Along the Grapevine


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Nannyberry Cake

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At this very time last year I posted a recipe for a sauce using nannyberries or viburnum lentago. It was my first experience with this berry, and I was surprised at just how easy to use and tasty it was. In that post, I give some description of the plant which I won’t repeat here, but if you think you might have access to this plant, you might find it interesting.

This year the trees are producing even more than last year, and I hope to try a few recipes with them, starting with one for a cake. There are no nannyberry cake recipes I can find, so here is my chance to create a ‘first’.

It is a pretty standard, old-fashioned sort of cake recipe, using butter, eggs and buttermilk, but the subtle fruit flavour of these berries, something like that of plums, mixed with cardamom, makes a super aromatic dessert appropriate for an autumn menu. If you don’t care for or own any cardamom, cinnamon could be substituted.

Nannyberry Cake

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups nannyberries

3/4 cup water

3 egg yolks

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup butter

1 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 1/2 cups flour

2 Tbsp ground flaxseed

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cardamom

3 beaten egg whites

Method

Cook the nannyberries and water in a covered pan until soft, about ten minutes. Strain the berries, pressing out as much pulp as possible. This will make about 1/2 cup of juice. When cool, beat in the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Measure the flour, flaxseed, soda and cardamom and mix well. Blend one third of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture at a time, alternating with half the liquid. When it is all blended, fold in the egg whites.

Pour the batter into a ten inch spring form pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 325 degrees F for fifty minutes. Allow it to sit for ten minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and allow to cool on a rack.

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This is a cake which can be served just as is, with cream or ice cream, or if you like given a full regalia.

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Linked to Fiesta Friday #87.


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Wild Grape Leaves

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This is the best time of year to collect wild grape leaves – or any grape leaves – but for this blog, I only consider the wild varieties. I haven’t had time to come up with any new recipes for this year, but decided to write on foraging them without delay so you can start collecting them and storing them to use in the months to come.

Grapes, particularly the wild variety, have been touted as a superfood, high in antioxidants among other things. However, the leaves also offer a wide range of nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, magnesium and calcium.

They grow in super abundance in hedgerows, roadsides, and untended lots – even in the cities. They occur in every part of the world, excluding the Antarctica, so while your vines might not be identical to mine, you are bound to have some growing somewhere in the area no matter where you live.

Be sure to identify them properly, as with any wild food. In this area, there is one toxic look-alike called the common or Canadian moonweed (menispermum Canadense). Its fruit differs from the grape in that it has one crescent shaped seed, while the grape has several round ones. Before the fruit appears, they are distinguishable from the grape because the moonweed does not have tendrils, whereas the grape has tendrils which it uses to climb most commonly around trees and fences.

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Since I have started cooking with them, I have been surprised at how many uses they have. They are often added to pickles to retain the crispness of the vegetable. A few leaves in a pot of rice adds a good flavour as well as nutrition The recipes featured in my blog over the last year are:

Grape Leaf, Herb and Yogurt Pie

Dolmas

Grape Leaf Chips

Grape Leaves with Roasted Vegetables

To gather, pick unblemished leaves from plants which are not contaminated by pesticides or chemicals (near a busy road or railway tracks). Blanche them in boiling water just  until they wilt. Shake them dry and pile them neatly. Store and freeze in plastic bags. The younger light-coloured ones can be used fresh in a salad.

I will be posting recipes using these leaves soon – and of course later will follow with recipes using the fruit.

Tips on Spruce on Punk Domestics

 

 


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It is -20 degrees C today and dropping, so I make no apologies for not foraging today. I didn’t even make it outside. What I am doing is figuring out what to do with my foraged bounty and which ingredients are worth gathering and which just don’t work that well, or do not survive storage.

One of my favourite and most useful harvests this year has been the sumac, especially in powdered form. I have noticed that it is one of those increasingly popular spices, although still under-used. And as for local sumac, there seems to be none used whatsoever, even though the red sumac we gather here is similar to the product bought in specialty spice shops. If you are not sure how to identify it, watch this clip.  Even those who are familiar with it sometimes need to know how they can use it. I usually just say ‘on anything at all’, but no doubt it would be more useful to give some actual recipes.

I have already commented on this spice in my original post, but certain points bear repeating.

  • make sure you have identified the plant correctly
  • remove the berries without any other bits of the plants and clean them well
  • make sure you are not allergic to it

If you don’t have any of your own, you can buy it in shops. The store-bought is not always organic, and sometimes salt is added to give it bulk, so the home-made is preferable, but not essential. It adds a fruity, lemony flavour to vegetables, dressings, fish, meat, in short, just about anything. I even added it my shortbread with excellent results. Today, taking refuge from the cold weather and icy roads, I made two vegetable recipes;  grilled portobello mushrooms and Brussels sprouts from the last remaining fresh sprouts from my garden.

The portobello mushrooms are inspired by a recipe I found on line from Allrecipes, and it comes with a video. I made a few changes, mostly the sumac.

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3 portobello mushrooms

1/4 cup olive oil

3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 shallot (or small onion)

1 Tbsp garlic

1 Tbsp sumac powder

1 tsp saltDSC00133

Clean the mushrooms, pat dry and remove the stems. Mix the oil, vinegar, onion garlic and salt in a bowl and pour over the turned up side of the mushrooms. Leave them to marinate for about an hour. Grill them on a lightly oiled grill gill side up until cooked through, about 10 minutes. You will see the sauce bubbling on top of the mushrooms when they are ready.

Brussels Sprouts with Sumac

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Brussels sprouts

olive oil (enough to coat)

sumac powder

salt to taste

Coat the sprouts with oil and salt. They can be roasted in the oven, but I sauteed them in a pan with the oil and salt and added the sumac just towards the end. If they are getting too browned but still too undercooked for your taste, add just a little water to barely cover the base of the pan, and continue to cook covered for a couple of minutes. Do not overcook!  DSC00131 This is a good method when the sprouts are not all the same size, even after halving the larger ones. I put the bigger pieces in first, then added the very small ones later.

This barely scratches the surface of things you can do with sumac powder, but as I work my way through my bag of red powder, I will post more of my experiments. Until then, I would be interested to know if anyone else has been using this spice in ways we have not yet thought of.

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Crab Apple Preserve

Crab apples are one of the easiest fruits to preserve with more pectin than most – it is even recommended as an addition to some jams and jellies to help them set. I thought I would try a preserve which, in South America, is often made with quince, guava or sweet potato, known as ‘dulce de’ whatever. So I will call this dulce de manzana silvestre.

If not cooked quite long enough, you will get a rich, dark jam. Cook it a little longer, and it will set into a firm paste, which can be sliced or cut into squares – the former is served with fresh cheese and the latter eaten as a candy. But I find it has other uses too. I blended it in water and used it instead of orange juice in a pumpkin cake recipe, which added a subtle aroma. It could also be used like tamarind in savoury dishes. It would  be excellent as a condiment, particularly for a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, or with pork or game. Again, I think I didn’t make enough of it to experiment as much as I’d like, but still hoping to find some more apples.

I used the small ones from my tree in the garden, but any crab apples would work well.

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Dulce de manzana silvestre

1 lb. crab apples

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

Cook the crab apples in water until they are very soft. This takes about an hour, but don’t rush them. The mushier, the better.

Strain the fruit, pressing out as much fruit as you can, much as you would making apple sauce. Return the juice to a pan, add the sugar and cook on a low heat until it looks dark and is about 1/3 the volume you started with.

I put mine in a jar because I didn’t expect it to set as much as it did. Had I known, I would have used a square, non-metallic cake pan and cut it into squares.

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