Tag: Preserving (page 2 of 2)

Weekend Update: May Wild History Walking Tour + Picnic

Piedmont Picnic held their second Wild History walking tour and picnic of the spring this past Saturday!  We had a big bunch of friendly, enthusiastic picnickers and a beautiful day along Lake Raleigh – one of our favorite spots so far along the Raleigh greenways during our 100 Miles in 100 Days series.  See full gallery here.

Along the walk, we learned about wild edibles growing right now in this location – wildflowers, green shoots, and even mulberries!

Talking #mulberries at this past Saturday’s #WildHistory #Foraging Tour + #WildFood #Picnic!

A photo posted by Piedmont Picnic Project (@piedmontpicnicproject) on

The picnic was one of our more decadent affairs – because eating flowers of course lends itself to sweets! Wild weed salad, Trappist honey bread, and yogurt cheese were accompanied by honeysuckle sodas, wildflower jelly thumbprint cookies, and intoxicating wisteria ice cream!  

Oh, and did we mention we spotted our first ripe blackberries of the season!?

A big THANK YOU to all who came out for the picnic and to everyone that helped to promote it beforehand!  We are always grateful for and humbled by the overwhelming response we get to our wild endeavors!

Please follow and like us:

Pollinator Picnic was all the buzz!

Piedmont Picnic Project hosted our Pollinator Picnic this past Saturday as part of the Second Saturday events in Raleigh and as part of our Pollinators in the Piedmont blog series!    Special thanks to all those who came out for the event!  See full gallery here.

Pollinator Picnic

PapaSpuds_logoSpecial thanks to Papa Spuds for providing all of the honey for the event!  If you’re interested in Papa Spuds local foods delivery service, they’ll waive your enrollment fee and give you $5 off your first order when you use the coupon code PICNIC.  

If you couldn’t make it out, here’s what you missed…

A full bee buffet of honey and wildflower drinks and treats, including Honeygirl Meadery mead and Brothers Vilgalys Spirits krupnikas cocktail!

#yogurtcheese flavored with #honey and #foraged #hickorynuts decorated with more nuts, #nativehoneysuckle and #wildroses at the #PollinatorPicnic!

A photo posted by Piedmont Picnic Project (@piedmontpicnicproject) on

#trappist #honeybread at our #PollinatorPicnic! #likethebeesdoit A photo posted by Piedmont Picnic Project (@piedmontpicnicproject) on

A pollinator garden demo including a good dose of bee history and recommendations for pollinator plants.  This berm is stuffed full of BREW coffee grounds and compost from a kindly CompostNow customer!

Our best helpers! #PollinatorBerm #startemyoung #givebeesachance

A photo posted by Piedmont Picnic Project (@piedmontpicnicproject) on

Stay tuned to our Pollinators in the Piedmont series to see what’s next – like our upcoming Wild History walking tour – learning more about pollinators, bee history, and forageable wildflowers!

Please follow and like us:

Raleigh Greenways: No shrinking violet

I didn’t need a calendar to tell me spring had arrived in North Carolina…  All I had to do was look out at my yard and the yards of so many others to see them blanketed in pink, purple, white, and yellow flowers!  I love this time of year before people pull out their lawnmowers, while they are still letting their yards turn into little wild places!  And even the smallest wild place can be a place to find some wild food.

Many of these flowers, including our featured plant today – violets – can seem so common that we take them for granted and ignore that they are just as beautiful as many cultivated flowers.  Many of them are also quite edible and useful!

This idea of something so prolific and common that we forget what a treasure it really is reminded us of our 100 Miles in 100 Days campaign.  To us, the 100 miles of Raleigh greenways are something we have often ignored and taken for granted, but as we explore them more and more of late, we see their value as wild places full of wild edibles and full of a rich natural and cultural history.

100 Miles3

 Where does Raleigh greenway history begin?

Speaking of wild places, they don’t all have to be remote locations, left undisturbed for generations to create a perfect, mystical balance of how nature should be. Your lawn, or the vacant lot down the road–or the edges of Raleigh’s greenway trails–all have things growing in them, right? But what a bummer it would be if there weren’t. If everything were paved over. Or plucked bare. Thinking of the Dust Bowl in the Great Depression? Or the Lorax? Pretty bleak.

When Raleigh was growing itself rapidly away from downtown in the 1960s and 1970s, voices began speaking out with concerns over what all the new construction and developments were doing to existing wild and natural spaces. Where were all the trees going? Or the people who loved them? And what about all the damn flooding?

The short version of a longer story is that City Council turned a report from a summer intern titled, “Raleigh: The Park with a City in It” into a reality.

The two main creeks, Walnut and Crabtree, would be protected to help manage the area’s floodplain, the surrounding wetlands would be a habitat for plants and animals, and the pathways would “give alternative to the automobile for short commuter trips” around the city. Ever since Central Park was created in NYC in the 1850s, there have been strong advocates for natural spaces within cities. However, the extent to which the Capital City Greenway is integrated into Raleigh’s business, residential, and other development was so unprecedented that it was considered the first citywide greenway system in the United States when it was begun in 1974.

