Month: January 2015

The Queen of Wild Roots: Wild Carrot

When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with finding wild flowers in the woods around my house.  I used to have dreams that I was walking through an area of the woods I went regularly, yet this time there were flowers growing everywhere!  Bucket-fulls of them!  How could I have missed them before?  I was just here yesterday.

As an adult, when I started gardening seriously, carrots were a challenge for me…  They grew so slowly and needed babied so much to get the seeds to sprout.  They ended up forked and hairy from growing in our tough, rocky clay soil.  I started having dreams that I was walking through the woods, and stumbled upon a patch of carrots growing that I must have forgotten I planted.  I pulled them up, and they were big, beautiful carrots of all colors!

Are you noticing a pattern?  I’m not quite sure what these dreams says about me, but with my new favorite wild edible – Wild Carrot, aka Queen Anne’s Lace – I feel like I have maybe realized both of these dreams at once.  Since it is readily available in winter months, it is perfect for our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series.WP_20150106_017

I have shocked many people over the last few weeks telling them that the beautiful Queen Anne’s Lace that they picked as a child is actually a wild carrot in its second year of life…  But once they smell the leaves, they cannot deny the strong scent of carrot.

I never really suspected Queen Anne of her other existence either – I thought the plant was solely for the purpose of picking the flowers and putting them in water with food coloring so that they would absorb it and turn blue or green or red.  I remember always being rather suspicious of that black dot in the middle.  Was it a bug that was just pretending to be a part of the flower?  Was it going to crawl away one day?  I am not all too unconvinced that these suspicions weren’t planted by a an older sibling.

More recently, I was on a trip in Austria, and I suddenly saw wild carrots everywhere in their early pre-flower leafy state!  I thought, why do I never see these in North Carolina?  Turns out, I just wasn’t looking.  Here’s how to spot them.

Description and Habitat:  Wild carrots grow prolifically along roadsides, fields, or greenways in this area.  Anywhere that you may have seen Queen Anne’s Lace growing last summer, it is likely to have dropped a seed that will be a wild carrot growing this winter.  As you can see in the picture above, the leaves looks similar to those of Queen Anne’s Lace or also to carrot greens.  They may be growing low to the ground as pictured, or they may be a little longer and more upright.  If in doubt, pull off a leaf, and it should smell strongly of carrot.  To harvest, you can either use a spade to dig up the root or gather up all the leaves and slowly twist and pull it out (but there’s more risk of breaking off the tip this way and losing it in the ground).

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: This is a good point to stress that (although this plant is very easy to identify) you should NOT eat any plant before you have positively identified it with a good plant guide (we recommend A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America (Peterson Field Guides)).  The first time you eat it, it is best to only have a small amount so that you can be sure you do not have any adverse effects from it (which is probably a good idea with any food you are trying for the first time, even off a grocery store shelf!).

Wild Carrot

Harvest:  This winter, when you wouldn’t think there would be much out there to eat in the wild, it’s actually a perfect time for biennial root crops (plants that take 2 years to fully mature into their flower state).  In the winter or early spring, they have grown a full year, so their roots are nice and big.  Because the weather is cold, they are storing most of their energy down in their root in the form of sugars making them as sweet as they’re going to get.  Because they haven’t started putting their energies into sending up a flower stalk and producing seed yet, the root is not yet woody and drained of its yumminess (technical term).

Flavor and Use:  Don’t expect the orange grocery-store variety.  These carrots are white, but the flavor is very similar to what you’re used to in a carrot.

Peeled Wild Carrot

Use them however you would normally use carrots, like in a Wild Winter Salad.

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As a bonus product – hang on to those greens!  You can use them like you would parsley.  Chop them up and add to salads, pasta, or to finish soups.  Carrot greens tabbouleh, anyone?  If that doesn’t interest you, at least throw them into your broth pot.

Wild Carrot Greens

Wondering what all this Queen Anne nonsense is about?  Where did the name come from?  Well, Wild Carrot is not native to North America but came over with the English where it then spread and naturalized.  Rumor has it, the plant is named after Queen Anne of England because of her mad lace-making skills and the flower’s resemblance to lace.  That dark dot in the middle of the flower?  Why, it is a drop of Queen Anne’s blood where she was pricked with a needle, of course!  I’m not sure if that is a better or worse explanation to tell little children than that it’s a bug going to crawl away one day when they least expect it.


See our Resources Page for more recommendations on our favorite foraging guides!

