Along the Grapevine


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Juniper Berries and Soup

DSC02831Since I began working on this blog, I have found two things about foraging which surprise me. First, that you can forage quite happily in the winter even in this snowiest of landscapes for some really worthwhile ingredients, one of which I am writing about today. In fact, the winter has the advantage of being insect-free, and as long as there’s not a blizzard and you are dressed for it, the venture is very invigorating and a great excuse to enjoy the outdoors. Just don’t remove gloves for too long while you take photographs or snip branches, both of which are impossible with furry gloves.

The other surprise is that some of the most overlooked and miniscule pickings add so much flavour and are every bit as valuable as the bulkier crops. Good seasonings and spices are essential in cooking, and if they are local, fresh and free, all the better.

I have always used juniper berries in cooking, usually to flavour fish, game, sauerkraut and choucroute garnie, but no longer will I buy little plastic boxes from the supermarket. I found my own source, and they are so good!

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These ones grow on what is usually referred to as the Eastern Red Cedar which is misleading because it is not a cedar, but a juniper, juniperus virginiana to be exact. This same cedar we use to add a scent to our linen trunks and repel moths is not a cedar at all – another surprise for me. There are other varieties of juniper, but I will only try and describe this one as I have direct experience with it. So here are a few facts you’ll need to identify it.

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Where it grows:  Eastern North America, hardy to zone 3.

Description: A coniferous evergreen which in poor soil may just be a shrub but in the right conditions can grow as high as 40-50 feet with a spread of 8-15 feet.  It is pyramid shaped. The leaves change appearance with age. The young ones, on trees up to three years old and the new growth on older trees have sharp spreading needles about 2-4 inches long. Leaves of older trees are green and scale-like arranged in overlapping groups of four. The trees I picked from were of the younger variety. There is a good picture showing the leaves at different stages in this post. The fruit are small currant sized cones resembling berries, dark blue with a white waxy coating which makes them look sky blue.

Uses: The cones are used in cooking and making gin, the leaves are toxic. The bark is used as a moth repellant, and the wood is used in building fence posts. Oil is extracted from leaves, bark and wood.

Benefits and Cautions: The cones (which look like berries) have an antiviral compound called deoxypodophyllotoxin (DPT) which is used against some viruses. People used to add it to tea as a medicinal herb. They should not be taken in large amounts.

Juniper Berries on Punk Domestics

At this point I was just interested in using these little cones (berries), and as I am off rich and meaty dishes at this time of year, I decided to make a vegan soup – a pea soup, with some aromatic flavour. I also used some of my prickly ash, or szechwan pepper, but if you don’t have that you can just use more black pepper. And if you don’t have these plants in your area, you can buy both juniper berries or Szechwan pepper at a good spice store.

 

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I soaked, then cooked one pound of split peas. Once cooked I added 1 chopped onion, 1 carrot, 4 crushed cloves of garlic, 10 juniper berries, 1 tsp Szechwan pepper, 1 tsp black pepper and salt to taste. I simmered it until all vegetables were cooked.

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You can vary the spiciness  according to your taste of course. By using these less common flavours, you will find this familiar soup takes on a whole new character. If you have a favourite dish using juniper berries, I would love to hear about it.

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Linked to:  Angie at The Novice Gardener; Jhuls at The Not So Creative Cook and Mr. Fitz of Cooking with Mr. Fitz.

 

 

 


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Turkish Delight

 

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There is frost predicted in this region within the next day, so I am in some hurry to rescue as much from the garden as I can. And as I do that, I thank all of you who  have posted timely recipes on squash, kale, and the like – many of which we have enjoyed! It being Friday, I know that Angie’s guests will be bringing more treats from the garden – and elsewhere – to her 40th Fiesta Friday.