Each section of the greenway has been added in the years since then, slowly working toward making them fully interconnected. As land is turned over to be cleared, or paved, it creates opportunities for new wild things to grow. Chances are, if you’re in Raleigh, you’re not much more than a few minutes away from a greenway trail at any moment. Which also means, you’re not much more than a few minutes away from discovering some of Raleigh’s coolest natural spots.

Plant Profile: Common Violet

One plant that is so common on the greenways (and probably in your lawn) this time of year is the common blue violet.  Sprinkle a handful of these blooms on any plate, and you will take it straight into gourmet territory.

Description and Habitat.  Violets like to grow in areas that are fairly moist, yet also offer some sun, which makes them bloom more prolifically.  Look for heart-shaped, somewhat glossy leaves about four inches tall and five-petaled purple flowers about one inch across.  Flowers have yellowish-white middles that are slightly furry.  Some violets are white blossomed with faint purple veins in the petals and are just as edible and quite striking!

Harvest.  Blossoms are present in early spring (late March to mid April), and are best harvested in the morning.  Leaves stick around most of the year.  They are best harvested when still very young and rolled up like a scroll.

Flavor and Use.  Common violet flowers (unlike their more fragrant English violet cousins) have a very faint scent – almost undetectable.  Their flavor is green tasting much like a salad green.  Generally, their use is more for their striking purple color which lends itself to garnish dishes or to be infused in syrups and liqueurs.  The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked – but when cooked can have somewhat mucilaginous qualities.

InstagramCapture_77707009-f4de-4495-8740-8e1b1b539a52

 Violet Syrup

Place violets in a heat safe container such as the mason jar below.

WP_20150401_020Pour boiling water over the flowers – just enough to cover them.  Place a lid/plate over the steeping violets and allow to sit for up to 24 hours for maximum extraction of that beautiful purple color (cat optional).

InstagramCapture_354003b1-08f3-4a5e-9c36-4ae38e8d48d7

Drain violets, squeezing as much liquid out of the flowers as possible.  Gorgeous, isn’t it? Measure your liquid.

WP_20150402_003

At this point, you have two color options: pinkish-purple or bluish-black.

For bluish-black, warm your liquid with an equal amount of sugar (i.e., if you have 1 cup liquid, you’ll want 1 cup sugar) over low heat until sugar is fully dissolved.  Do not boil.  Pour into clean jar.   The color will lose some vibrancy but stay more violet.

Alternatively, add a few drops of lemon juice before sealing, and it will regain vibrancy but be a more pink-purple color rather than blue-violet.  This pinkish-purple shade is in the photo below (the other bottle in the background is a ground ivy syrup made in a similar way).

WP_20150402_006

What to do with this gorgeous purple syrup with an oh-so-delicate spring green taste?  Why not a cocktail?  We call it shrinking not for it’s flavor, but because it seems to disappear so quickly!

Shrinking Violet Cocktail

To make, shake the following in a cocktail shaker over ice and strain into a martini glass:

1.5 oz gin

1 oz violet syrup

1 egg white

juice of 1/4 lemon

Garnish with a violet, of course!

InstagramCapture_20dee843-d490-472b-bbb0-07b1ec7243b4

Please follow and like us:

Fresh Herbs in Winter: Wild and Homegrown Alternatives to the Supermarket

You may not think of winter as a time to write a post about fresh herbs, but that’s exactly why these beauties below fit into our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series.  Winter may seem like the hardest time to find fresh herbs, making us all resort to those horrible clam shell herb containers at the store where you pay five dollars for a bundle of herbs you know you could grow so easily in the summer or find a bundle four times that size for half the price at your local farmers’ market.

This may lead you to attempt growing herbs indoors, something I have had mixed success with, often resulting in scraggly, slow-growing plants.

Alternatively, you may notice that many of your perennial herbs, although slow growing, live on outdoors well beyond the first frost date.  The piles of mint, onion grass, bee balm, catmint, and lemon balm below were all picked in January, well after many frosts.

Winter Herb Harvest

Another option is to attempt a cold frame or low tunnel outdoors to keep a few small stashes of herbs growing through the winter.  Cilantro does particularly well in that environment, like my little almost-picked-to-death cilantro in my low tunnel below.

Low Tunnel Winter Cilantro

If none of these options sound appealing to you, don’t count out the wild herbs!  Below are two of the most common wild herbs you’ll find around – two that I’ll bet you’ve either eaten or at least crushed and smelled before – noting their aromatic properties but hesitating to cook with them.  Why hesitate?

Onion Grass (aka Wild Garlic)

When I first moved down here, I remember someone pointing out “onion grass” to me, and I thought, no no, that’s just chives that have gone rogue into someone’s yard.  I didn’t realize that chives had a more wild cousin that really likes to get around.  It’s an easy mistake to make, and a happy one!  Because it shows how interchangeable the two can be in cooking – why spend $4.99 on that clamshell of “fresh chives” when you probably have a patch of onion grass in your lawn you’ve been trying to eradicate for years?