 

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Reinventing Citrus: A Tale of Two Vins

Stop!  Don’t throw that citrus peel in the trash!  No, not even in the compost.  It still has so many lives left to live…

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As you may have noticed from the low prices at the grocery store or the band boosters selling cases of them, citrus fruits are in season now.  By “in season,” we unfortunately don’t mean that they are growing locally here in North Carolina, but rather that this is the time when citrus fruits ripen in our southern neighbor-state, Florida, and therefore are available in fresh abundance here!  Normally, this local-food-obsessed lady tries to stick to local fruits, even in the winter – pulling my peaches out of my freezer, jams out of my pantry, or stockpiling farmers’ market apples in the fridge…  But, if I’m being honest, citrus is a non-local downfall of mine.  I LOVE citrus.  Especially in the dreary days of winter.  Grapefruit cocktails, lemon poppy seed cake, salsa with extra lime.  These are a few of my favorite things!  Ok, coming back down to earth now.

I’ve tried local substitutions, like gathering local-growing bitter oranges to add to our hot cider or making our lovely Wood Sorrel Lemonade featured this summer.  But even with how delicious that “lemon”ade is, I can’t help but think, this would be even better with a squeeze of lemon!

So, along with chocolate and coffee, citrus is one of those things I have surrendered to allowing in my usually mostly-local kitchen.  Yet, I try not to truly gorge on citrus until this time of year.  The time of year when it is at least regionally in season and when it tastes its very best.  This just so happens to also be the time it is at its cheapest and most abundant, making it part of our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series.

Even so, I can’t help feeling like throwing away even one bit of that citrus fruit is a waste, particularly that fragrant, brightly colored peel!  To remedy this, I decided to look back at times past…  What did people do when citrus fruits really were a special luxury – special enough to give and receive excitedly as Christmas gifts?  They would never have just thrown away that fragrant, beautiful peel, right?

As I looked into it further, I found a wealth of uses for that peel!  Household cleaners, flavored salts, flavored sugars, candied peel, marmalade, homemade pectin, and finally…  citrus-infused liqueurs.

Today I am sharing one of my favorite ways to reinvent citrus peels – citrus-infused fortified wines.  Just toss those peels in the refrigerator or freezer until you have enough for this recipe.  This is also only the second life of at least one more use, which I’ll get to in future posts.

And so you have, a Tale of Two Vins

These two fortified citrus-infused wines are based off of similar French aperitif traditions you find in the stores such as Lillet blanc.  You can use “empty” peels or those with the pulp still attached (of which I have many from juicing them for cocktails).  The spices and sweeteners can be interchanged or played with to your liking.  They take a lot of resting time, but not much time to prepare, and they’ll keep indefinitely once complete.  Infusing a fruit’s flavor in alcohol is one great way to hold onto it for months to come!

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Vin d’ Orangeorange peels (with or without pulp inside)

peels of 2 lemons

15-18 peppercorns

6-9 bay leaves

1/2 vanilla bean, cut in quarters

6 Tbsp honey

2 bottles white wine

1/2 one fifth of vodka

1/2 c to 1 c bourbon

Vin d’ Pamplemoussegrapefruit peels (with or without pulp inside)

peels of two lemons

15-18 peppercorns

3 rosemary sprigs

1/2 vanilla bean, cut in quarters

6 Tbsp sugar

2 bottles white wine

1/2 one fifth of vodka

1/2 c to 1 c brandy

Wash a large glass container with a wide mouth with hot soapy water.

Slice peels in “smiley faces” and then in half again so each slice is about 1/8 of a peel.

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Layer peels to fill the container approximately 1/4 of the way full.

Add 1/3 of each of your herbs/spices, vanilla, and sweetener.

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Alternate peels one quarter of the container at a time with the added spices and sweetener until the container is full.

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Pour over liquors and two bottles of wine until peels are entirely covered.  Save any extra wine.

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Let sit for at least 4 weeks (or as many as 8) in a cool, dark place, shaking occasionally.  If liquid level decreases (from being absorbed in peels), top off with reserved wine until all peels are completely covered.

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Strain out the peels and spices when the 4 weeks is through.  Set peels aside for a future project.  Decant vin into clean glass bottles, labeled with the contents and date.  At this point you can drink immediately, or let it sit again for another 2 weeks or so to improve flavor even further.

Serve straight as an aperitif over ice with a twist of lemon or use in cocktails, like the deliciously fresh one below.

Citrus Shaker Cocktail

1.5 oz Vin d’ Orange

1.5 oz Bourbon

juice of 1 orange

3 splashes bitters

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Combine all ingredients with ice in a shaker.

