Along the Grapevine


More on Queen Anne’s Lace and Kombucha

DSC03429Last year I experimented with Queen Anne’s lace (daucus carota) for the first time and posted a recipe for a flower cordial, which I now usually make without adding any other flowers. The rosy pink colour never fails, and the flavour is exquisite on its own. I use it mixed with sodas, in cocktails, sometimes just with water, and occasionally in tea.

I have altered the recipe slightly. I measure by volume, covering the blossoms with equal parts of boiling water. In fact, I use a little less water sometimes, barely covering the flowers with water and then press them down with a plate. Then I mix the strained liquid with half as much organic sugar, heat and stir just to dissolve. That’s all there is to it.

Since then, I have been determined to find other ways to use this beautiful flower, and especially this year when they are in such profusion, I want to share as many ideas as possible.

I did make a very nice jelly with it last summer but failed to post my recipe.  However, I recently came across another blogger’s recipe which is much the same, so I will take the lazy way out and direct you to it here at Forged Mettle Farm.

Apart from the jelly and the syrup, I have had difficulty coming up with recipes. I used it to flavour rice pudding, but found that the flavour and colour were both overwhelmed with so much cooking and the other ingredients. I remedied that to some extent by making a thick pudding without sugar, once with coconut milk and once with milk and cream, then thinning and sweetening it with the syrup as it was cooling, thus avoiding long exposure to heat. The colour was not there, but there was enough flavour to make a delicious dessert, although not as strongly flavoured as I would have liked.  Experiment will continue.DSC03574.JPG

Having recently acquired some scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) I have been experimenting with making kombucha. If you are not familiar with this super healthful drink, you might be interested to read this article I found which will give you the necessary info, and then some. It is so easy to make, and can be mixed with just about anything – fruits, berries, herbs, and even vegetables, in short, all the wild things I write about. And so I have Queen Anne’s Lace kombucha, made by mixing the syrup with prepared kombucha in equal parts, and then allowing it to ferment a couple of days or so. If left longer than a couple of days, remember to open the bottle to let any built up gas escape. You may want to add or subtract the amount of syrup, augment, reduce or even eliminate the final fermentation to get the flavour and sweetness you like best.DSC03588

If you are frustrated by not having access to a scoby, and you live in this area, I would be happy to provide you with one plus the necessary amount of ready made kombucha to get you started.

And this is what I bring to this week’s Fiesta Friday which I will be co-hosting with Mara from Put on Your Cake Pants.  Do drop by and see what our guests have for you. If you would like to contribute a recipe of yours, you are most welcome. Just check out the guidelines and join the party.




Sumac Soda

DSC02869A couple of days ago I wrote about gathering and preserving rhus glabra, or smooth sumac, a departure from my usual rhus typhina, or staghorn sumac. These are only two of the roughly thirty five species of red berried rhuses, and as far as I can tell, their flavours are similar enough that they can be interchanged in recipes very easily. So while I have used the smooth sumac liquid, i.e. berry infused water as a base, you could substitute this with any other edible sumac.

I have made a few natural sodas lately, including tonic water, and the success I have had with all of them has encouraged me to continue experimenting. As sumac is great in a lemonade, tea or mead, I figured it would make a decent soda too. I was not disappointed.

Besides the sumac ‘juice’ as described in my last post, you will need some honey and some starter or bug for the fermentation to take place. The process for making a bug can be found here. Once your bug is ready, you mix the three ingredients in flip top bottles. Ginger is the most common root to use, but I also use dandelion and chicory root where I don’t want a strong ginger flavour as is the case with this drink.

My general rule is to mix the ingredients so that the initial mixture is sweeter than you want the end product, since much of the sugar gets used up in the fermentation process, so while there is a high ratio of honey, the drink is still quite dry. However, the fermentation is speedy and effective, so be warned. I try it after three days instead of the usual five, and open the bottles every two days to let excess gas escape. The drink will continue to ferment, so once you are happy with its flavour and fizziness, keep it chilled.
The proportions I used were as follows: 1 cup bug, 1 cup raw honey, 3 1/2 cups sumac juice.


So here is a soda that is not only delicious but actually good for you. I will be sharing it with the guests at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #104, where I will be co-hosting along with Mila from Milk and Bun. Do drop by for some extraordinary recipes, and if you are a food blogger yourself, feel free to post a recipe of your own. The clear and simple guidelines are outlined here.






How to Make Tonic Water


I recently wrote about making sodas from the root of a common weed – chicory. Fermenting a root, often ginger, is the first step in making a soft drink. It is then mixed with whatever juice you choose, a little more sugar or raw honey for a further ferment, sealed, and that’s it. The full recipe can be found here.

How to Make Tonic Water on Punk Domestics

I found the chicory bug had a bitter flavour, but nothing that would interfere with other flavours, so it can be a good alternative to ginger. It reminded me of the flavour of tonic water, so the next challenge was to develop it into the real thing.

I dug up some more chicory root while the ground is not yet frozen. The flowers had wilted but there were some tasty young green leaves at the base of the plants not to be wasted.


Chicory plants in November

The roots are easiest to cut up when fresh, so it’s best to chop them all so when they dry, they are ready to add to your bug.