Wild Garlic

Description and Habitat.  “Onion grass” grows in clumps of green chive-like tops with a bulb at its base made of several smaller “cloves,” much like garlic.  You can find it in just about any lawn or field or along any roadside.  The strong onion/garlic scent is a good indicator that you have the right plant.

Harvest.  To harvest, you can simply cut off whatever leaves you need.  Feel free to give it a full haircut; it will grow back.  Alternatively, if you want to harvest the bulb below, you can pull up the whole plant. Just be sure to leave a couple bulbs from the clump in the ground so you can come back to your spot in years to come.

Flavor and Use.  You can use the grass like you would chives, and the bulbs like you would garlic (although their small size makes this difficult).  The grass itself is much more garlicky than chives, so I like to use it to lend that flavor to some classically garlicky uses – like this pesto below and the seasoned salt at the end of the post.

Wild Greens & Nuts Pesto

Warning:  This pesto is addictive!  You will scoop it on everything, and if you take it to a party, it will not come back with you.  It may just be my favorite wild food recipe I have under my belt so far…

Wild Greens and Nuts Pesto

Recipe:

2-3 handfuls of wild garlic greens, roughly chopped

2-3 handfuls of wild cress greens

1-2 handfuls of wild nuts (hickory, pecan, and/or black walnut)

2 large pinches salt

olive oil

Combine wild garlic greens and wild cress in a food processor with wild nuts of your choosing.  Salt well.

Pulse until they are well mixed, and then begin to drizzle in olive oil while the food processor runs.  I like mine heavy on the olive oil until the mixture turns from looking like separate ingredients into a smooth creamy paste, as the oil emulsifies into a totally different texture (see picture above – there’s nothing dry or leafy about that pesto!).

Scoop into a bowl and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, some wild leaves, and/or nuts.

Note: if you don’t have a chance to forage wild herbs for this, arugula and garlic with sunflower seeds will make another delicious version.

Ground Ivy 

One of my uncles was visiting a few months ago, helping us out on some backyard constructions projects.  When those were in ship shape, he asked, now what are you going to do about all this ground ivy?  (Our entire back “lawn” is ground ivy).  To which I replied, eat it!  We love our ground ivy lawn…  it’s beautiful covered in purple flowers in spring, durable, and smells delightfully herby when you walk on it or mow it.

Even better yet, you can eat it, and it’s tasty!  It could have made it into our Wild Winter Teas post, as it’s a member of the mint family, high in vitamin C, and brews a good cup.  But I like it even better featured as an herb for cooking.  Historically, it was used for eating, as medicine, in the beer making process by Saxons before hops were introduced, and by various other peoples in cheese making as a substitute for rennet.  How versatile!

Ground_Ivy

Description and Habitat.  Ground ivy grows in trailing runners up to about four inches tall.  Leaves are roughly heart-shaped and scalloped (see picture above), stems are square shaped (due to its membership in the mint family), and it gets small purple flowers in spring.  Ground ivy gives off a distinctly herby, almost minty sent when crushed.  You’ll find it in your lawn, along greenways and roadsides, and in fields, particularly where it is somewhat cooler and shady.

Harvest.  You can pull up entire runners of ground ivy or snip off individual leaves.  I generally “harvest” when weeding it out of my vegetable beds.  Ground ivy is considered a non-native invasive species in the U.S., so harvest away!

Flavor and Uses.  Ground ivy has a scent/flavor somewhere between mint and a mild, greener rosemary.  You can put it in soups and salads, make tea out of it, or use it as a fresh or dried herb.  The flowers look particularly pretty in salads in spring.

Wild Seasoned Salt Rub

This recipe for wild seasoned salt has about a million and one uses.  Rub it on chicken, lamb, or beef before roasting.  Toss it with pasta and Parmesan for a great side; add white beans, and it’s a main course.  Dry it and bottle it for a unique wild holiday gift!  Another bonus:  this is one more way to use your citrus peels.  Zest peels before juicing (it’s very difficult to do after) and dry to be used later in seasoning rubs like this one or in desserts.

Wild Seasoned Salt

Recipe:

Zest of 2 lemons, grated

1 bunch of Ground Ivy leaves

1 bunch of Onion Grass

2 Tbsp Sea Salt

If using immediately, mince ground ivy and onion grass and combine with lemon zest and salt (pepper optional).

Wild Seasoned Salt Ingredients

If you’d like to dry and store this as a wild seasoned salt, dry grated lemon zest, whole ground ivy, and onion grass (in your oven or toaster oven on its lowest setting is one good way).

Crumble ground ivy and onion grass (or pulse in a coffee grinder), and combine with dried lemon zest and sea salt.

Store in an airtight container somewhere dark and cool.  Use as you would the fresh version.

