Along the Grapevine


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Japanese Quince Paste

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Japanese quinces of varying colours, sizes and shapes, all from one plant

I posted two recipes last year using Japanese quince (chaenomeles) – for jelly and chutney. Both were delicious, and I hoped to find more of this wonderful, seldom-used fruit to continue experimenting with it.

Japanese  Quince Paste on Punk Domestics

The more traditional quince (cydonia oblonga) is not commonly used here, so it is no surprise that this Asian variety is even less popular. It is grown for its beautiful flowers early in the spring, and the fruit are usually left to fall and rot on the ground. If you have one of these shrubs, you could not be blamed for considering the hard, irregularly shaped fruit was inedible. But once cooked, its lemony flavour is apparent, and it can be used in any recipe calling for quince. Even raw, it has a wonderful scent.

If you don’t have one of these shrubs, you will have difficulty finding the fruits since they are not sold in markets, but it is not impossible. You may know someone who has the plant and will spare you a few fruits, especially if they don’t know how good they really are. They are such hardy little shrubs, they are sometimes left standing in what once was a garden and now abandoned. I am still in the position of having to collect them from other people’s gardens, but I did successfully germinate some seeds from last year’s bunch, and if they survive this winter outside (their first), I may have my own fruit producing bushes soon. And just in case, I am going to repeat the process again this year with some carefully preserved seeds.

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Young quince shrubs in a pot

I decided this time to make a quince paste – a popular dish of Spanish and Portuguese origin, usually made with the actual quince. Based on the success of the jelly I made, I found the level of pectin is very high, like in quinces, and just sugar, fruit and water are required for a well-set jelly. I decided to use honey instead of sugar, because with all the preserving and jelly making I’m doing, I’m using too much sugar. As I was not sure if this would work, I decided to make a small amount first, so used just half a vanilla pod.  Now that first batch has been such a success, I might vary the recipe a little and try adding some other flavours, but meanwhile here is my recipe. Note, you do not have to peel or core them, just chop them in large bite-sized pieces.

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Cooked Japanese quinces in a food mill

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Strained quinces

Japanese Quince Paste


Ingredients

Japanese quinces, chopped  in quarters (I used about 4 cups)

Water

Vanilla pod

honey or sugar

Method

Put the chopped quinces in a saucepan with a piece of vanilla pod and cover with water. Heat to boiling and then simmer until they are all fully cooked and soft, about 1/2 hour. Put them through a food mill. If using sugar, measure 1 cup of sugar for each cup of pulp. If using honey, use only 3/4 that amount because it is sweeter. Continue cooking on low heat, stirring often to avoid sticking. The mixture will thicken and get darker. After about 1/2 an hour to 45 min., the bubbles will become audible, and look sort of like lava in a volcano erupting.

At this point, pour it into a shallow pan lined with lightly buttered parchment paper and allow to cool.

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Quince paste cooling

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Quince paste with cheddar cheese

Usually served with cheese (manchego in Spain), this sweet goes well with most cheeses. Or try it simply with toast for breakfast.

It can be kept for several weeks covered in the fridge, or wrap it and freeze it for longer to enjoy all winter long.


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Sea Buckthorn leather: A Roll-up for Grown-ups!

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Berries on female bush

This is my third post in a row using berries. The first were juicy sweet blue black nannyberries, the second sour red sumac, and this one is a bitter sweet bright orange sea-buckthorn, or hippophae rhamnoidas.

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Male bush

This is a berry I began using when living in Russia and Central Asia, and one I thought I would miss when I returned home. Luckily by then (2007), the cultivation of this had finally arrived in the new world, and although it is far from common, I am sure you will begin finding it in good farmers’ markets before long if you haven’t already. And when you do, I hope my ideas will inspire you to give it a try. Since it can be grown in a cold climate like ours, perhaps people will realize we don’t always need exotic berries from other continents to enhance our diets. How nutritious is it? Just let me say that Ghengis Khan used it as nourishment for his army!

