Along the Grapevine


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Pickled Crabapples

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In my scrounging around for any crabapples I can find this season, I got a few of these very young, green ones. I have recently learned that young fruit has the advantage of having smaller seeds and don’t need much preparation, other than cooking.

Coincidentally, I came across a recipe for pickled young crabapples by the Forager Chef whose recipes are always excellent, so I followed his recipe which you can find here. I made it according to his instructions, except that as I had no orange zest I used sumac water in place of that and the water called for. I also only had enough apples for half the recipe which made two jars. If you read his post, you will see that he serves these crabapples with a very elegant pork dish garnished with purslane. If you don’t eat pork, these little pickled apples are tasty enough to be eaten on their own, and as he points out you can use the stem as a little handle.

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Crabapple, Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

At this time last year I was harvesting no end of crabapples and managed to use them preserved in some form or another for the whole year. I discovered several varieties, all of which were a pleasure to cook with. It became my favourite fruit – easy to pick and store, pretty, and useful in so many recipes – from spicy marinades to sweet treats. Some of my favourite recipes were: crabapple cordial; crabapple pastebiscottivinaigrettechips.

I was looking forward to finding more varieties this year, maybe planting a tree or two, and trying some new recipes. However, our one tree has so few fruits on it this year, I figure I will just let the birds have them all. Here is a picture of our tree last year.

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I did manage to collect some from a generous sister on a recent visit, enough to make a couple of new recipes. If you are lucky enough to have a source of crabapples this year, I hope you will find these recipes useful.

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The first I made was a jam mixed with rhubarb, which is still flourishing, and a little fresh ginger. Crabapples are wonderful to mix with other fruit as they have so much pectin you don’t have to add any. I made it rather tart, but if you like a sweet jam, just add another 1/2 cup of sugar. I did not strain the crabapples after cooking, but if I can make this again I would because it would be better without the skins. The fruit is young enough the seeds are not a problem, but later in the season you will want to eliminate all of them too.

Crabapple, Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

1 3/4 lb or 5 cups crabapples

1 lb or 4 cups chopped rhubarb

1 cup sugar

2 Tsp grated fresh ginger

1 cinnamon stick

Method

Sprinkle the sugar over the rhubarb and set aside. Put the apples, ginger and cinnamon in a large pan and barely cover with water. Simmer until they are nice and soft, about half an hour on a low heat. At this point, I recommend cooling it a bit and straining it through a food mill or sieve.

Return the strained juice to the pot and add the rhubarb and sugar. Continue to cook about another 15 minutes until the rhubarb is tender. Pour into 3 medium sized jars.

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No need to limit eating this jam just to toast for breakfast. It is also good with yogourt or with cheese.

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Fermented Cucumbers

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The wild grape vines this year are a bust.  Not just mine, it seems to be the case everywhere in this area. I will be lucky if I can gather enough wild grapes for one good recipe. However, the leaves are still useable, and although some of them are too mature to pick, there are still enough young ones to use for cooking.

Now that it is pickling season, grape leaves are especially useful for adding to pickles you want to be really crunchy. A few leaves in each jar will prevent your crisp vegetables from going mushy. This is because grape leaves contain tannins which inhibit the enzyme that makes the vegetable soft. If you don’t have grape leaves, a pinch of black tea leaves, or a few oak  or cherry leaves or horseradish will have the same effect.

In order to test this theory, I decided to ferment cucumbers, which takes a few days but no extra effort. To do this you will need a brine made of 2 Tbsp salt per quart of water (non-chlorinated) and some flavourings, such as garlic, onions, herbs and spices. You could just use a ready-made pickling mix, but I decided to make my own mixture using primarily seeds, herbs and spices mostly from my garden.

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For one jar, I filled it with whole, small cucumbers, a few cloves of garlic, 3 allspice berries, 10 peppercorns, 1 chopped dried chili pepper, 1 tsp each of mustard, fennel and coriander seeds, and a few dill flowers and leaves. I used about 5 young grape leaves at the bottom and top of the jar, and covered it all with brine. The grape leaf on top prevents any of the other ingredients from floating to the top. In addition, I placed a sterilized stone on top of the grape leaf to keep everything well immersed.

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I then covered it with a cloth and let it sit for about a week. When I figured it was ready by tasting, I put a lid on it and placed it in the fridge. It will continue to ferment a little there, and I hope the garlic mellows out a bit yet, but the flavour and texture of the cucumbers was perfect.

 

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Sumac and Rhubarb Soup

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Of all the forageables I have found in my area over the last year, the one that I use most frequently is the staghorn sumac. It is easy to identify, pick and preserve. It also has a relatively long harvesting period, from July to late fall, so I am able to collect at least as much as I need when I feel like it. It has also inspired some of my favourite and most innovative recipes which include among others:

Sumac DrinkSumac powder and molassesRice PuddingSumac Meringue PieFermented Hummus with SumacSumac and VegetablesZa’atar

I have also used it regularly in stews, sauces, dressings and pretty much anywhere where a bit of lemon or pomegranate juice would be called for.

For anyone not familiar with this wild plant, at least not for culinary purposes, here are a few pointers.