Shake until contents are ice cold and well mixed.

Pour strained into a martini glass.

Garnish with a curl of orange zest.

Don’t forget to throw that juiced orange peel in the freezer for your next batch of vin d’ orange!  And there you have the closed-loop cocktail.


UPDATE:  This year’s Vins are complete, and delicious!  Here they are…

Vin d' Orange Vin d' Pamplemousse

 

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Update: Lasagna Gardening 101 Demo

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Thanks to those who came out to join us for our free Lasagna Gardening Demo!  We had a good time eating locally foraged wild greens and nuts pesto and drinking hot toddies while getting our hands dirty with some lasagna gardening!  It was a great way to celebrate our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity blog series.

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And…  Elizabeth ended up with a beautiful lasagna bed to get her front yard garden career started right!

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You can see more pictures in our Gallery.

If you think you might be interested in hosting a Lasagna Gardening Workshop, see our Classes page and feel free to contact us!

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Winter Gardening: A great time for lasagna

For those who garden or want to garden, winter can seem like a stagnant time when one cuddles up inside and dreams about spring.  Yet, there are lots of ways to grow things in winter or to prepare your garden for spring, even now!  Starting a lasagna garden bed is one of those ways…  You can start one at any time of the year, but winter can actually be one of the best times!  This makes it a great topic for our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series.

What is Lasagna Gardening?  

  • Similar to no-till, no-dig, sheet mulching, forest gardening (permaculture)
  • Rather than dig a vegetable bed, you simply layer organic materials over your existing lawn/weeds to kill the grass and decompose into nutrient-rich garden soil.

Why Lasagna Garden?  

  • It’s easy.  No digging and no weeding!  Avoid two of the most laborious and tedious parts of gardening.
  • It uses up waste materials.  You can use your kitchen scraps, yard waste, old cardboard and newspapers…  even pick up waste from local coffee shops or breweries!
  • It’s cheap.  If you take the time to collect various organic waste materials from your kitchen, yard, or around town, you can do this for free!  If you are in a hurry, you can spend a little money on store-bought materials to speed things along.
  • It’s sustainable.  You use up organic waste materials that might have ended up in the landfill, while reducing soil erosion and nutrient loss, and start growing hyper-local food!
  • It’s scalable.  Use whatever you have when you have it and layer as you go!  No need to run out and buy large quantities of organic materials all at once.  Use it on any size bed!

How do I start a Lasagna Garden?  

Join us for a FREE DEMO this Saturday, January 16th at 2 PM as Piedmont Picnic’s co-founder, Elizabeth, acts as a guinea pig for learning about and building an lasagna garden!  Find details HERE.  

LasagnaAdvertNot able to make it this weekend but still want to learn more?  

See our CLASSES page for information on how YOU can host your own Lasagna Gardening Workshop for you and your friends!  


UPDATE:  See how it all turned out here!

 

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Get Wild in your Kitchen: Wild Winter Salads

Living in North Carolina, we are lucky that for most of winter, we can still find green, growing things.  Knowing that there are still things I can pick and eat from my yard, garden, or beyond is always a helpful reminder that things keep growing even when the world seems somewhat stagnant.  The key is looking under your feet, rather than up at the trees at this time of year!

For those of you interested in trying to forage, but not so sure about going any further than your own backyard, this post is for you!  Because these greens are readily available through winter, they are a great topic for our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series.  These are my two favorite winter greens to forage in my own yard (although I often find even bigger, juicier specimens if I am willing to branch out a little further to greenways, etc.).

Wild Greens Salad

The two greens below also make a well-balanced mix with contrasting, yet complimentary flavors, perfect for winter salads!

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: This is a good point to stress that (although these two plants are very easy to identify) you should NOT eat any plant before you have positively identified it with a good plant guide (we recommend A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America (Peterson Field Guides)).  The first time you eat it, it is best to only have a small amount so that you can be sure you do not have any adverse effects from it (which is probably a good idea with any food you are trying for the first time, even off a grocery store shelf!).

Without any further delay…  I introduce to you, chickweed and wild cress!

Chickweed

Chickweed will grow *almost* year-long in North Carolina, shriveling down to almost nothing in the hottest part of the summer, but then returning in fall and through the winter only to completely take over your flower beds seemingly overnight in the early spring.

Chickweed

Description and Habitat:  Chickweed grows low to the ground with trailing stems coming out from a single middle point.  The stems are covered in small, heart-shaped leaves, and small white flowers eventually bloom on the tips.  It likes damp, cool areas, but will grow just about anywhere.