I first came across it at a garlic festival in Perth Ontario, and shortly after found some shrubs at a nursery in the east end of Ottawa. That was about 6 years ago. I have now had two harvests from my three surviving female bushes – I have only one male but he is doing his job well on his own.

I should clarify for those who are turned off the word buckthorn – a nasty, invasive plant that grows around here. This is not a buckthorn really, and have no idea why it has been given that off-putting name. As for the prefix sea, it is not because it grows near the sea. I don’t know for certain, but perhaps it is named so because when you see fields of it blowing in the wind, the delicate silver-green undersides of the leaves make the plants look like waves on the sea. That is just my humble thought.

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Bushes blowing in the wind

You are most likely to find this berry as an ingredient in health and beauty products, and it is being touted by some as the greatest superfood out there. I prefer mine unprocessed, and eat it either fresh or steeped in hot water. The flavour is so intense, you can use the same bunch of berries for several infusions. If you find the flavour too strong, it could be mixed with sweet fruits, like apples, pears or peaches.

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For this week’s Fiesta Friday, I decided to make a fruit leather. I have never made, or even bought or eaten fruit leather, but this seemed like a good time to start. I collected 6 cups of berries, then strained them through my apple sauce mill, but you could also use a blender or food processor and then strain. I mixed the juice with 3 Tbsp of liquid honey and poured it into a lightly greased, parchment lined cookie tin. I put it in the oven a 170 F for about three hours, at which time I noticed the carroty orange colour was getting darker, but it looked too runny for comfort. I therefore sprinkled evenly on top 3 Tbsp of chia seeds, hoping that would absorb the extra liquid. I returned it to the oven for another 9 hours, at which point the fruit could be peeled easily off the parchment, but it was still flexible and soft.

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It has a soft and chewy texture a very intense flavour, tart like a lemon but caramelized. For a less intense flavour, I would mix it with a sweet fruit, or add just a little to any other fruit leather recipe.

A big thank you to Angie and her co-hosts Selma and Elaine. A little tardy this week, I am heading over there now to see what treats await me.


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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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Pulled Venison with Wild Grape Ketchup

At this time of year, our hunter friends often regale us with a good supply of venison –  a real treat. I have learned how to cook it through experiment. As all game, it can be tough and needs some special care and attention, especially if it is not a young animal.  I  learned that an acidic marinade of wild fruit and berries, sometimes beer or wine is what it really needs as a tenderiser. So when I decided to try a pulled venison and found no suitable recipe on-line, I used my wild grape ketchup I made in the summer. As it is already rich in flavour, I added only some juniper berries as a spice along with garlic and onion. My own junipers are buried in snow, so for the time being cannot experiment with them. I used some commercial ones which you can find in most good shops selling spices.

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If you don’t have any wild grape ketchup on hand, you can use the recipe I have given and simply use a dark grape juice.

Pulled Venison

1 venison roast (approx. 4 lbs)

1 1/2 cups wild grape ketchup

2 onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

juice of 1 lemon

2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

10 juniper berries, crushed

1 Tbsp liquid smoke (optional)

1 tsp salt

Cut the roast into four pieces. Place it in a slow cooker. Mix the remaining ingredients and pour over it. Turn the slow cooker on to high, and once it is good and hot turn to low and cook for 6-8 hours, until the meat can be pulled.

Remove the meat from the sauce, pull it with two forks. Meanwhile, continue cooking the sauce while pulling the pork. Remove about 1 cup to be used as a sauce, and put the pulled meat into the remaining sauce and heat through.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you could do it in a heavy, covered pan in the oven 325 F to begin with and then when hot lower it to 275 F for roughly the same amount of time.

This can be used as a sandwich filling, but I served it on a bed of mashed turnip, potato and parsnip with sauteed brussel sprouts on the side. It was every bit as tender and tasty as I expected it to be.