Among the plants I have harvested is my copious rose geranium and some feral apples, so Turkish delight seemed an obvious choice. I know this is not usually made with apples, but any fruit will do, and many recipes just call for flavouring, sugar and cornstarch, so this had to be better. The apples, being from an abandoned orchard, are not treated with chemicals, and although a little irregular looking, are perfect for cooking, even with the skin on. Once again, I decided to use honey to avoid excess of sugar, but I will admit that it overpowers the rose flavour somewhat. Another time, I would either use half honey and half sugar, or add more geranium leaves to the mixture.

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Wild apple

 

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Rose scented geranium plant

You could easily make this recipe with any fruit and flavouring, as well as chopped nuts. It is the cornstarch which gels it, so the pectin in the apples helps but is not essential. You could also use flavours like lemon, rosewater, pomegranate etc. instead of the geranium leaves.

How to Make Rose Scented Apple Honey Turkish Delight

Step 1. Cut the apples into large pieces and cover with water in a pan. I had enough to fill a large pot.  Add a handful of rose scented geranium leaves and simmer until the fruit is very soft. Strain and measure the liquid. I had 4 cups.

Step 2. Add by volume one half the amount of honey, or 2 cups for this amount.

Step 2. Boil this syrup down until it reaches the hard ball stage or 260 degrees F (125 C)

Step 3. While this is boiling, measure 1/2 cup of cornstarch, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar and blend it with 1 cup of water. Mix well.

Step 4. When the syrup is boiled down and the right temperature, add the cornstarch mixture and stir over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes. It will get very thick and dark.

Step 5. Pour into a pan lined with slightly oiled parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap while it cools to prevent a crust forming. Allow to cool for 3-4 hours.

Step 6. Cut into squares and coat each square with a ratio of 1 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar to 2 Tbsp cornstarch.

This makes approximately 25 pieces.

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I will definitely be making some version of this recipe again, depending on the season and ingredients available.


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Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly

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Although our crab apples are not doing well this year, we do have one wild apple tree which is doing fine. You probably know the kind of apple I am talking about, the ones no one wants to pick, much less eat. They are small, irregular in shape and full of spots. On the other hand, they are pesticide and chemical free, and when cooked retain a good flavour and have a lovely colour. They are perfect for making things like jelly, where their appearance as a fruit does not affect the appearance of the final product. And why use perfect looking apples to make something like jelly?

For Angie’s Fiesta Friday #30 I wanted to make a special jelly, so added some flavour with my rose scented geranium. I notice this week there are a few recipes with rose flavouring, so this is turning out to be a bit of a rose fest.

This is the first year I have grown such a plant, but I hope to add other varieties to my collection of one next year. Although they don’t flower profusely like other geraniums, they do provide a delicious home-grown flavouring with their leaves and flowers. Mine is not flowering just now, but it does have some new buds, and the plant itself has grown beautifully since I planted it in the spring. For more information about these plants, read this here. I highly recommend adding one of these to your garden, even if all you have is a balcony or stoop, as they provide a wonderful source of exotic flavour from leaves and flowers.

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If you don’t have a scented geranium, there are other things you could add to this jelly, such as a stick of cinnamon, some ginger, sweet herbs, orange blossom or rose water towards the end of cooking, or whatever you think mixes well with apple.

I began my recipe with two pounds of apples, but once I removed the cores, stems and nasty bits there was only one and three quarter pounds. This recipe can be altered to fit the amount you have just by changing the amount of the other ingredients proportionately.

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Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly

  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

 Ingredients

2 lbs apples

water, to cover

2 1/2 cups sugar

5 scented geranium leaves

Method

Chop and clean the apples without peeling. Place them in a saucepan and cover with water. Simmer them until soft, about 1/2 hour. Strain through a jelly bag or cloth lined sieve. Do not press, or the juice will not be clear.

Pour off the juice, which in this recipe measured three cups. Return to the pan and add the sugar and leaves which should be tied up in a spice bag or piece of cheesecloth.

