Along the Grapevine


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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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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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Apples are from Kazakhstan, and so are crabapples

Thank you to Kazakhstan for giving us this delicious fruit. I had not used crabapples much until now – except in jelly – but have recently found so many uses for it, not sure how I managed without it. I promised over a month ago that I would report back on my crabapple liqueur, and in that time have been experimenting with the few crabapples I have been able to harvest from our own tree and few others. So this will be my wrap up on this subject for this season.

Among the reasons I have enjoyed cooking with these is their flavour, colour and versatility. They are substantial, not too watery, keep well, and seem resistant to pests and fungi. Besides, they are one of the prettiest fruit trees in all seasons. The fruit does not drop easily, and many varieties hold their fruit throughout the winter, providing a feeding place for birds. No need for bird feeders with these in your garden.

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Crabapple liqueur

The liqueur, which was just a mixture of fresh, whole, crabapples, sugar and vodka, left to stand for a month with frequent stirrings (and tastings). I have now bottled it, and started a similar process with wild cranberries and another with wild grapes.

From the jam, or ‘dulce de manzana silvestre” I made, I have used it in a variety of recipes, some of which I will outline here.

Dipping Sauce:  Mix about 1/2 cup of dulce with 2 Tbsp. vinegar, a teaspoon each of dried onion and chili flakes, 1 tsp of sumac powder or juice of 1/2 lemon, salt and pepper to taste. This can be used as a condiment or as a dipping sauce

Substitue for any citrus fruit in baking. Just mix a spoonful with water of the required liquid amount, for cakes etc.

Fillings for cookies, cakes or doughnuts.

Savoury sauce: The rich apple flavour goes particularly well with pork. After browning the meat, deglaze the pan with stock or wine, add seasonings and a spoonful of crabapple preserve, pour it over the meat. I did it with a pork hock, cooked in a slow cooker, but it would go with chops or roast too.

Soup:  I added a good dollop to a squash soup.

If you have any other ideas to add to these, I would welcome hearing about them. I plan to continue to experiment.


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Jerusalem Artichokes

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After we moved into our current house four years ago, I had to plant some of the basic edibles I had left in our old property – things like horseradish, lovage and jerusalem artichokes. A kind vendor from a market in Toronto gave me a handful of chokes, and from those I now have two good sized patches. As for the lovage and horseradish, I can’t remember where I planted them, and hope they make their presence known to me somehow eventually.

The artichokes are more difficult to lose. They grow about five feet tall, and as they are of the sunflower family, they have easily recognizable yellow flowers blooming at this time of year. They are also a natural deterrent to weeds, so they don’t get covered or overwhelmed by other invasive plants.

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Because they multiply so easily, they can be found growing semi-wild. If you suspect you have some, pull out a root, and if there are knobbly white tubers attached to it, that’s it.

I love the ease of growing them, as well as their flavour (very much like artichokes). Boiled, roasted, sauteed or grated raw, they are a welcome change from other carbohydrates, especially with a little lemon and salt.  However, they are so prolific that you may not be able to use your entire crop. They don’t keep well after picking – two or three weeks in the fridge wrapped in plastic and paper bag over that. Once cooked, they really should be used within a day or two, and don’t bother trying to freeze them – don’t know what it does to them, but it is not pleasant.

They do not need peeling, just a good scrub, and any rough spots grated off. Especially if done right away, they clean very easily, and are a nice creamy white.

Jerusalem Artichoke Flour

So in order to use as many as I can in the fall and keep them through the winter, I have taken to dehydrating them, then grinding them into a flour. Just how this flour can be used, I have yet to find out over the next few weeks. So far, I have used it as a thickener in soups and sauces, but hope to have some results from my baking experiments soon.

Jerusalem Artichoke Chips

In the meantime, I discovered that the thin slices I was preparing to dry (and had way too many to fit into the dehydrator) could also be transformed into crisp, delicious chips. I fried them in coconut oil, a few at a time, and just long enough that they were caramel coloured all over and starting to curl up a bit. I added a little salt, and that was that. Apparently others have done this, but it was new to me! Other recipes suggest other types of oil, which I’m sure are fine, but I am recommending here the coconut.

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Crab apples

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September is a super-busy time for gardeners, in the kitchen and in the fields. Still no frost so there is some hope of salvaging the last of the harvest, collecting seeds, digging up bulbs before they all succumb to the cold weather. And then what to do with the fruits of your labour? I just added another task/load of experiments when I finally pruned our lone crab apple tree. It doesn’t usually produce as much as it did this year, so I felt I could afford to pick some of the fruit, and still leave plenty for the bohemian wax wings who visit the tree most winters.

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Crab apples are not frequently found in farmers’ markets, let alone supermarkets, but nonetheless there are plenty of good recipes on line which are worth making for jellies, chutneys, pickles and baking. I began by working out a couple of recipes that don’t seem to exist yet, and the possibilities with this bright little fruit seem pretty endless. Not wanting to deplete my tree any further, I am offering to prune anyone’s tree in this area and share the produce!

My tree (the same one you see in bloom on the header of this blog) gives those small, bright red, supposedly inedible variety. They look more like cranberries than apples.

