Along the Grapevine


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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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There is no rule that says foraging cannot be done indoors, so now that the ground is covered in snow and ice, I have turned my attention to some of my houseplants. It was a surprise to me that aloe vera is edible, at least the clear, jelly like innards of the thick leaves. I learned this from this site here. The pictures and the description of the plant as edible convinced me to try it.

After all those festive meals, I wanted to make something light and healthful – and you can’t get lighter or more healthful than this superfood. I have listed some sites below which list the myriad benefits of this plant. I found the taste a little bitter, until soaked in some lime juice, which removed any bitterness and left really no flavour at all. So it is used more for its decorative and nutritional value than for taste. It is considered a great detox food and can be mixed into smoothies as a thickening agent. You lose the prettiness of the gel that way, but might be worth a try anyway, especially if you don’t like anything gelatinous.

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Cubes of aloe vera on a stick

To prepare it, just cut the leaves off the plant at the base. First,I cut off the spiny edges with a sharp knife, and then ran the knife under the thick exterior and filleted it like a fish. Just be sure to remove all the green parts. The flesh should be completely clear. Cut it in cubes and soak it in the juice of lemon or lime.

My first idea was to add it to a fruit salad – our Boxing Day Brunch. Having soaked the aloe in lime juice, I just threw the whole dish (contents) into some chopped apples, persimmons and pomegranate, but obviously whatever fruits you have work just as well.

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Fruit salad topped with pieces of aloe vera

Essential in any special brunch is a glass of bubbly, so I mixed some with orange juice, freshly squeezed, for it was Boxing Day after all. Then I used pomegranate seeds, orange slices and cubes of aloe vera for garnish. And a new recipe for a mimosa was invented.

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Mimosa garnished with fruit and aloe vera cubes

If any readers have any other ideas of what they have done with this plant, I for one would be very grateful if you could share it. I think using aloe vera as an edible plant just might catch on.