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The Edible Christmas Tree

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I was recently in a restaurant in Ottawa (Union) where I was served a delectable cocktail made of some kind of evergreen (I think it was pine but my dinner partner says it was balsam). At any rate, it motivated me to try my hand at using evergreens, only ever considered an essential part of Christmas decorations, in edible form. Be cautious however, as those trees you get at supermarkets are likely doused with some sort of pesticide or other chemicals. There are still plenty of pristine greens elsewhere, so there is lots of material to experiment with.

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My first experiment was with a spruce infused vodka. On its own, it is very strong, and a little too antiseptic tasting. However, in an attempt to imitate the flavour I experienced in Ottawa, I used honey, lemon and soda to make a very palatable winter cocktail.

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While thinking of healthful, seasonal drinks, I cam across recipes for tea one of which I have copied below. I used white spruce which is easy to find around here and the easiest evergreen to identify. It has long, soft needles, in bunches of five. High in vitamin C, it works as an expectorant, decongestant, and can be used as  an antiseptic.

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White Pine Tea

2 Tbsp fresh pine needles

1 cup boiling water

Remove the little brown bit at the base of the needles. Chop the pine needles and put in a cup. Pour boiling water over them and let sit for about five minutes. The brew is quite bland, with a gentle pine flavour. You could mix it with other green teas, or add a little lemon or lime to give it a little more oomph.

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My next experiment was the most seasonal and festive. I made cookies using dried, powdered white pine needles. I dried them in the dehydrator, but you can do them in the oven at the lowest possible temperature. They are ready once they crumble when squished.

Christmas Tree Cookies

1 cup butter

1/2 cup sugar (I used coconut palm sugar)

1/4 cup agave syrup or honey

1 egg

2 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp ground, dried pine needles

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp coarse salt

Mix them by hand, creaming the butter, sugar and egg first and then adding the dry ingredients, OR just mix them in the food processor in the same order, adding the salt at the end.

Wrap in plastic or parchment paper and leave in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours. Roll out on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut into shapes. Bake at 350 F for about 7 minutes (depending on thickness). Cool and decorate.

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These cookies have a wonderful flavour, mellow but distinctive. They do benefit from a sweet decoration, and you can use your favourite recipe here. I made icing with lemon balm which I had minced with oil and frozen. The flavour was surprisingly lemony, and the colour was a soft, natural green which I much prefer to the stronger artificial flavours. So now I know what I will do with the masses of lemon balm I have growing outside my back door.

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Sea Buckthorn

Sea buckthorn berries from Russia

Sea buckthorn berries from Russia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unless you live in North West Europe or Asia, you are not likely to come across this bush in your foraging expeditions, but luckily the plant has been introduced recently to the Americas and is gaining popularity for its health benefits, taken either internally or topically. Occasionally it can be found at farmers’ markets in the fall, and all kinds of beauty and medicinal products are appearing in pharmacies and on- line.

I was drawn to it long before I realized how healthful it is – it has a tart flavour and beautiful colour of leaves and berries, so I planted some in my garden five years ago and transplanted it when we moved one year later. The surviving four of the five original plants did not look promising, and I feared I maybe had bought all of the same gender (you need male and female plants). I was really excited when this year the three smaller plants produced an impressive quantity of fruit.

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If you are interested in reading more about this super plant, check out this site and this blog.

As it is not the easiest thing to pick, I harvested only about half, and so far have frozen some for further use, and used a few to make a Sea Buckthorn infused vinegar. This being my first attempt at using it, except as fresh berries, I wanted to keep it simple, and maximise the use of the few berries I managed to pick. The branches are thorny, and the berries grow so close to the branches that it was a bit of a challenge. Just remember when you see the high prices of the products made from these berries, that might be the reason.

To make the vinegar: Put a handful of berries into a clean mason jar. Cover with organic cider vinegar. Weigh the fruit down so none of the berries is floating on top and exposed to air. I used clean marbles wrapped in cheesecloth. One common method is to put water in a sealed plastic bag, but I did not want to submerge plastic into my pristine vinegar. Leave it in a cool dark place for a couple of weeks. This is particularly good on coleslaw. Sprinkle a few berries right into the salad.