Please follow and like us:

Peel, pith, and pips! Piedmont Picnic talks marmalade

The count is neither sad nor sick nor cheerful nor well—

he’s just civil, as Seville as an orange,

with the same jealous-yellow complexion.

-Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing

This week, our citrus peels continue on their wheel of reincarnation, being made into one of the stars of citrus peel confectionery delights:  marmalade.  While reading extensively about marmalade of late, I must say the “jam porn” (as I like to call it) is taken to a whole new level as authors talk about the shining, citrusy, decadent, classic, perfect balance of bitter, sweet, and sour that is marmalade.  It brings out the anglophile in all of us, I think.

Our marmalade can be made with fresh citrus, saved peels (from fruit that has already been juiced or eaten), or from your peels after they’ve been soaked to infuse alcohol, such as in our Tale of Two Vins post.  Marmalade is a great addition to our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series, using up every last bit of your citrus.  As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, we are attempting to place ourselves in the mindset of a time when citrus would have been such a special commodity that we would have tried to hold on to every last bit of its flavor for as long as possible, seeing the peel as a valuable resource rather than a waste product.  Marmalade not only makes use of the peel, but showcases it.

Marmalade_Finished

History

Many of us probably associated marmalade with the British – as something you have on your crumpets with your tea.  Enough British stereotypes yet?  Throw in a “Cheerio!” for good measure.

Today we think of marmalade as referring exclusively to citrus jam – a sweet, tart, and slightly bitter combination of jellied citrus juice and tender peel.  The word marmalade comes from the Portuguese word marmelada, for quince jam.  Yet Seville oranges came to be known as the quintessential marmalade fruit.

Advert for 'Nell Gwyn' Marmalade, 1943.

American canning books will often differentiate between “quick” and “traditional” marmalade.  Quick marmalade has added pectin.  However, I prefer the long method, as the citrus peel is chock-full of pectin, making added pectin unnecessary if you are willing to take a little more time.  This utilizes an existing resource while saving you a little money and using fewer processed additives.

Variations

The peels.  As mentioned above, you can use fresh citrus, with all of the pulp and juice intact.  However we are using peels from citrus that has already had the flesh eaten or juiced (and then possibly soaked in alcohol).  If using juiced citrus, I leave the remaining pulp attached.  You can make a one-fruit marmalade out of any one citrus peel type, or mix and match.  Note that the classic Seville oranges are higher in pectin than much of the citrus we commonly use, and that freezing the peels can reduce pectin content.  This may mean you’ll need to cook your marmalade down further to get the consistency you are looking for without adding pectin.

Marmalade_Peels

The pips.  Many people recommend saving the pips, or seeds, from the fruit to soak or boil in a muslin bag to release further pectin.  However, many sources say that most of the pectin is really in the peels and pith, and the seeds don’t much matter.  I find with our more common citrus fruits, there are too few seeds to bother with, contrary to Seville oranges which are full of seeds.

The liquid.  For the liquid that makes the gelled portion of your marmalade, you can use water or citrus juice.  Alternatively, you can use wine, leftover cocktail or punch (whatever that is), or a combination of these things.  Note the significant color difference in the two jars in the picture at the top – one made with wine and the other with water.

Additional flavors.  Classic marmalade often does not include any added flavors, but rather, lets the taste of the citrus shine.  I am a big fan of the classics, but if you have a lot of peels, some variation is nice too.  Add fall spices to a marmalade of orange and red wine.  Add lots of fresh ginger to a classic orange marmalade to spice it up.  Add rosemary and peppercorns to grapefruit marmalade to mimic the flavors in our Vin d’ Pamplemousse.  Throw in a 1/4 cup of bourbon right before canning.  This is where there is some room for experimentation.

Recipe

1 1/4 lbs citrus fruit/peels, quartered, seeded, and sliced very thinly

Liquid, enough to cover peels by about 1 inch (water, juice, wine, or a combination)

2 1/2 lbs sugar

2 lemons, juiced

Optional spices

Grease the bottom of a large heavy-bottomed saucepan (large enough that all contents do not come more than halfway up the side) with butter or oil.  This will help prevent scorching later.

Combine citrus fruit/peels and enough liquid to cover them in your large saucepan.  At this point, I like to cook the peels covered until they are soft (as long as 1-2 hours) and then let them sit in the liquid overnight to release more of the pectin.  But you can also just cook them covered until they are your desired softness, and then move on.

Marmalade_Pour

Note:  Test a peel’s softness by eating one.  If it is not to the softness you would desire it to be on your morning toast at this point, cook or allow to soak longer until it is.  The peels will NOT continue to soften once the sugar is added.

Optional: At this point, if you want to be extra sure of your ratio, you can strain the peels from the liquid and measure how much liquid you have.  You want to have an equal weight of liquid as you had peels when you started (so 1 1/4 lbs).  If you have less than this, add liquid; if you have more, cook the liquid down further.

Boiled_Peels

Add any spices you wish at this stage.  For whole spices that you want removed before eating, place in a tied-up bag of cheese cloth to be easily removed later.