What is staghorn sumac? A shrub, also known as velvet sumac and sumac vinegar tree, it is of the genus Rhus and a member of the cashew family. It grows in most of Eastern Canada, and is used as an ornamental shrub in Europe for its fall foliage and distinctive fruit.

How to identify it. This shrub is between 1 and 8 meters in height and is commonly found along roadsides, at forest edges and in clearings. It has compound leaves with serrated edges. The flowers are cone shaped clusters with velvety buds. Its thick hairy branches resemble the horns of a male deer, hence the name staghorn. There are poison sumacs, but their leaves have no serrations and they have smooth white berries.

How to use it. For sumac powder, remove the berries from the clusters and dry them in a dehydrator or an oven at about 170 F. Grind them and then sift them. For the juice, it is usually recommended just to soak the entire flower in water for a few hours, and for a more concentrated liquid, remove the flowers and add fresh ones to repeat the process until you get the strength you want. I have also simmered them to get more colour, although I might lose some nutritional value in the process.

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I decided to make a recipe for Angie’s Fiesta Friday #28 using the juice, which is most often used in lemonade-like drinks. I thought to mix it with rhubarb since now is the time that these two ingredients overlap for a few weeks. I have always liked the Scandinavian types of sweetish fruit soups, but if you are not a fan of such soups, you can serve it as a drink and call it what you will. However you serve it, it is a deliciously refreshing dish with a beautiful rosey colour.

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Sumac and Rhubarb Soup

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

2 cups chopped rhubarb

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup water

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp water

1 cup sumac juice

Method

Simmer the rhubarb, sugar, cinnamon and water until the rhubarb is very soft. Strain and return to the pan. Add the cornstarch and simmer a few minutes longer. Add the sumac juice. Serve either hot or cold.

Milking the Weeds: Cooking with Milkweed Pods on Punk Domestics

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Milkweed Bud Fetuccine

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I usually try to make original recipes, but occasionally I come across something I haven’t thought of and want to try. Once I tried this recipe for fetuccine made with the leaves and buds of milkweed I decided to bring it to  Angie’s Fiesta Friday #23 and  share it with any of my readers who have milkweed. And if you don’t have milkweed, broccoli leaves and flowers could be used in their stead.

The Forager Chef creates some of the best and most innovative recipes using foraged ingredients I have found. The recipe in its original is here – and you might like to look through his blog to see some of his creations, especially those using a great selection of wild mushrooms.

Two things made me want to try this recipe. First, I have such an abundance of milkweed now as we have tried to encourage its growth for the sake of the monarchs, none of which has shown up yet.

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The other incentive was that I really like home-made pasta, especially when it is a recipe which is unusual enough that it is only available if you make it yourself.

I made only minor changes in the recipe. I used lime instead of lemon, and cheddar cheese instead of parmesan. The milkweed has a delicate floral flavour, and the lime zest is a perfect pairing for it. The pasta was easy to work with, but having added just a tad too much water I dusted it liberally with semolina when rolling it and once it was cut.

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I blanched the leaves and flowers together along with a few plantain flowers I was using for something else, and used the stock from cooking these  in the pasta and for the pasta sauce.

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Crab Apple, Walnut and Sumac Biscotti

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My Iris Garden

Winter has hit us hard this year in SE Ontario, and I couldn’t be happier. The greatest thing about winter besides the spectacular scenery it affords us is the beautiful contrast to all those other seasons – seasons we appreciate so much more because we know all that colour is not a permanent state. Winter is also a perfect time for the gardener or forager to rest, regroup, and plan for the next season’s labour. I still have a lot of reading to do before spring comes, but I have succeeded in working with some of my preserved harvests, and decided where I should focus my attention once spring arrives. Therefore, I feel this winter has been a fairly productive period.

This recipe is a result of some of my ‘thinking’ time during this snowy and bitterly cold season. I devised a recipe which uses three of my foraged products: crab apples, sumac powder, and my new favourite, black walnuts. I expected not to get it right the first time, but the result is exactly what I was hoping for. Not too sweet, a good balance of fruit and nut flavour, and soft enough I don’t have to worry about cracking a tooth.

I love biscotti, sweet or savoury. They are the true ‘biscuit’  or ‘twice cooked”. The variations are endless, including not only nuts and fruits, but also herbs and seeds. If you don’t have these exact ingredients on hand, just combine what you have with, say, one fruit, one nut and one flavouring (vanilla, lemon zest, almond, chocolate, etc).

Crab Apple, Walnut and Sumac Biscotti

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 heaping Tbsp sumac powder

3/4 cup dried crab apples

1/4 cup black walnuts

1/4 cup olive oil

3 eggs

Mix together all the dry ingredients. Whisk the oil and eggs together, and add them to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly, kneading the dough till it sticks together. Divide the dough in two parts and form into two loaves, 7″x3″. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet.

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Biscotti loaves before first baking

Bake in a 300 degree F oven for about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool for about 15 minutes. Slice each loaf into twelve slices. Arrange again on the parchment, and return to the oven, lowered to 275 F, for 12 minutes.

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