Bring to a boil and keep boiling for about 25 minutes. To test doneness, just drop a bit of liquid on a cool surface and see if it gels.

If you make a large quantity, this can be processed in a 10 minute water bath.

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Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly on Punk Domestics

At this time last year I posted a recipe using purslane:https://alongthegrapevine.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/purslane-and-cabbage-salad/


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Pickled Crabapples

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In my scrounging around for any crabapples I can find this season, I got a few of these very young, green ones. I have recently learned that young fruit has the advantage of having smaller seeds and don’t need much preparation, other than cooking.

Coincidentally, I came across a recipe for pickled young crabapples by the Forager Chef whose recipes are always excellent, so I followed his recipe which you can find here. I made it according to his instructions, except that as I had no orange zest I used sumac water in place of that and the water called for. I also only had enough apples for half the recipe which made two jars. If you read his post, you will see that he serves these crabapples with a very elegant pork dish garnished with purslane. If you don’t eat pork, these little pickled apples are tasty enough to be eaten on their own, and as he points out you can use the stem as a little handle.

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Salted Caramel Spruce Ice Cream

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After having harvested and preserved a few cups of tender young spruce tips for yesterday’s post, what to do with them today? I wanted to make something special for Angies’ Fiesta Friday, but I don’t have a whole lot of experience cooking with this particular ingredient. I did make teacookies and a vodka infusion all with pine needles, so I have to take it to the next level. Also it was difficult to decide which preserve I should use – the salt, sugar or syrup. The syrup is very easy to eat, with much of the resin flavour barely perceptible, so would be good for those who are not yet ready for a large dose of the spruce’s distinctive flavour. On the other hand, the sugar and salt are such excellent vehicles for this unusual flavour, I wanted to experiment with them first.

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Finally, I decided on ice cream – an ice cream that combines sugar and salt, and of course these gorgeous little green shoots. So first I made a caramel sauce, let it cool, and stirred in just a little of the salt and spruce mix. I figured that if it was really bad, at least I wouldn’t have wasted my home-made ice cream. Well, it was not really bad. In fact, it was superb and I could have just eaten it all, but resisted and saved it to swirl into my plain ice cream. You could take this sauce and just serve it with a vanilla ice cream. You could also use it with your own favourite recipe. But I will share with you my simple ice cream made with a custard base along with the caramel sauce and, of course, the spruce-flavoured salt.

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Salted Caramel Spruce Ice Cream

The Ice Cream

1 cup milk

1 cup heavy cream (35%)

1/4 cup sugar

3 eggs, beaten

Heat the first three ingredients until they start to boil. Remove 1 cup of this mixture, and add just a little at a time to the eggs. Return the egg mixture to the pan and continue to stir on a low heat until it coats a spoon (or is about 170 F). Allow to cool. Put it into the fridge until cold. Pour it into an ice cream machine and allow to freeze.

The Caramel

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp. spruce salt

Over a medium heat, add the brown sugar to the melted butter and once dissolved, add the milk. Continue to stir for about 8 minutes, until the mixture thickens. If not sure, remove a small amount on a spoon and when it is cool, it should be of caramel sauce consistency. Remove from the heat and let it cool completely. Add the spruce salt.

Spruce Salt

1 part spruce tips, 1 part coarse sea salt

Blend these in a food processor until the tips are roughly chopped. Spread on a tray to dry.

To finish, take the ice cream from the machine, stir in the caramel sauce gently using a knife to create a marble effect. Place in a covered container and freeze.

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Fermented Hummus with Sumac

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In my current fermental state, I have a number of things brewing in the kitchen. I even went shopping at my local wine shop for air locks, so now I can begin to ferment things without having to build weighty constructions to keep the contents submerged – at least once I set them up which means making appropriate holes in the lids of preserving jar.

The recipe I chose for Angie’s Fiesta Friday is the simplest of all – no need to submerge anything, yet it still produces that inimitable flavour which comes with all lacto-fermentation. It is quick, easy, and satisfying to make. I won’t bore you with how nutritious it is.