Warm the mixture over medium-high heat.

Marmalade_Boil

Stir in sugar and lemon juice before contents come to a boil.  The sugar will not dissolve as well if you add it to boiling liquid.

Bring mixture to a hard boil.   Sources disagree on whether you should stir or not during this stage, some saying not at all, others saying occasionally, still others saying constantly.  All have risks.  Stirring a pot of boiling marmalade sometimes seems it should require a welding mask due to the risk of popping, splattering hot sugar.  Yet, I have also had to chisel a scorched layer of jam off one too many pots to trust not stirring at all.  I’ll let you decide.

Begin testing the marmalade for thickness once it starts looking shiny and syrupy.  You need to chill a dollop to see what the consistency will look like once the marmalade has cooled.  I prefer to use the cold saucer “gel stage” test rather than looking for a specific temperature.  Furthermore, I like my marmalade to be about the consistency of thick syrup rather than “crinkle” when I do the saucer test.  I find taking the marmalade all the way to the “gel stage” is difficult with lower-pectin peels and puts you at a high risk of scorching.  It seems to still firm up nicely after cooling in the jars.

Allow to sit for 10 minutes once marmalade has reached the gel stage.  This allows it to thicken slightly, which means the peels will stay suspended in the liquid when you stir it, rather than all fall to the bottom.  This give you even peel suspension in your final jarred product.

You may notice foam on top.  You can either scoop any foam that has appeared on top off with a spoon, or simply stir it back in after the cooling period.  It’s just bubbles, so it won’t hurt anything.

Ladle the marmalade into clean jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace at the top of the jar.  If you want to store jars in the refrigerator, you can just put lids on and allow to cool before refrigerating.  If you plan to can the jars for long-term storage, see our instructions on water bath canning, and process at a boil for 10 minutes.

Marmalade_Jars

Enjoy your marmalade for months to come on toast (or crumpets)… on or in sponge or pound cake…. added to marinades, barbecue or stir fry sauces…  or smothered over pork or chicken.  If you eat (and drink!) as much citrus as I do all winter, you’ll certainly have the peels to make enough to last till next winter!


Resources:

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
The River Cottage Preserves Handbook

Please follow and like us:

Wild Winter Teas: aka Scurvy Prevention Strategy

I can’t seem to get enough hot liquid during the winter.  Whether it’s coffee, tea, or cider, I seem to have a hot mug of something in my hands at all times.  This may be in part due to our extreme energy-saving heat regimen at my house or maybe just the enjoyment of looking out into the cold day while sipping something warm and feeling it warm you through.

Of course, there are many herbs you can dry during the spring and summer months to be used as tea when winter comes, but there are also still things you could harvest now in the wild to be brewed into tea.  These winter treasures fall neatly into our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series.  Many of these wild things are also high in vitamin C, something that can be hard to come by locally in winter months.  The three winter teas below are all excellent sources of vitamin C and can add color to an otherwise dreary cup!  Drink them down to prevent scurvy or just to have a tasty, wintry treat!

Wild Rose Hips

Description and Habitat:  Rose Hips, the fruit of the rose plant, are often still on the plant throughout the winter.  Look for a thorny bramble, with a few leaves still attached holding on to a round, red berry or hip.  The rose hip will have a brown, leaf-like, five-part calyx at the top (see picture below).  The leaves of the plant will much resemble your garden rose variety.  The plants can be found along roadsides, at field or waterway edges, or along greenways (as this one was).  Of course, you can also collect hips from your garden roses if they have them (some hybrid varieties these days do not).

Wild Rose

Harvest:  Rose hips are available from summer through late winter.  Harvest is easy here!  Just pull or cut the hip off the end of the stem.  You can then dry them or use them fresh.

Rose Hip

Flavor and Use:  Rose hips are very tart.  The longer they are on the plant, the softer and less tart they will be.  This tartness is a good indicator of their vitamin C content.  They can be used to make candies, syrups, jellies, or teas.  See below for a full description of making tea from all three of our wild winter edibles.

Pine Needles

Description and Habitat:  Several long-needled pine trees are common to our area, including Loblolly, White, Virginia, and Longleaf.  These are each cone-bearing evergreens very similar in appearance, starting as a small sapling like the one pictured below, growing into huge, towering trees.  Smaller trees are preferable, as they are easier to reach.  😉  Look for clusters of long, green needles and a pine scent.  They grow in forests, along roadsides, and along greenways in our area (as well as in people’s yards).

White Pine Growing

Harvest:   The lighter green needles at the tips that come out in early spring are preferable to the darker ones, but both will work just fine for tea.  Cut or break off the tips.  At this point you can dry them or use fresh.

Flavor and Use:  Pine needles taste much the same way they smell…  that fresh pine scent.  They are also high in vitamins A and C.  There are many uses for various parts of the pine tree, but the primary use for the needles is to infuse their flavor in other things.  Our post today is on making teas (see below), but they could also be infused in spirits or used in beer brewing.  They could be used to smoke fish or meat.  Get creative with them for anything you want that piney flavor!

