessary.
1 cup short-grained rice
1 cup water
1 cup sumac molasses
1 tin coconut milk
toasted nuts (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook covered, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for about 1/2 hour, or just until the rice is thoroughly cooked. The pudding will set as it cools, so don’t worry about it being too saucy. And feel free to be creative with your own toppings, although I personally prefer it just with a few toasted nuts and some sumac powder.