Along the Grapevine


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Tips on Spruce

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This is the best time of year to collect edible evergreens. Not all evergreens are edible, but if you make sure you are picking only spruce or pine, you will be safe. The non-edibles or even toxic include yews, evergreen oleander and hollies.

I have picked spruce tips to begin with, mainly because I have so many on my property, but also because they are easy to identify and very easy to pick. I have not had time to experiment much with them in cooking, but if I wait until I work out more recipes, it will be too late for you to collect them while they are still at this desirable stage. They can be dried for later use, or infused in vinegar or honey or vodka. The new growth on the trees, small, pale green tips on the branches are at their very sweetest now. Just pluck off the small tip as you would a berry, remove the little brown husk covering the tip, and they are ready to use. Try one raw, and chew well to release the citrussy flavour which follows the initial taste of resin.

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I am beginning with three methods of preserving: in salt; in sugar; as a sweet syrup. All these are easy to do, and will keep until you are ready to use them. And they are all delicious.

With salt: Blend 1:1 in volume coarse sea salt and tips. Chop in the food processor and spread on a sheet to dry.

How to use: Add to mayonnaise, salad dressing, fish marinade, roasted vegetables.

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With sugar: Blend 1:1 in volume sugar and tips. Chop in the food processor and spread on a sheet to dry.

How to use: Use in baking, add to tea, coat the rim of a cocktail glass.

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Syrup: Mix together 1:1:1 sugar, water and tips. Bring to a full boil, turn off the heat and let cool in the pan. Strain.

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How to use: As a sweet topping, add to drinks hot or cold, soft or hard.

 

Lambsquarters Triangles on Punk Domestics

Check in later for a special spruce tip dessert I am working on.


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Lacto-Fermented Ramps

For this week’s Fiesta Friday, I had planned to bring a beautiful purple drink made of dog violets which are growing everywhere around me today. They are so beautiful, and I wanted to preserve them in a festive way. I spent much time picking them, then I candied some which are still drying and that was a job and half in itself. I then made syrup which is something less than the remarkable blue I was aiming for. Here are some pictures of how I spent my morning. It was entertaining, but for nought.

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In the meantime, I was ready to try my latest experiment – lacto-fermented ramps, which I hadn’t even intended to write about but they proved to be so good I wanted to share it with Angie’s guests, especially those who like me have never preserved anything this way before.

Lacto-fermentation is an age-old method of preserving which actually makes good food even better and more nutritious. The sugars in the food feed on bacteria that grow in the fermentation process, which converts the sugar to lactic acid and gives you all those great probiotics we hear much about.

There are so many recipes out there for fermenting just about anything you can think of, and such a variety of methods, I wasn’t quite sure I would be up for the task. Luckily for me, one article said all you needed besides the food you were fermenting was water, salt and clean jars. So that is all I used for this first foraged foray.

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Fresh Ramp Leaves

I sliced all my ramp leaves into strips, lay them on a large casserole dish and sprinkled salt on each layer. For about 4 cups of ramps, I used 2 tsp of fine sea salt. I let them sit for about 4 hours, hoping that the salt would draw out water. I even pressed them a little with a wooden spoon, but they remained pretty dry.

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Leaves after a couple of hours mixed with salt

I then stuffed them in a sterilized jar, pressing them down as I did so as not to leave any air pockets. Then I covered them with non-chlorinated water, put a weight (a small glass jar) on top and covered them loosely with a lid. Every day, I checked that none of the green was surfacing and pressed the weight down a little if they were. After about three days I noticed a few white bubbles on the top which indicates that fermentation is happening. Finally today, the ninth day, I decided to give them a try. This jar below is not the one they were fermented in, which is why you can see air bubbles.

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Fermented Ramps 9 Days Old

I knew I was onto something because they were delicious. The flavour of the ramps was intensified by this process, and they were a little more tangy than the steamed or fried ones I had tried just a week before. I could have added interesting spices and other flavours, but for my first attempt, wanted to make sure I understood the process. I served them just as they were, although I had several thoughts on how they could be used in other recipes – quiche, pizza, spreads and soups to name a few.

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Fermented Ramps with Scrambled Eggs

Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but I am so excited about all the possibilities this has opened up to me and look forward to continuing to experiment with this super economical and healthful method of preservation. Sadly, no more ramps this season, but as other plants mature in my garden, there should be plenty of new ingredients to keep me busy.

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