Along the Grapevine


4 Comments

A Forager’s Red and Blue Salad

DSC02381

You needn’t be a full-time, experienced or savvy forager to take advantage of the wonderful wild food all around us. With simple additions of two or three wild herbs, flowers, seeds or greens, an ordinary dish can be made into something which is visually and nutritionally superior to its standard self. Salads are perhaps the easiest place to get started. The ingredients will vary from week to week, depending on what is growing in your garden, near-by wild areas or even in your flower pots. Just be sure you know what you are picking, and that it is indeed an edible plant.

My salad today was inspired by what I found in the garden while out weeding. The base for it is what is growing in the garden at this time of year, namely lettuce and cucumbers (of which I have an alarming amount!) and beet greens, which in this case are actually deep red. Beyond that I noticed a lot of red and blue and decided to work with these as if they were my palette for a salady creation.

Even though the colour didn’t fit, I picked some purslane, probably the single most nutritious plant growing in any garden. I have way more this year than any previous year, and am determined to make good use of it while it lasts.

DSC02365

For the red theme, I also used the young leaves of red amaranth which has successfully seeded itself each year.

DSC02368

And purple basil.

DSC02371

For the blue, I used a few chicory flowers for a little bitterness

DSC02346

and borage flowers for a lot of sweetness, like honey.

DSC02370

and Johnny-Jump-Ups for a mild wintergreen flavour.

DSC02362

I considered using the goutweed next to it, but it didn’t fit in with the colour. This was not the only plant that had to be excluded because of its colour.

A few blackberries and a vinaigrette made by mixing some strained blackberry jam into the vinegar before combining it with oil and seasoning.

DSC02373

The final result was a wonderful mixture of sweet, bitter and sour, light and fresh with some robust flavour not always found in summer salads.

DSC02379

I will not likely be able to duplicate this exact recipe as one or more of the ingredients will soon no longer be available, but I will continue to experiment with wild ingredients, and hope you will give it a go too.

Related posts:

Gazpacho with purslane

Waldorf salad with purslane


15 Comments

Verjus – made from unripe blueberries.

DSC01075

Basket of unripe blueberries

Since I learned about verjus, or verjuice, I have been looking forward to making it with wild grapes instead of the usual wine grapes. With the acres of grapevines around our place, I thought I would have lots to work with, but this year the grapes are just not co-operating at all, so that is one recipe which will have to be put on hold.

Verjus is made from unripe grapes, usually those which are removed from the vines when growers want to boost their crop. The grapes are put through a food mill, creating a green mush which is used like vinegar. It is used in Middle Eastern cuisine, and has been adopted by the French, who have given it its international name. Recently it has made its way into international markets, and if you are lucky you might find some in specialty gourmet shops. I myself have never seen it, or tried it, but if you are curious, you can read more about it and how to make it here.

It seems to be used primarily in salad dressings, replacing the vinegar or lemon with a less acidic flavour which will not interfere with the taste of your wine when eating salad. Makes sense to me.

denice_wilkinson1

Blueberry Fields in Tweed, Ontario

So when I was out picking blueberries the other day at Wilson’s Organic Blueberries in Tweed and found it was easier to pick the unripe berries than the few ripe ones, I decided they resembled grapes enough that I could make my own version with these. They are a little too hard to put through a food mill, so I cooked them gently in water first until they softened. Some of them already had some pink or dark blue in them, so my version is far from green, but the taste was exactly what I had hoped for – fruity and slightly sour, but less acidic than a vinegar or citrus juice.

DSC01077

Cleaned berries ready for poaching

DSC01081

Pink Verjus

To make the salad dressing, I mixed one part to two parts olive oil and seasoned it with salt. Such a simple salad dressing. I kept my salad in the same colour theme, using only green and reds: green zebra tomatoes, French green beans, arugula, sorrel, lettuce and amaranth – all from my garden. But needless to say, it can be used on any salad calling for a vinaigrette. Next time, I will also vary the dressing with other flavourings, but here I just wanted to taste the verjus. And the wine did taste better!

DSC01080

Salad with verjus dressing

 


6 Comments

Crab apples

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image