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Jerusalem Artichoke Biscuits

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sumac berries

First of all, I made a jelly from sumac and crabapples. This was pretty simple. I used 1 cup of each ingredient: crabapples, sumac berries, sugar and water. I cooked the fruit together in the water, covered, till all were soft. After straining it through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, I added the sugar and cooked until it thickened enough. With all the pectin from the crabapples, this is not a problem. Rather, be careful not to overcook it. I find the best method is to take a small sample, put it in saucer and if it thickens as it cools it is ready.

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crabapple and sumac jelly

Then I needed something to taste this jelly with, so I came up with this tea biscuit recipe as the first in my experiments in baking with jerusalem artichoke flour. The artichoke flour is pretty concentrated, so you don’t need much. I did not add sugar so that I could use these with sweet jams and jellies, and also with savoury. It was equally good with the jelly and with pesto (I used dandelion pesto I made last spring) with some parmesan on top. It is a light biscuit, and not as dry as many of the gluten-free ones I have tried. It was enough of a success that I have made it a few times since.

Jerusalem Artichoke Tea biscuits

2 Tbsp jerusalem artichoke flour

1/3 cup tapioca starch

2/3 cup rice flour

1/2 tsp guar gum

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 Tbsp oil

2 Tbsp milk (or almond milk)

1 egg

Mix the egg and oil together and add to the dry ingredients. Mix just until blended. Spoon out the batter, flatten slightly, place in a baking dish and bake at 350 for 20 min. This recipe makes 6 biscuits. This recipe can be doubled.

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Falafel Chips

DSC_0157I came across falafel chips in Trader Joe’s when I visited San Francisco last year. Not knowing where to buy these here in Canada, I decided I had to come up with a recipe for them, and even considered starting a falafel chip enterprise. Recently, while still trying to work on my own recipe, I came across another brand of falafel chips in a general store in Sydenham, Ont., so my idea of commercialising my own was dashed. Nonetheless, I am pleased that someone else is doing it, even if they are imported. They are made by a company called ‘flamous’ (sic) and are sold as Falafel Chips.

Even if you can buy these, or the ones from Trader Joe’s, you might be interested in making them yourself. They are cheaper, fresher, and you can alter the recipe to your own taste and according to what is available. They are excellent on their own, or served with hummus, guacamole, or whatever you fancy.

The recipes I have come up with are not so much recipes as ‘a method’. As long as you have chick pea flour (besan) cumin and water, you can make these. You only need to make sure the dough is not too sticky but sticky enough to stick together. The method of rolling them out is suprisingly simple, as long as you remember to oil the parchment paper. Sometimes I add oil, sometimes not, it seems to make little difference. The more herbs and spices you add, the more complex the flavour, so feel free to come up with your own variations. The first recipe contains dried dandelion leaves, which give them those green speckles, and the second one contains tomato paste and some cornmeal.

FALAFEL CHIPS I
2 cups chick pea flour
2 Tbsp dried vegetables (greens or root vegetables, such as onions, carrots, turnips)
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp coarse salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 large clove garlic, minced (or dried garlic)
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp water

Mix together all the dry ingredients. Add water until the mixture holds together, but is not sticky.
Lightly grease two sheets of parchment paper and put small dobs (about the size of a grape) of batter spaced about 2 inches apart.
Place the other piece of parchment over this, and roll out with a rolling pin, until the chips are thin enough that when touched with your finger, you can feel the hard surface below.There should be no squishy feeling of the dough.
Peel off the top layer of parchment, place the chips, still on their paper, on a cookie tin, and back in a preheated oven for 20 minutes at 275 Fahrenheit.
The chips should be an even gold colour. Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid to keep them crisp.

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FALAFEL CHIPS II
1 1/2 cups chick pea flour
2 Tbsp dried onion
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin 2 tsp coarse salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed, or equivalent dried garlic
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp tomato paste or 2 Tbsp tomato puree
1/4 cup + water.
Follow the same procedure for the first recipe.