Along the Grapevine


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Wild Black Raspberry Frozen Yogurt

This frozen yogurt calls for only three ingredients, involves no cooking and is easy enough for a child to make. Other berries or mixtures of berries could be substituted according to what is available in your area, but the sharp flavour of at least some wild berries is highly recommended.DSC03141.JPG

Despite our worst drought in twenty years, there are some wild pickings out there doing better than ever, including wild raspberries. The variety we have growing all over are black raspberries. As I laboured in the hot sun picking the few ripe ones, I could only think of using them in something refreshing, no cooking required, and definitely not heavy. Normally they are used for jams, crumbles, pies and strudels, but I couldn’t imagine any of those in this heat. So a frozen dessert was the obvious choice.

In case you are not familiar with them, black raspberries are distinguishable from blackberries by the very light colour of the back of the leaf – just like regular raspberries. The also have that little conical hollow when picked characteristic of any raspberry. DSC03144.JPG

I used 1 cup of black raspberries, 1 cup strained yogurt (measured after straining) and 1/4 cup maple syrup. Another sweetener could be used, and a little more depending on how sweet you want it. Blend thoroughly in a food processor and freeze. I did not use my ice cream maker as I wanted to be sure this would work without it as I know a lot of people don’t have one. It took about three hours in the freezer.DSC03145.JPG

Because I did not strain the mixture at any point, the small seeds are noticeable, but I rather like them and figure they are an essential part of the fruit. If you really object to even little seeds, I would use instead blueberries or some other relatively seedless berry.

And so I rewarded myself after an arduous morning in the hot sun with the coolest, prettiest and lightest cone I have ever made. I am bringing this to Fiesta Friday to share with all the guests, including co-hosts Suzanne at A Pug in the Kitchen and Jess at Cooking is my Sport.DSC03150


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Nannyberry Cake

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At this very time last year I posted a recipe for a sauce using nannyberries or viburnum lentago. It was my first experience with this berry, and I was surprised at just how easy to use and tasty it was. In that post, I give some description of the plant which I won’t repeat here, but if you think you might have access to this plant, you might find it interesting.

This year the trees are producing even more than last year, and I hope to try a few recipes with them, starting with one for a cake. There are no nannyberry cake recipes I can find, so here is my chance to create a ‘first’.

It is a pretty standard, old-fashioned sort of cake recipe, using butter, eggs and buttermilk, but the subtle fruit flavour of these berries, something like that of plums, mixed with cardamom, makes a super aromatic dessert appropriate for an autumn menu. If you don’t care for or own any cardamom, cinnamon could be substituted.

Nannyberry Cake

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups nannyberries

3/4 cup water

3 egg yolks

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup butter

1 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 1/2 cups flour

2 Tbsp ground flaxseed

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cardamom

3 beaten egg whites

Method

Cook the nannyberries and water in a covered pan until soft, about ten minutes. Strain the berries, pressing out as much pulp as possible. This will make about 1/2 cup of juice. When cool, beat in the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Measure the flour, flaxseed, soda and cardamom and mix well. Blend one third of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture at a time, alternating with half the liquid. When it is all blended, fold in the egg whites.

Pour the batter into a ten inch spring form pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 325 degrees F for fifty minutes. Allow it to sit for ten minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and allow to cool on a rack.

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This is a cake which can be served just as is, with cream or ice cream, or if you like given a full regalia.

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Linked to Fiesta Friday #87.


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Seasoning with Prickly Ash

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I first took note of a prickly ash (zanthoxylum americanum) tree last spring when I noticed the cluster of green berries had a very enticing aroma. I had to find out what this bushy plant was before I tasted it, and when I identified it I learned it is not only edible, but a common ingredient in Chinese cuisine known as Szechwan pepper. Assuming the berries had to ripen before harvesting, I only recently got around to collecting a few and was keen to try cooking with them. What I didn’t realize was that the berries can be harvested any time there are leaves present, i.e. from mid-spring to late fall, so green, red, dark blue or black, they are all good.