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Having snipped all the berries off the pruned branches (that is the hardest part), I chopped them roughly in the food processor. I dried the majority of them to make a salad dressing and muffins, and still plenty to put away for winter. With the rest I prepared, or rather am preparing, a liqueur which will be perfect as a festive drink. No pictures of the finished product yet, but the concoction should be ready to decant in mid-October. I will also think of some way to use the vodka soaked fruit at that time.

Crab apple liqueur

Ingredients

Fresh crab apples

Sugar

Vodka

Method

Weigh the crab apples (I had about 1.25 lbs.) Add the same weight of sugar to the pot, cover the mixture with vodka, and stir. Stir every day for about a month, then strain into a bottle. Keep the container covered so the vodka doesn’t all evaporate or get infested with fruit/alcohol flies. I used a ceramic pot with a tight fitting lid.

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Mine has been going for about a week now. Having sampled the small amount stuck to the spoon after stirring, I can vouch that it is delicious – and we look forward to using it in mixed cocktails and on its own. We shall see! And if you don’t have crab apples, this could be done with many varieties of fruits and berries.

Crab Apple Vinaigrette

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It is difficult to give exact quantities in this, but then salad dressings should be tweaked to suit your own taste. If you usually make your own vinaigrette, you would probably find you need a little more salt and vinegar than usual, presumably because of the tartness of the fruit, but add a little at a time and taste to be sure.

1 large spoon of dried crab apples

Vinegar (cider or red wine) to cover, plus a little extra.

1 Tbsp. liquid honey

6 Tbsp. oil (olive, avocado, grape seed, sunflower)

1 tsp. salt.

Soak the fruit in vinegar for at least an hour. Add the honey and salt and mix well. Add the oil slowly, mixing as you do

This is excellent with any leafy salad.

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Crab Apple Walnut Muffins

I expect most readers already have their own favourite recipes for muffins – in which case I would recommend just adding the dried crab apples in place of or in addition to any fresh or dried fruit. Likewise, the dried crab apple can be used in many other recipes, such as cookies, granola bars, or even savoury rice or stuffing dishes. I added some to porridge, along with a little cinnamon.

If you don’t have a recipe handy, here is the one I used.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup brown rice flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp ground flax seed

1/4 cup dried crab apples

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

2 eggs

3/4 cup milk (or almond milk)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup liquid honey

Method

Combine the dry ingredients. Mix together the rest, and add to the dry ingredients, mixing just to blend.

Pour into muffin tins, and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes.

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Gardener’s Pizza

This recipe was inspired by one of David Lebowitz’s blogs where he described eating a pizza at a friend’s house which was made simply of fried vegetables on top of a layer of Dijon mustard spread on the dough before baking. I decided to try it using creeping Charlie, something I had never tried cooking with before. The result was very good, and will make that one again, perhaps using mushrooms, eggplant or some other vegetable I have in my garden. I might even consider using other mustards, but the mustard is a must. Its sharpness is a great substitute for cheese!

If you do a search for creeping Charlie, you will find it is something to be got rid of, the pestiest of pests known to gardeners. I am not about to start fighting this one – I would surely lose. It is not unattractive at all, and now that I understand that it has the superior nutritional value shared by many unwanted weeds, albeit not a lot of flavour, I will just remove it from where it interferes with my actual garden, and eat it! There’s a slogan: “If you can’t beat it, …”

It is another of those weeds which enjoys  popularity as a medicinal herb in many countries, and is most often taken as a tea. As with any new food, one should always approach it with caution, just in case of allergies or whatever. So the pizza is garnished with a few of the younger leaves to test flavour etc. I also tried a couple raw just to make sure.

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These pictures should help you identify it. If you have a super healthy lawn, you might have trouble finding it there, but otherwise it is everywhere. If you are in doubt, check with someone who knows, or search more pictures on the many sites covering this subject, such as the one here.

Gardener’s Pizza

Begin with any pizza dough of your choice. I used a whole wheat one for this recipe.

Fry some onions until soft, add zucchini, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper to taste and continue to fry until all the vegetables are soft.

Toss the creeping Charlie leaves in enough olive oil to coat.

Spread the dough with a layer of Dijon mustard. Arrange the vegetables on top, and cover with a layer of creeping Charlie leaves. Bake in the oven as you would for any other pizza (350 until it looks done).

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Dandelion Syrup

I have often hoped to come across a recipe for floral drinks such as the ones found in Swedish shops (or Sweden). I just discovered dandelions do the trick very nicely. I made a syrup first, then diluted it – every bit as good as elderflower etc.  I am sure it can be used equally well for cocktails or toddies, but for now am just using it for a tall summer non-alcoholic drink.

Syrup

2 cups dandelion petals, packed tightly

2 cups of sugar

2 cups water

juice of 1 lemon

Wash the flowers and remove the petals. Cover them with water, bring to a boil for no more than a minute, then remove from heat and leave them to steep overnight.

The next morning, strain the liquid and discard the petals. Add the lemon juice and the sugar, bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour and a half.

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Dandelion Drink

Mix one part syrup to four parts water.