White Pine Needles

Staghorn Sumac

Description and Habitat:  Staghorn Sumac can often be seen growing along roadsides and is also found at field edges and along greenways.  The silhouette is rather distinctive in the winter, as you can see below, because each of its branches is tipped with a clump of berries.  The berries are reddish in color and furry.  These berry clumps can be found from late summer, through the end of winter.  They will have more flavor earlier in the season before much of it gets washed out by rain, but even now, they will still brew a tasty, yet weaker, tea.  Staghorn Sumac Silhouette

WARNING: You may have heard of Staghorn Sumac’s less-desirable cousin, Poison Sumac.  Poison Sumac will give you an extreme version of what poison ivy can do to you if you come into contact with it.  Luckily, the berries of the two look nothing alike, with poison sumac berries being white and smooth-skinned (very unlike the red, furry ones pictured below).

Harvest:  The entire cluster of berries can be snapped off the end of the branch and either used immediately or dried and stored.  You can see the cluster below has been through a long winter, as much of the red color has already been washed out of it.  Earlier in the season, the entire berry cluster would be red.

Staghorn Sumac

Flavor and Use:  Staghorn Sumac is most often brewed into a tea and drunk hot or cold.  It has a very tart flavor and a red color, so it is often used to make “wild pink lemonade” with no lemons needed.  This tartness is an indicator of its high vitamin C content.  This liquid could also be made into a syrup concentrate or jelly.  Some people also crush the dried berries and use as a seasoning.  See tea brewing instructions below.

Brewing Tea for All Three

We’re using photos of the Staghorn Sumac for this (because, let’s be honest, it looks the coolest), but these instructions apply to any of the three wild edibles above.

Tear apart or crush the plant roughly and place wild herb in a heat-safe jar or mug.

Staghorn Sumac Jar

Bring a kettle of water to the point of steaming, but not boiling.

Pour contents over wild herb.  If you like a stronger-tasting tea, pour less; a weaker tea, pour more.  Cover and allow to steep about 3-5 minutes.  A longer steep may result in a slightly stronger, but also often more bitter flavor.

Staghorn Sumac Steep

Strain the tea through a fine-mesh strainer (a very fine mesh is particularly important with the Staghorn Sumac, to remove its tiny hairs).

Staghorn Sumac Strained

Staghorn Sumac Strainer

Feel free to sweeten to your liking with honey at this point, and enjoy hot this winter, or cold this coming summer!


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!).

Please follow and like us:

Candied Citrus Peel: Vin Reincarnated

Candied citrus peel is another tasty and relatively easy way to use up a “trash food” that is still full of flavor, and that is why we’re featuring this yummy confection in our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series.  Again, if we think back to a time when citrus would have been harder to get your hands on and therefore a very special treat when you had it…  then it makes sense to use every bit!  And the best way to make a special treat even more special is to turn it into the candied jewels below.  Better yet, if you followed along with our Tale of Two Vins post, you can put your peels from that to work, yet again, reincarnating them into their third life!

Candied Peel _ Drying

The recipe below will work for virgin citrus peels, but it is even better with the ones that have been sitting in and absorbing that sweet, boozy slurry for a few weeks.  Much of the bitterness will have already left them, and they’ll have picked up other flavors.  Added Bonus: you don’t have to “waste” the alcohol they absorbed by just tossing them in the compost because it will all be part of the finished product here.

You can do this recipe with peels from any citrus fruit, but it is particularly tasty with the thicker peels of oranges and grapefruit (my personal favorite).

Candied Citrus Peel

citrus peels (soaked or unsoaked previously in booze, with or without pulp attached)

sugar

water

superfine sugar

Slice the peels into thin strips or “smiley faces” roughly 1/4-1/2-inch wide.  If you prefer a thinner or less-bitter peel, you can scrape out some of the white pith at this stage.  I generally like a meatier, slightly bitter candied peel, so I don’t scrape out much of the white pith.  Particularly if you are using peels that have been previously used to  infuse alcohol, much of that bitterness will already be gone anyway.

Place peels in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan.

If you are using virgin peels (not pre-soaked in alcohol), cover peels with water and bring to a low simmer for about 5 minutes.  Dump off water, and repeat until the bitterness is reduced to a palatable level for you when you taste a peel.  Then proceed to the next step.  If you are using peels that have already been soaked in alcohol, you can skip this entire pre-boiling step.

Fill sauce pan with water until peels are covered about one inch, measuring how much water you add.  Then add an equal amount of sugar (i.e., if you needed 4 cups of water to cover the peels, add 4 cups of sugar for a 1:1 ratio).

Bring to a very low simmer, and continue to simmer until peels are translucent.  If at any point the syrup becomes too thick or caramelizes to be darker than the color of straw, add water.  This will take about an hour.  To test if peel is done, remove one, allow it to cool, and see if you can bite through it easily.  You will notice a visible change in the appearance of the peels and liquid when they are ready, with both becoming very glossy.

