Along the Grapevine


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Harvesting the Seeds

Most of the summer’s harvest has already been brought in, with the exception of potatoes, leeks and a few tough greens, so the gardener (me) has a ¬†little more leisure at this time of year. Of course, there is some clean-up required, but that can wait. The forager (also me) still ¬†has plenty on her plate. I won’t even attempt to list all the things I should be out there harvesting, if it ever stops raining long enough. But one activity I have indulged in is harvesting the great crop of seeds I have – the usual garden produce of course, but also some of the weeds, perennials and self seeding flowers. If you want to be ready in the spring to plant your best garden ever, collecting seeds makes a lot of sense. I must have about a million cosmos seeds which I hope to spread through all our fallow fields. Maybe!

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It also occurred to me that for people with less space to broadcast millions of seeds, it also makes a lot of sense to select a few seeds to be saved for the spring. They can be planted in pots and set on patios, window sills or wherever you choose. There are some plants which are particularly suited for this purpose, and will give you every bit as much beauty as the store-bought annuals – they can even be planted along with for a little ‘diversity’. They will also provide you with the wherewithal to do a little safe foraging without having to leave the comfort of your home. Foraging is not just for the intrepid.

Some of the best plants for potting are herbs – and every kitchen needs a few of those. But beyond that, I would recommend the following, all of which have at least one edible part:

anise hyssop – for its leaves and flowers

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red amaranth – for its deep red leaves

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milkweed – to attract monarch butterflies, for its flowers and seed pods

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flax – for its blue flowers and seeds

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perennial arugula – for its peppery leaves and decorative edible flowers

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If you have enough of some of these plants, the seeds can also be collected, dried and used in cooking. This can be a tedious job, and one I don’t usually recommend. I have tried the usual method, of spilling them from one plate on to another in a breezy spot, but too many seeds were lost in the process. However, I did lately discover a very easy method for collecting and winnowing flax seeds. It requires quite a few seeds, some time in picking them but after that it is so easy with my, I believe, original method.

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This large patch of flax is going to seed gradually. You can see in the photo the little beige seed pods which are ready to be picked. I gathered a few of these.

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I put them in a blender and chopped them up as much as possible. If you have ever tried to grind flax seeds in a blender, you will know it has no effect on the seeds. For their pods and whatnot, it is another matter. I just blended until I had a fluffy mass of seed pods.

Then I took them outside where luckily there was a nice breeze, or maybe it was even wind. I put a deep bowl on the ground and poured the fluff through a funnel, held about two feet above the bowl. Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture of myself doing this, but as the mixture fell through the funnel, a great cloud of seed covering was seen floating off into the atmosphere. After one try, the seeds were pretty clean, but I repeated this two more times and ended up with these seeds.

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This method did not work so well with the amaranth seeds I tried. If you know of any easy, practical method of winnowing seeds, please do share.

 

 


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Wild Grape Ketchup

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The wild grapes are finally beginning to ripen in our area, so I am now able to work on some recipes which were the ‘raisin’ d’etre for this blog. The birds have already taken many, so I picked what I could should they disappear soon. I am not sure of the exact variety of the ones I picked. These ones, as you can see are very small, about the size of a blueberry. I hope to find some larger ones for other recipes, but these small ones are excellent for this one.

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I started making grape ketchup a few years ago, as finding myself with a good supply of wild grapes, and not wanting to make either wine or jelly, I decided if there was not such a thing as grape ketchup, there should be. Sure enough, I was not the first to think of it, and there are plenty of recipes out there. However, most use cultivated grapes, which are larger and sweeter, but do not have the strong flavour or the nutrients of the wild variety. Also, I do not add water, which reduces the cooking time – good for me and the quality of the end product. Most any grape would work with this recipe, but I would recommend a fairly sour variety with a thick skin, which will add enough pectin to the mixture for it to thicken nicely.

It is good not only as a condiment but as a marinade for game and poultry, and I expect would go very well with lamb and pork too.

Apart from the picking, the ketchup is really very simple. Just wash the grapes and pick the berries off the stems, discarding any green ones. Place them in a pan, heat and simmer for about five minutes. Juice will begin to form at the bottom of the pan, but to help them along, use a potato masher to get as much juice out as possible.

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Then, strain the mixture through a food mill or sieve, measure, and return the juice to the pan.

For every cup of puree:

1/2 cup brown sugar (or more to taste)

1/2 cup wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. allspice

Simmer the mixture until it is the right consistency, a little over an hour. I test it by cooling a small spoonful. I make it less dense than a commercial ketchup, but about as thick as a creamy yogourt. I do not process the jars – just freeze them.

This is a fairly tart ketchup as I prefer it, but it could stand probably up to double the amount of sugar. You can easily add more as it cooks and taste it.

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I left a small amount in the bottom of a pan, and as a first use i deglazed it, added venison meatballs I had in the freezer and some quartered fresh plums. From that I deem the ketchup recipe a success.

One experiment often leads to another. Left with a pile of grape seeds, which are supposed to be highly nutritious and, I have noticed, are sold in granular form in health food stores, I decided to dry them and see what I could do. I rinsed and drained them, removing some of the skin that rose to the top, but certainly did not get it all. I then put the dripping seeds in the oven at 275 for about an hour, and as they were getting too hot and the water had mostly evaporated, I spread them out in the sun for another couple of hours. I don’t leave anything in the sun too long, for fear of botulism, but by that time they were sufficiently dry. I ground them in the coffee grinder – and then on to my next experiment.

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I mixed a large spoonful in some hot water. It was a creamy pinkish colour but the seeds at the bottom were not very appetizing. Next experiment was to simmer the same amount in a small pot of hot water for about an hour and strain. The colour was browner, but the taste was equally good and no junk at the bottom. All in all, a pleasant surprise as experiments go, and for anyone who wants to get all the goodness out of the grapes, might be worth trying.