Like many of  you, I have been spending much time in the garden. With lots of rain and warm temperatures, it is a great time for planting – and transplanting. I thought I wouldn’t make it to this week’s party. But I also celebrated earlier this week my first anniversary of blogging, and wanted to mark it with many of my blogging buddies who have taught me so much about blogging and cooking. So I humbly offer my Fermented Hummus with Sumac. I had to throw in some wild edible, which goes very well with it, but if you have to you can substitute the sumac with lemon. Sumac is available in Middle Eastern specialty stores, or you can make your own when it is in season by following this recipe I posted last summer.

The whey can be made simply by straining some natural yogurt through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. The liquid which runs through is the whey – the yogurt left over will be thicker than what you started with.

Fermented Hummus with Sumac

1 cup chick peas (preferably but not necessarily sprouted)

1/4 tsp salt

1 Tbsp sumac powder

1/3 cup whey

2 cloves of garlic

If using sprouted chick peas, rinse them before further cooking. Boil them until they are fully cooked.

In a food processor mix them with the rest of the ingredients until they are pureed. Put them in a bowl, cover with a cloth and let sit out on your kitchen counter for 24-36 hours depending on the warmth of you kitchen. If you live in a hot place (over 75 degrees F or 25 C) you will need to find a cooler place.

Drizzle a little oil on top and sprinkle some extra sumac powder on top.


When they are ready, the mixture will have a lighter texture and tangier flavour than regular hummus. Cover and keep refrigerated.

I served them with dried nettle crackers. That recipe will follow in a few days, depending on how my garden grows.

 


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Lacto-Fermented Ramps

For this week’s Fiesta Friday, I had planned to bring a beautiful purple drink made of dog violets which are growing everywhere around me today. They are so beautiful, and I wanted to preserve them in a festive way. I spent much time picking them, then I candied some which are still drying and that was a job and half in itself. I then made syrup which is something less than the remarkable blue I was aiming for. Here are some pictures of how I spent my morning. It was entertaining, but for nought.

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In the meantime, I was ready to try my latest experiment – lacto-fermented ramps, which I hadn’t even intended to write about but they proved to be so good I wanted to share it with Angie’s guests, especially those who like me have never preserved anything this way before.

Lacto-fermentation is an age-old method of preserving which actually makes good food even better and more nutritious. The sugars in the food feed on bacteria that grow in the fermentation process, which converts the sugar to lactic acid and gives you all those great probiotics we hear much about.

There are so many recipes out there for fermenting just about anything you can think of, and such a variety of methods, I wasn’t quite sure I would be up for the task. Luckily for me, one article said all you needed besides the food you were fermenting was water, salt and clean jars. So that is all I used for this first foraged foray.

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Fresh Ramp Leaves

I sliced all my ramp leaves into strips, lay them on a large casserole dish and sprinkled salt on each layer. For about 4 cups of ramps, I used 2 tsp of fine sea salt. I let them sit for about 4 hours, hoping that the salt would draw out water. I even pressed them a little with a wooden spoon, but they remained pretty dry.

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Leaves after a couple of hours mixed with salt

I then stuffed them in a sterilized jar, pressing them down as I did so as not to leave any air pockets. Then I covered them with non-chlorinated water, put a weight (a small glass jar) on top and covered them loosely with a lid. Every day, I checked that none of the green was surfacing and pressed the weight down a little if they were. After about three days I noticed a few white bubbles on the top which indicates that fermentation is happening. Finally today, the ninth day, I decided to give them a try. This jar below is not the one they were fermented in, which is why you can see air bubbles.

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Fermented Ramps 9 Days Old

I knew I was onto something because they were delicious. The flavour of the ramps was intensified by this process, and they were a little more tangy than the steamed or fried ones I had tried just a week before. I could have added interesting spices and other flavours, but for my first attempt, wanted to make sure I understood the process. I served them just as they were, although I had several thoughts on how they could be used in other recipes – quiche, pizza, spreads and soups to name a few.