Candied_Peel_in_Syrup

Remove the peels from the syrup and allow to dry on a wire rack overnight or until no longer sticky.  Look at these fatties below – this is why I leave my pith in for maximum absorption potential.  Be sure to put a pan or wax paper under the rack, or you will have some tough-to-clean counters!

WP_20150204_039

TIP: Reserve the syrup for later use as a citrus-flavored simple syrup.

Citrus Syrup

The next day, toss the peels in superfine sugar until coated.  Some sources recommend to even let the peels sit in the sugar overnight or even indefinitely to dry out further and allow any remaining gooeyness to fully absorb the sugar.  If you plan to store them more long-term, this may be a good idea.  As a bonus, it will give you some citrus-scented sugar to use in the future.  If you plan to store them directly in your belly, this is less necessary.

Candied_Peel_Sugar

Store in an air-tight container in the pantry.  Peels will keep indefinitely if allowed to dry properly (but they may mold if not completely dry before storing).  If in doubt, eat within a couple of weeks or store in the refrigerator.

Candied_Peel_Jar

Now that you have them, how can you use them?

  • Dip one end of the peels in chocolate and serve with coffee or dessert.
  • Give a box of them as a gift.
  • Mince peels and add to fruit pies, pound cake, shortbread cookies, or ice cream.
  • Use as a garnish on almost anything, especially citrus cocktails, like the one at the end of this post or the one here Throw in some of that leftover citrus syrup as a bonus!
Please follow and like us:

Revolutionizing Sweet Tea

As part of our Cocktails and Mayonnaise series, we decided to explore what a locally-foraged sweet tea could be using an herb called Bee Balm, otherwise known as Wild Bergamot.  Although you can technically grow a tea plant (Camellia sinensis) in North Carolina, they are not exactly widespread and prefer a slightly warmer climate.

Bee Balm, on the other hand, is native all across the United States and can therefore be foraged in meadows, clearings, and farmland across North Carolina (or if you are me – in your neighbor’s front yard!).  If you see it growing in your neighbor’s yard in the next month or so, ask them if they would mind if you gave it a little haircut for them.  It’s probably getting a little leggy by now anyway, and it won’t last past the quickly-approaching first frost anyway!

Bee_Balm_Plant

Wild Bergamot has a revolutionary past…

Bee Balm was collected and used by Native Americans as a seasoning and for its medicinal value.  It began its subversive hay day during the American Revolution.  Due to its common flavor with the ingredient Bergamot found in Earl Grey tea, Wild Bergamot was often used as a tea replacement as colonists began to boycott the tea coming from England.

This fun fact inspired us to see if we could recreate a more modern Southern favorite – sweet tea vodka – using this readily available wild ingredient rather than the imported tea variety.

Making Wild Sweet Tea Vodka

To make Wild Sweet Tea Vodka, you can use either fresh or dried leaves and blossoms from a Bee Balm (Wild Bergamot) plant.

To dry your leaves for later use, a particularly energy-friendly technique during the warmer days of North Carolina summer, is this super simplified “solar dehydrator.”  When I say super-simplified, I mean it:

Lay out your leaves on a metal rack on a tray. Cover this with something breathable that doesn’t let in a lot of light (light is the enemy of flavor for your dried herbs).  I used a paper bag.  Set the tray somewhere hot until the leaves/blossoms are dry and crispy.  My front brick walk works wonders!

Solar_Dehydrator

To infuse the leaves and blossoms in vodka, you can again make use of the sun.  Think sun tea, but boozy.  Fill a jar with leaves and blossoms (dry or fresh).  Cover them with vodka so that all the plant matter is completely submerged under the liquid.  Set in the warm sun for 1-3 days.  Feel free to taste as you go until you get the desired flavor!  You can do the same thing with water if you prefer the non-alcoholic version.

PrePost_WildBergamont_SweetTeaVodka

Once the vodka is infused to your liking, drain the leaves and blossoms from the vodka.  Add enough simple syrup to make it the desired sweetness for sipping or leave unsweetened if you prefer to sweeten later on a per-cocktail basis.  [To make simple syrup, heat equal parts sugar and water until the sugar dissolves.  Allow to cool.]

Enjoy mixed with lemonade (perhaps Wood Sorrel Lemonade?) over ice for an easy cocktail or on its own as a digestif chilled ice-cold with a wedge of lemon.  After all, bee balm was used by Native Americans to aid digestion…

Please follow and like us:

Preserving the Merriment: Making Herb Syrups

Our last few posts have featured some fabulous herbs – Borage and Wood Sorrel – that are great fresh, but how do we preserve their flavor to enjoy past their season?  A great way to do this is by making a flavored syrup out of them!  Infused herb syrups have so many uses and can bring a fresh, leafy flavor to drinks and dishes all through the winter.  My favorite ways to use herbal syrups:

  • Cocktails – So many cocktails call for simple syrups, so why not switch it up by replacing plain simple syrup with a flavored one?  You can make our Borage G&T all year long by using Borage syrup in place of fresh Borage.
  • Sodas and “Ades” – Mix herb syrups with water in a 1:3 ratio to make sodas by using fizzy water or still water to make “ades” like the Wood Sorrel Lemonade described below and hinted at in our previous post.
  • Desserts – Replace the liquid called for in cakes or muffins with herbal syrups or brush herbal or floral syrup between cake layers after baking to add that extra little something.