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First, a little about this tree or shrub. It grows mostly in shaded woods throughout much of central and north-eastern North America. There are closely related species elsewhere, such as the zanthoxylum bungeanum which is the one used in China and which has a similar taste. The plant can grow anywhere from 9 to 18 feet in height, and is usually part of a larger thicket.

It is belongs to the rutaceae (rue), or citrus family, which explains the lemony scent of the leaves. To help identify it, watch for these characteristics:

  • a smooth grey to brown bark dotted with small mounds with a couple of spikes on each
  • alternate compound leaves (5-11 on each) with a lemon scent and oval in shape
  • clusters of berries growing close to the branches, green in the spring, red in the summer and blue then black in the fall. When the seeds drop out the open husks remain
  • one or two hard, smooth black seeds inside the berries

A few of the berries I picked were still red, most were black, and many husks had lost their seeds but can be collected all the same.

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I tasted some of the berries right off the tree. I was surprised by the flavour and the effect of eating them raw. A mixture of lemon and pepper was at first pleasant, followed by a numbing of lips and tongue – and I now understand why one of the many medicinal uses of this is for ‘dry mouth’. I found the experience slightly alarming, but hoped that roasting and/or cooking would eliminate the unpleasant effect but not the flavour.

For my first experiment, I decided to just grind one teaspoon of the berries coarsely and then roast them lightly in a skillet. I decided to pair them with nothing stronger than olive oil and crushed garlic, all of which I mixed together into a paste. I then applied a liberal coating to about one pound of chicken breast and roasted it. The flavour was as expected – citrussy and peppery and none of the anaesthetic or salivating effects were felt. I could have used a smaller amount and the flavour would still have been enough, but you will have to experiment a little yourself to find the right proportions for your palate. I believe with the addition of other spices, like cumin, ginger root, anise or chilis, a delicious ‘masala’ could be achieved.

I also roasted and ground some (a very small amount) and mixed it with ground dried garlic to season vegetables to be roasted. This method gave a very subtle flavour, a welcome alternative to black pepper (which does not grow in my backyard). With enough berries to keep me going for the winter, I will work on different spice mixtures using this newly discovered spice, and come spring I will be sure to start gathering them much earlier.

One word of caution though. These shrubs or trees are as the name suggests – very prickly. They are not difficult to pick and you can collect several in your hand at a time just be clutching a bunch, but dress to protect yourself from the thorns.

Seasoning with Prickly Ash on Punk Domestics


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Highbush Cranberry Toffee

Making up recipes with foraged ingredients in the winter usually means a little foraging in the pantry for all that is dried, pickled, frozen or fermented. I never actually expected to find fresh edibles well into February in this area, and certainly not juicy berries. But here is one little shrub, much overlooked and maligned, which is at its best in late winter. highbush cranberries #1highbush cranberries #2 Highbush cranberry (viburnum trilobum) is not a cranberry at all but a deciduous shrub which can grow to 4 meters in height. Its leaves are similar in appearance to maple leaves. Clusters of white blossoms appear in the spring, and the green berry turns to orange and then a bright red in October or November. No wonder it is often used as a decorative landscaping plant, standing out particularly in winter months where the berries afford a beautiful contrast to the snow. It is an easy plant to identify with its clusters of berries measuring about 15mm in length and 12 mm in width. They have a single, flat white seed, and a pungent smell which is less strong in the winter after a few freezes and thaws. Rich in vitamin C, it is maybe a too bitter for many palates, but like many bitter foods has a good flavour once sweetened. DSC01817 Further to my experiments with cooking with these wild cranberries, I decided to make a vegan toffee using just sugar and coconut milk with the berries. First I pureed 1 cup berries. If you want a very smooth puree, pass them through a food mill to remove all the seeds and skin. DSC01821 This was added to 2 (400 ml) tins of coconut milk and 2 cups of sugar. Cook the mixture on a low heat until it reaches 270 degrees F on a candy thermometer, or between the hard and soft ball stages. This took approximately one and a half hours. DSC01818 DSC01820 Once cooked, pour into a 9 inch sq. pan lined with parchment paper and allow to cool completely. Cut into whatever size and shape you like and store in a very cool place. They are quite sticky when at room temperature. DSC01836 The flavour reminds me of a tamarind sweet – very creamy and soft. I will be taking these to Fiesta Friday – do drop by to see what the other guests have brought.