Chicory roots

Searching for a good tonic recipe, I came across this one by David Lebovitz which I followed very closely, except I used a pinch of lavender flowers in place of the lemongrass called for. Instead of mixing the prepared syrup half and half with soda water, I fermented it with the ‘bug’, some raw honey and more water.

First, a little about this syrup. The ingredient that gives tonic water its distinctive flavour is the bark of cinchona (quina), a plant originating in South America but cultivated also in Asia for its medicinal qualities, one of which has been a treatment for malaria. For more about the plant, its uses and contraindications, read this.


Cinchona bark

You won’t likely find this bark in your local green grocer’s, but a good herb shop should carry it, and of course you can buy it on line.

It is wise to use organic fruits, especially since the peel is used.


Tonic infusion after 2 days

The bark, some spices, fruit juice and zest are all mixed together, heated and allowed to sit for a couple of days to make a richly coloured, super aromatic, bitter syrup.


Strained tonic syrup

The next step was to ferment this with my chicory bug. For this I used

100 ml. chicory (or other root) bug

125 ml tonic syrup

2 Tbsp raw honey

1 tsp granulated sugar (optional, for a little extra sweetness)

200 ml non-chlorinated water.

Mix these ingredients in a bottle with a sealable lid like the one in the photo above, and let it sit at room temperature for about 5 days, after which time it should be refrigerated. Even at a cool temperature, fermentation will continue, so to be safe you can occasionally release the seal and let some gas escape, then seal it up again.


Tonic on the rocks

The syrup soda combination was very good, but the fully fermented drink was definitely superior and well worth the extra little effort. The recognizable flavour of tonic was more complex, and was so good I didn’t even feel tempted to add the usual splash of gin, although I’m sure that would be excellent too.

If you don’t have access to chicory roots, any bitter, edible root such as dandelions would be a good alternative.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #96

Related posts: Two New Flavours of Ginger SodaChicory Root Soda; Dandelion Gin Fizz








Feral Pears: Where Looks Don’t Matter


Pear Tree

At this time of year, wild fruit is the easiest to find, although you might want to hurry before the real frost hits. The trees have lost their leaves, and the apples or pears are very visible on the almost naked limbs. There are probably plenty more on the ground too! The other day, I managed to pick a bucket each of pears and apples. The apples I used for my Turkish delight – but unaccustomed to finding pears, I wanted to use them in as many ways as possible – even with this small amount.


Feral pears

Feral fruit, i.e. from fruit trees which have been abandoned and left to grow willy nilly, are a great source for cooking. They may be small, irregular, and have a few blemishes on the skin, but I find I can always count on them to be flavourful, chemical free and just plain free. I only buy organic pears and apples from the markets since the others are notorious for their chemical content, but these can be costly and hard to find, so when available I am more than happy to forage for them. I collected a mixture of pears with light green, brown, yellow and pink skins. I have no idea what variety they had been originally, but presume they have been hybridized.

With my small harvest, this is what I did:

Dehydrate: This method is not only a practical way to preserve and store the fruit, but results in a sweetness and flavour surpasses the raw fruit. To dehydrate pears, unlike apples, it is best to peel them, because the skin is tough and gritty. I did not soak them in an ascorbic acid infusion to prevent browning because I planned to use them baking, the colour didn’t matter and the taste is the same. If you want to preserve the colour, soak them for a few minutes in a solution of the juice of one lemon to one cup of water. I used a dehydrator because the recommended temperature is between 135 and 160 degrees F and my oven does not register that low. They are ready when they feel dry but are still a bit flexible, not brittle. Let them cool and store in bags or jars.


Dehydrated pear pieces

Because I had peeled them, I had some very nice organic peels to use up. Taking my cue from a trusted fellow blogger, Urban Nettle who recently wrote about using the skins of russet apples to make a sugar-like powder, I decided to do the same with my pear skins. They need to be dehydrated until they are quite brittle. Once cooled, they can be ground to a fine powder and used as a sweetener. The taste is very sweet and the texture granular – much like sugar but with a definite pear flavour. I look forward to experimenting with this new (for me) ingredient.


Dehydrated pear skins


Powdered pear skins

Scrap Vinegar: With some pears still to use, I decided to make an actual recipe, which meant more peeling and more peels, so a scrap vinegar seemed in order.  The most quoted authority on this subject is Sandor Elix Katz and his book “Wild Fermentation” where the science behind this method is fully explained. It seems to be catching on, and no wonder, since it means you can turn all kinds of scraps – peels, cores, over-ripe fruit into a tasty and nutritious vinegar. To do this, I loosely filled a quart jar about half full with the peels and added two heaping tablespoons of raw honey. I then almost filled the jar with non-chlorinated water, put the lid loosely on and left to ferment in a cool place out of direct light. Stirring once a day is all the attention it needs for about a week when it gets fizzy, after which time it can be strained and left to ferment another few days, depending on how strong you want the result to be. This can be used as you would any vinegar, or mixed into a drink.


Fermenting pear skins and cores



Strained pear scrap vinegar

This vinegar will have to sit a few more days before I can use it, but at this point it has a delicious fruity scent. The rest of the pears I roasted and used them to make a vegan stuffing which I will post within the next couple of days

Feral Pears: Where looks don't matter on Punk Domestics