Borage Syrup and Wood Sorrel “Lemonade” Concentrate ready to give out to our give-away winners!

Making Syrup

Simply fill a heat safe bowl or pot with herb leaves or flowers.  The more you pack in there, the stronger your final syrup flavor will be.  You can tear or crush/pound them to release more flavor.

Pounded Wood Sorrel

Heat a kettle of water to boiling.  Pour enough of the boiling water over the leaves to cover them completely.  Let steep covered with a lid for at least 20 minutes, but ideally overnight.

Steeping Wood Sorrel

Strain leaves and squeeze out any liquid.  Reheat herbal infusion with an equal part sugar (i.e., 1:1 ratio) until sugar is fully dissolved.  You can also add lemon or lime juice at this stage if you prefer an added tartness.

Herb Syrups

If stored in a sterile jar in the refrigerator at this point, the syrup will keep for a couple of months.

Featured Syrup Idea:  Wood Sorrel Lemonade

As our previous post mentioned, a common yard weed, Wood Sorrel, can make a tasty all-local lemonade substitute!  Use the Wood Sorrel plants as the herb in the above recipe to make Wood Sorrel Syrup.  Mix the syrup with water in a 1:3 ratio and serve over ice for a delicious lemonade drink!

Wood Sorrel Lemonade

Stay tuned for our next post, when we’ll go over how to mix this with our Wild Bergamont infused vodka for a delicious sweet tea vodka and lemonade cocktail!  

Please follow and like us:

Borage: Nature’s Merry Maker

One of our other favorite inspirations for drinks at the Cocktails & Mayonnaise Picnic was the herb Borage – featured at the picnic in our Borage G&T.

What exactly is Borage?  

Borage is a plant that will grow in a cabbage-like shape with fuzzy green leaves that give off a cucumber-like smell and taste.  Eventually the plant will yield an 18-inch tall flower stalk of clusters of striking blue, star-shaped flowers that taste like honey.

Borage_in_Hand

The Borage flower is a five-pointed star and one of the only true blue plants found in nature.

Historically, Borage was much more commonly used than it is today.  This was, in part, due to the belief as far back as the height of the Roman Empire that consuming Borage could raise your spirits – making you merry and pulling you out of the doldrums (i.e., nature’s prozac).  Borage was also believed to have a cooling effect on the body, making it particularly popular in hot summer climates in salads and beverages.  Additionally, Borage was commonly found as an ingredient in Pimm’s Cup and was, at one time, often used as an ingredient in the making of gin.

As you can see, even when trying to frown while drinking Borage-infused cocktails, it is impossible due to its merry-making qualities.

As you can see, even when trying to frown while drinking Borage-infused cocktails, it is impossible due to its merry-making qualities.

Using Fresh Borage

So how do you use this plant in your kitchen?  The Borage leaves have a distinct cucumber taste, maybe even stronger than a cucumber itself.  Some people use them in salads, but their fuzzy exterior quickly put me off that use.  What is a way to enjoy the flavor of something without having to chew it?  Why, muddled in a cocktail of course!  After reading that Borage was historically often used as an ingredient in making gin, we thought this might be an ideal pairing, and the Borage G&T was born.  [If you can’t get your hands on Borage just now, cucumber or other herbs could make a good substitute, but try to get some Borage or grow it yourself if you can!  ]

Borage G&T

Daily dose of Borage to keep you merry.

Daily dose of Borage to keep you merry.

Ingredients:

-Fresh Borage leaves

-Ice

-Limes, cut in quarters

-Gin

-Tonic Water

Muddle Borage leaves in the bottom of a cocktail shaker.  Fill the shaker with ice.   Add 1.5 jiggers of gin.

IMG_5526

Squeeze one lime quarter over the top and throw in the lime.

Lime_Squeeze

Shake it up!  Pour into a tumbler glass, top with tonic, and enjoy!

[These also worked well made up by the pitcher ahead of time at the picnic.  Good to know for parties!]

For an added touch:  Freeze the Borage flowers (said to taste like honey) in ice cube trays to serve in your Borage G&T.  Fill the trays halfway with water and add the flowers to each cube.  Freeze.  Once mostly frozen, fill the tray the rest of the way with water and finish freezing.

Later this week, check back in for information on growing and preserving Borage – especially if you got one of our seed packets at the Cocktails & Mayonnaise Picnic!  

Please follow and like us:
Newer posts

Stay Connected.

Facebook
Facebook
Instagram
Pinterest
Pinterest