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Fermented Ramps with Scrambled Eggs

Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but I am so excited about all the possibilities this has opened up to me and look forward to continuing to experiment with this super economical and healthful method of preservation. Sadly, no more ramps this season, but as other plants mature in my garden, there should be plenty of new ingredients to keep me busy.

Fiesta Friday Badge Button I party @


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Eat Shoots and Score

Since moving to this house, I have been plagued with an overabundance of day lilies – the bright orange ones you often see in mid-summer along the roadsides and in neglected areas. They are pretty in their way, but should never be allowed anywhere near a flower or vegetable bed, because they are wickedly invasive. I’m sure I have pulled out at least a million, and have hardly made a dent in them. And they keep finding new places to grow.

Their botanical name is hemerocallis fulva. They have several common names, but I just know them as ditch lilies. I don’t have a picture of them that I can find, but here is a picture from Wikipedia of what they look like.

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Day Lily in Bloom – photo from Wikipedia

I have always known they were edible, but only eaten the flowers before, and had little interest in any other part. However, my attitude to invasive weeds is changing, and my curiosity got the better of me as I tried to liberate our maple trees from the small shoots growing around them. Maybe I was hungry at the time, but these neat little shoots looked tasty.

I dug some up, along with a few of the tubers attached to them. As long as they are 6 inches tall or less, the shoots are tender and not fibrous. The flavour is sweeter than leeks or onions, and can be used in much the same way. I also collected a few of the tubers which I found taste like water chestnuts. Because I wanted to check out the taste, I added no other flavours – just sauted the shoots and tubers in a little olive oil and added salt and pepper. I used only a few (about 10 shoots and 6 tubers, peeled)  because since this was my first time eating them, I wanted to be sure no one in the household had any reaction. I’m happy to report that no one has!

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1. Find a patch of day lilies

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2. Make sure they are day lilies

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3. Dig them up with attached tubers

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Remove only plump firm tubers about 1 inch in length

 

 

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Clean shoots and remove any wilted or damaged leaves

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Prepare as you would onions or leeks

A word of caution:  Although these shoots are pretty easy to identify, especially if you know where they grow, be absolutely sure you know what you are picking. Taste a small amount at first to be sure you don’t have a reaction to them. I have read different statistics – anywhere between 2 and 10 per cent of the population will get a stomach upset from them. I also read some allusion to large quantities having hallucinogenic effects, but nowhere did it specify what constitutes large quantities. My advice would be to err on the side of moderation at first, and increase the amount slowly, and never eat too much of anything anyway – no matter how good it tastes.

Now that I have sampled them, I can say they are delicious, easy to prepare, and have no ill effects on my physical or mental state. They are a welcome, fresh local vegetable at a time when these are hard to come by. I look forward to coming up with some new day lily recipes, and to being less distressed by their presence in my gardens.

 

Fiddleheads on Punk Domestics


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It is -20 degrees C today and dropping, so I make no apologies for not foraging today. I didn’t even make it outside. What I am doing is figuring out what to do with my foraged bounty and which ingredients are worth gathering and which just don’t work that well, or do not survive storage.

One of my favourite and most useful harvests this year has been the sumac, especially in powdered form. I have noticed that it is one of those increasingly popular spices, although still under-used. And as for local sumac, there seems to be none used whatsoever, even though the red sumac we gather here is similar to the product bought in specialty spice shops. If you are not sure how to identify it, watch this clip.  Even those who are familiar with it sometimes need to know how they can use it. I usually just say ‘on anything at all’, but no doubt it would be more useful to give some actual recipes.

I have already commented on this spice in my original post, but certain points bear repeating.