Harvest:  If you want to be able to continuously come back to the same patch, it pays to snip off tips rather than pull the whole plant.  If you can identify the center of the spider-like clump, you can often gather the trailing stems up like a ponytail and then snip them all off at once.  Alternatively, you can give it a more delicate haircut, snipping tips one at a time.

Flavor and Use:  I find the flavor to be very mild and green, almost like the flavor of corn or corn silks.  The texture offers a nice delicate crunch in salads, and the mild flavor can offset those of many of the stronger tasting greens available this time of year (such as kale, arugula, mustards, or our next featured green below).   It can also be sautéed in oil or butter, blended into soups, or chopped and added to soups to brighten them up right at the end of cooking.

Wild Cress

This is actually the best time to harvest wild cress (as long as it’s not buried under snow).  It has a very short season in the cool weather before it bolts with the first sign of warm weather, sending up a flower shoot and with it all the energy and tastiness out of its little leaves.

Wild Cress

Description and Habitat:  Like chickweed, wild cress prefers a somewhat damp and cool environment (which is almost everywhere at this time of year).  It will grow in a small clump with leaves all radiating out from a central point.  The leaves are each little fronds of multiple smaller leaflets, almost like a mini-arugula leaf.  When warm weather comes, it will send up a flower shoot with small white flower clusters at which point there’s not much left in the leaf department.  If in doubt about its identification, chew on a small piece of leaf, and it should give you a spicy, arugula-like flavor.

Harvest: Again, if you want to preserve your source, you should avoid pulling up the whole plant. You can either snip leaves individually haircut style, or try to gather the leaves like a pony tail and cut off a large clump.

Flavor and Use: This little leaf packs a more powerful punch!  Like its relatives in the mustard family, such as water cress or arugula, it will have a more spicy, peppery taste.  I like it in salads mixed with more mild greens, like chickweed (above).  Also, similar to chickweed, it’s good blended in soups or chopped up and added to them at the finish of cooking.  You could try sautéing it, but because the leaves are so tiny, it would take quite a pile to have anything left once they are all wilted down!

Why Bother?

So what is the point of going through all the trouble of seeking these out rather than going and buying a bag of lettuce at the grocery store?  Well, for one thing, they’re tasty!  They’re also free.  They’re local and sustainable (no packaging, no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, no transport!).  And finally, they’re just a whole heck of a lot more interesting!  By doing this, we can tap into traditions and knowledge from generations of people who came before us who placed a high value on green, growing things in times of scarcity.

These greens were valued because they were some of the only fresh things available at this time of year – full of important nutrients.  Even before the words vitamin or antioxidant existed, the connection between health, vitality, and fresh green things existed beyond any specific nutritional knowledge.  Our bodies crave this freshness after long, cold months without them.  Tap into the traditions of generations that have come before you and incorporate some wild greens into your salad (or soup) this winter!


See our Resources Page for more recommendations on our favorite foraging guides!

 

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Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity

Picnics may not be the first things that come to mind during the winter months, but we would argue that you can have a picnic at any time of the year!  Even now, when green, growing things seem scarce, there is still food all around us that we may not notice.

Barren_Winter

Many people in previous generations knew how to use every last bit of the foods they had – especially in winter when food may have been scarce.  Today, we may tend to overlook or even throw away some nutritious and tasty foods!  Our goal over the next couple months is to delve into this mindset of winter scarcity and what culinary delights we may be missing out on by throwing them away or walking past them.   We’ll delve into a few of our favorite ways to reduce food waste and increase winter’s bounty!

Winter Foraging and Gardening

Winter_Greens

Reinventing Throw-Away Foods

Food_Waste

 


UPDATE:  See the posts in this series that follow below:

Get Wild in your Kitchen: Wild Winter Salads

Winter Gardening:  A great time for lasagna

Update: Lasagna Gardening 101 Demo

Reinventing Citrus: Tale of Two Vins

The Queen of Wild Roots: Wild Carrot

Monthly Planting Guide: February in the Piedmont

12 Seed Starting Tips for the New or Experienced Gardener

Candied Citrus Peel: Vin Reincarnated

Tap That! Piedmont Picnic Taps a Maple Tree

Wild Winter Teas: Aka Scurvy Prevention Strategy

Peel, Pith, and Pips: Piedmont Picnic talks Marmalade 

Monthly Planting Guide: March in the Piedmont

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