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Nannyberry Sauce

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Nannyberry (viburnum lentago), also known and sheepberry and sweet viburnum, is now ripe for picking. It is not yet a fruit which is widely recognized as being edible, but its sweet juicy berries and well-worth picking. Not only are they delicious, but they are easy to identify and very easy to pick. No prickly stems, no stooping, and the thick clusters of berries can just be pulled off in bunches, making them the most economical berries in terms of time. My little harvest took no more than 10 minutes (not counting the time spent nursing my bee sting). While I can’t vouch for just how nutritious they are, the deep black blue colour of the berries make me think they just have to be good for you.

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Nannyberries are native to the northern US and southern Canada. It is often found along roadsides, near creeks and swamps, wherever there is a combination of water and sun. It is also cultivated because of its compactness, beautiful white clusters of flowers in late spring, bright foliage in the fall, hardiness in cold climates, and of course the dark clusters of berries which ripen towards the end of September through October. One thing I discovered is that the honey bees love them, so be careful when picking and where you plant them. However, if you keep bees, or you want to attract pollinators, the plants are a great acquisition.

To help you identify it, it has oval leaves growing in pairs on opposite sides of the twigs, slightly serrated edges, and narrowing to a point. At the tip of some branches, you will see a beak shaped growth.

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The bark varies at different stages of the tree’s life – the younger ones are smooth with spots, and later those spots turn into vertical and horizontal cracks, giving the bark a rough surface.  At this time of year, the twigs are red, and the bark of the trunk is a reddish grey. The fruit is a round blue back drupe (18-16 mm long) growing on clusters with reddish stems. They have one large, flat seed, which may be a deterrent to eating them directly off the plant. Therefore, I took the berries, cooked and strained them, making a sweet, dark sauce. The flavour is similar to that of prunes, and I think this sauce could be used in any recipe calling for pureed prunes or dates.

To prepare, cover the berries with water in a saucepan, and simmer until the berries seem very soft – about 10 min. Strain through a food mill or one of these. (Photo of straining wild grapes)

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Return the pulp to the saucepan, and add about 1/2 cup sugar per 2 cups of pulp. Heat just to dissolve the sugar.

I used this sauce on some cornmeal pancakes as my contribution to this week’s Fiesta Friday, but there are many more uses I can think of: ketchup and dips, serve over cakes, in parfaits, puddings, and ice cream.

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Mullein Tisane on Punk Domestics

 


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Rhubarb and Berry Crisp

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I count rhubarb as a forageable ingredient, although one of the few you can also find at the supermarket if you don’t come across it in an abandoned homestead – or in your backyard. It grows with total neglect, expands regularly and provides an abundant source for recipes of all types – chutney, soup, dessert, baking et al from spring well into summer if you remember to prune back the flowers in the spring.

For this rhubarb recipe I also used some wild berries – raspberries and blackberries – I found recently growing at the front of our property.

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Fruit crisps are nothing new, but I have been making them a little differently lately – gluten free, low in sugar and with no oats. I just wanted a little variation so as not to be repeating the same recipe, and now I find I prefer this one to my old recipe. So I hope the guests at this week’s Fiesta Friday enjoy this seasonal dessert.

If you really like sweet, feel free to add sugar to the topping, or a little extra to the fruit. Or increase the fruit ratio and use less rhubarb.

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Rhubarb and Berry Crisp

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

For the filling:

6 cups (1.5 lbs) chopped rhubarb

1 cup berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries etc. or any combination)

1 cup sugar

For the topping:

1.5 cups ground almonds

1 cup hemp hearts

2 Tbsp ground flaxseeds

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup coconut flour

1/2 cup coconut oil

Method:

Mix the rhubarb and berries with sugar in a rectangular baking tin.

To make the topping, mix together the rest of the ingredients and distribute evenly on top of the filling. Bake at 325 for about 35 minutes, or until the top looks crisp and the filling is bubbling. Serve on its own, hot or cold, or with ice cream, whipped cream or yogurt.

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