  • make sure you have identified the plant correctly
  • remove the berries without any other bits of the plants and clean them well
  • make sure you are not allergic to it

If you don’t have any of your own, you can buy it in shops. The store-bought is not always organic, and sometimes salt is added to give it bulk, so the home-made is preferable, but not essential. It adds a fruity, lemony flavour to vegetables, dressings, fish, meat, in short, just about anything. I even added it my shortbread with excellent results. Today, taking refuge from the cold weather and icy roads, I made two vegetable recipes;  grilled portobello mushrooms and Brussels sprouts from the last remaining fresh sprouts from my garden.

The portobello mushrooms are inspired by a recipe I found on line from Allrecipes, and it comes with a video. I made a few changes, mostly the sumac.

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3 portobello mushrooms

1/4 cup olive oil

3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 shallot (or small onion)

1 Tbsp garlic

1 Tbsp sumac powder

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Clean the mushrooms, pat dry and remove the stems. Mix the oil, vinegar, onion garlic and salt in a bowl and pour over the turned up side of the mushrooms. Leave them to marinate for about an hour. Grill them on a lightly oiled grill gill side up until cooked through, about 10 minutes. You will see the sauce bubbling on top of the mushrooms when they are ready.

Brussels Sprouts with Sumac

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Brussels sprouts

olive oil (enough to coat)

sumac powder

salt to taste

Coat the sprouts with oil and salt. They can be roasted in the oven, but I sauteed them in a pan with the oil and salt and added the sumac just towards the end. If they are getting too browned but still too undercooked for your taste, add just a little water to barely cover the base of the pan, and continue to cook covered for a couple of minutes. Do not overcook!  DSC00131 This is a good method when the sprouts are not all the same size, even after halving the larger ones. I put the bigger pieces in first, then added the very small ones later.

This barely scratches the surface of things you can do with sumac powder, but as I work my way through my bag of red powder, I will post more of my experiments. Until then, I would be interested to know if anyone else has been using this spice in ways we have not yet thought of.

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Wild Cranberries

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The highbush cranberry (viburnum trilobum) is a fruit I only recently discovered, and happily so. It not only provides beautiful, easy pickable fruit, it is also a good landscaping plant, with white flowers in the spring, and burgundy leaves in the fall. The berries begin as orange and turn to bright translucent red when they are ripe. They are best after frost, and stay on the vine well into winter, unless animals and birds get desperate enough to eat them.

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Their survival is probably due to their bitter taste. Although they resemble cranberries in colour and flavour, they are actually a member of the honeysuckle family. They can be used much the same as cranberries, and if you like the strong flavour of cranberries, you are likely to appreciate these.

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There has recently been much written on them on the internet. I will just say that, as with any new plant, you should approach it with some caution, and make sure you don’t have any reaction to it before consuming a large amount.

Like cranberries, they make good sauces and jellies, particularly for festive occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have so far made three recipes with these, and frozen some for later use. After they are removed from the stems and rinsed, they can be frozen as is.

Dried Wild Cranberries

Sprinkle the berries liberally with cane sugar. Place on parchment in a pan and put them in a 200 degree F oven for three to four hours, until they are dry but still soft (like raisins). They are good on their own, or used in baking, with cereal, or wherever you like to use dried fruit.

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They have one flat, soft, heart-shaped seed in them, but they are chewy and do not interfere with the enjoyment of them.

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Wild Cranberry Liqueur

Place berries with roughly an equal weight of white sugar in a non-metal receptacle with a tight fitting lid. Pour vodka over the fruit to cover. Stir it once a day until the sugar dissolves, and allow to age for one month. Strain and bottle.

Wild Cranberry Sauce

Mix berries in a saucepan with 1/2 the same volume of sugar. I used two cups of berries and 1 cup sugar. Gently heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking until the sauce is a good consistency and the berries are well cooked. They take considerably longer than cranberries. You may add a little citrus zest or any spices you like, but no liquid, as this will only extend the cooking time and result in overcooking of the fruit.