Along the Grapevine


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I recently posted a recipe for Dandelion Gin Fizz, a refreshingly light “superdrink” – a term I use advisedly because it is made with lacto-fermentation. Naturally fermented drinks are made with a starter, much as a sourdough bread is. The starter I used for that recipe was whey, perhaps the most common method. Another method is to use a ‘root bug’,  often made with ginger, and fittingly called a ‘ginger bug’. This involves allowing some root and sugar to ferment in non-chlorinated water for a few days in an anaerobic environment (no air) until it becomes fizzy – and delicious. This can be a base for all sorts of soda-type drinks, but so far I have only experimented with dandelion flowers.

I did not have access to a good quality, organic ginger, but read somewhere that any edible root will work. Even dandelion roots, of which I have many high quality, fresh and organic ones available – and they are free.

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I followed this recipe for ginger bug, substituting the ginger with dandelion root.

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To make the bug, I put 1 Tbsp of clean, chopped dandelion root with an equal amount of sugar in an 8oz mason not quite full of chlorine-free water. Just stir until the sugar dissolves. Every day, add a tsp. each of chopped root and sugar and give it another stir. Cover the jar with a clean cloth (to prevent any bugs of the other sort from getting in). After 3-5 days, you will see a lot of white bubbles forming on top of the liquid. I also taste it each day to see how it is doing. It is slightly sweet, and each day a little bit fizzier.

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When it is ready, you will want to add it to your dandelion flower infusion mixed with sugar syrup – all at room temperature. For this batch I had 2 cups of infusion and 1/2 cup of syrup. I added 1/2 cup of ‘bug’ and let it sit for about three days, covered with a cloth and stirring each day. Once it has fizzed up, it can be capped and refrigerated, but with the small amount I was making, we didn’t have any to store. I hope to master the storing process on my next batch.

The remaining root bug can be stored in the fridge, and used for making more by adding more of the same ingredients. I have not yet tried this repeat process either.

To serve, I added 4 oz. of gin and a little lemon to taste, but a non-alcoholic version would work just as well.

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I couldn’t detect any difference between this drink and the whey based one in terms of flavour. I intend to try it with other roots and, of course, other flavours. Any readers who have experience with this, I would love to hear what you used and how you made it.

 


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The best part of foraging is that you can harvest without ever planting a thing, and harvest before you have even had a chance to plant. My seeds for my vegetable garden are just beginning to sprout now inside the house, and it will be some time before any of them are useable, and I face a lot of work before any reach maturity. Meanwhile, wild greens are quickly making their appearance, and I don’t have to walk more than a few feet from my back door to find something tasty, or at least nutritious and green. That’s a good thing, considering it’s snowing outside as I write this, and the ground is just plain muddy. Luckily I picked a few leaves yesterday to add to a vegetarian curry of sorts. I am not suggesting you make curry necessarily – just to be aware that these harbingers of the growing season are already there for the picking, to be used in soups, salads, stews, baking, or wherever you want them.

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L to R nettles, dandelion, creeping charlie

I picked only three varieties for this dish: nettles, creeping charlie or mallow and dandelions. The total amount was about two cups, but enough to green-up my dish.

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These are all common in this area, relatively easy to identify, and impossible to over harvest. However, it’s still worth remembering two of the basic rules of foraging: always make sure you have identified the plant correctly and be sure to pick only from clean, non-treated areas .

Dandelions.  These are the easiest to identify and are super abundant in spring. My very first post was on dandelions and the dandelion pesto in it lasted me all winter. I will no doubt be posting more dandelion recipes this spring, but so far the pickings are slim. The leaves are so young and tender that they do not yet have the strong bitter flavour that I am looking for, but they offer such a load of nutrients, I wanted include them even now.

Mallow or Malva. This is another mild flavoured green which I have only recently started to use. You can read more about its identification and uses here. Again, it is more for its nutritional value than flavour that I use it. The roots are edible too, and I hope to figure that part out soon. I have also pickled the seeds in the summer to make something resembling capers.

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Creeping charlie can be used instead of mallow. They are similar in appearance, easily confused and interchangeable as far as the leaves go. To identify this plant, this site will help.

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Stinging Nettles. I found two recipes calling for nettles this morning just going through my regular blog mail, including this one for pesto and this one for spring rolls. As long as you are careful to pick these with sturdy gloves to protect you and then immediately dry, grind or blanche them to remove all the sting, these are really very easy to pick. Dried for tea is a popular use for them, but I like them in place of spinach, cooked the same way, quickly and with little water. My nettle patch is just getting started, but it has spread considerably since last year, so I hope to be able to experiment liberally with it. I will also keep chopping at it as there seems to be one school of thought that once it flowers, the leaves become more toxic. Not sure if that is so, but better to be safe.

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My curry was made with chick peas, onion, a home-made curry mixture, carrots and freshly dug Jerusalem artichokes. I added the greens just before serving, giving them only enough time to wilt.