Along the Grapevine


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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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Sumac Rice Pudding

100_0831When 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.

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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.


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Crab apple and sweet potato clafoutis

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With Canadian Thanksgiving soon upon us, here is a recipe which is sure to please those who are not so keen on pumpkin pie, or just want a change, or a dairy-free, gluten-free option. A clafoutis is a classic French dessert, something between a custard and a cake, made with fruit, often cherries.

I found this recipe first on a Spanish blog, translated it, and then came across it on another site in English. No idea where it originated, but it is a superb dessert and a great way to show off your perfect little crab apples. I was afraid the apples would not cook well enough, and be hard and bitter, but they were perfect – even better than cherries in my mind.

I prepared it in a large pan to give the apples long enough to cook well, but should have used one smaller in diameter which would have made it deeper. Still, it worked well, and was very easy. The mottled effect on mine was the result of sprinkling a mixture of sugar and almond flour before baking it. Perhaps the recipe meant to have it sprinkled on after baking.

Here is the recipe as I translated it.

Sweet Potato Crab apple Clafoutis

For a nine inch cake pan or several small ones.

1/2 cup sweet potato

1/3 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 cup coconut mle or cream

2 Tbsp Calvados (optional)

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup brown rice flour

2 Tbsp almond flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp ginger

crab apples

Mix the sweet potato, sugar and eggs. Add coconut milk or cream, vanilla, rice flour, almond flour, salt, ginger and cinnamon and beat together. Refigerate mixture for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Place the apples in the baking pan and pour the mixture over. Bake at 350 F for 20-30 mintutes, depending on the size of pans you use. Sprinkle the top with a mixture of almond flour and sugar.100_0595