Archive for the ‘Foraging’ Category

Waiting For Spring

Sunday, March 31st, 2013


I’m ready for spring.  I’m ready for warmth. I want to start poking seeds in the ground and get dirt under my fingernails, to start tromping in the woods, to see green, to start shedding my winter insulation.  I feel like I’ve been holding my breath, and desperately need to catch it. I feel like I want something, but don’t know what it is.  I haven’t felt like this in a long time. It’s weird, not bad, just strange. I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I always do. Thanks for humoring me… I needed to get that out. The picture above is of one of my sons and I tromping in the woods two springs ago. My other son was the photographer.

Violet Syrup

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Most of my herbie friends are about 2 weeks ahead of me on their foraging projects, and have already shared their violet projects. My friend, Maggie, was featured on the cover of  Radish Magazine with her violet jelly recipe.

After an unusually long, cool spring, and Indiana’s wettest spring on record in a 100 years, my violets finally hit full bloom in the past week.  Fearful of more crazy weather, I was out gathering violets at first opportunity.

In case you’re wondering what on earth you would do with violet syrup, here are a few suggestions:  Serve with crepes or pancakes, add it to champagne or a white wine spritzer, drizzle it over vanilla ice cream, pour over shaved ice for a cool summer treat, or use it as a cocktail mixer for a violet martini or violet gin fizz.

Making violet syrup is as simple as brewing a cup of tea, and making simple syrup.

Violet Syrup
Violet flowers
Lemon Juice

Fill a jar with violets flowers. Pour boiling water over violets and allow to cool. Strain liquid from flowers. Don’t be alarmed at the color of the water.  It will range anywhere from blue to green, but will be adjusted to purple later. Here is what mine looked like in the first 30 seconds of steeping. The picture doesn’t do the color justice. Even fiddling with my camera settings, I was not able to capture the deep rich quality of the color.  You’ll probably see what I mean if you try making your own syrup. Further steeping darkens the color.

At a 1:1 ratio, place violet liquid and sugar in a large pan.  I used a quart jar and ended up with 3 cups of violet water, so I used 3 cups of sugar.

Add lemon juice to the mixture until the desired color of violet is achieved.  It doesn’t take much, and too much will result in magenta or pink syrup.  It took a little over a teaspoon of lemon juice to bring my syrup to a deep jewel toned violet color.

Bring syrup mixture to a rolling boil and boil for 1 to 2 minutes. If the color fades a little during cooking, you can add a few more drops of lemon juice to readjust the color before bottling. Cool and store in the refrigerator.  This syrup can become moldy if stored for long periods of time in the refrigerator.  I plan to try freezing some this year to see if I can extend violets into the winter months.

Ramp It Up!! Part 3 – Dirty Ramp Martini

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

I promise this will be my last entry for ramps, then I’ll move along to something else.  When ramps season rolls around again next year, I’ll only pester you with one mention of the subject.

Martinis can be a contentious subject. There are those who prefer vodka martinis, and purists who insist that real martinis are made with gin.  Vodka or gin? Shaken or stirred? Olive, onion, or lemon? Vermouth or no vermouth? Every dedicated martini drinker has their preference, and this recipe is based on how I like my martini.  Ramps provide a seasonal departure from my typical dirty martini with 3 or 4 olives. I like my ratio of gin to vermouth at 4:1.

Dirty Ramp Martini
2 ounces Bombay Sapphire Gin
1/2 ounce Noilly Prat Vermouth (I DO NOT like the Martini & Rossi… blech!)
Splash of ramp brine
Pickled Ramp for garnishing

Place gin, vermouth, and ramp brine in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a pickled ramp.

Cheers! And please remember to drink responsibly.

Ramp It Up!! Part 2 – Ramp Compound Butter

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Compound butters are a great way to sneak more flavor into your cooking and they also provide a way to preserve short-lived seasonal flavors.  Spring flavors are always favorites, but the window of opportunity is often as short as only one or two weeks.  If you don’t take advantage of that window, it will be a whole year before you get to taste those flavors again.

Ramp butter is extremely versatile.  Use it in any way you would use butter and onion or garlic.  Instead of garlic bread, you could try warm toasty ramp bread.  I love to use ramp butter to make my morning eggs…. even better if I had a fresh morel or two to throw in the pan (no such luck this year).

Ramp Compound Butter
1/2 pound butter, softened to room temperature
Baker’s dozen cleaned ramps, or approximately 6 ounces
Zest from 1/2 lemon or lime
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

Place butter in bowl, set aside. Blanch ramps in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then remove to an ice water bath to stop the cooking.  Blanching the ramps will help them retain a bright green color when you freeze the finished butter.

Squeeze as much water out of the ramps as possible and then chop them up. I like to chop the bulb part finely, and the greens a little on the coarse side so I get a nice pattern in the butter when I slice it off the roll.

Add the chopped ramps, zest, and lemon or lime juice to the butter and blend thoroughly with a spoon or spatula.

On a piece of parchment paper, form the butter into a long log.  Roll the butter tightly in the parchment paper and twist both ends. Store your butter rolls in the freezer until ready for use.

Ramp It Up!! Part 1 – Pickled Ramps

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Not only was it Mother’s Day this past Sunday, but it was also my birthday.  On such occasions that my birthday lands on Mom’s Day, I commandeer the whole weekend and make lots of demands.  On Friday evening  I demanded Mexican food, margaritas, and a movie.  Nobody complained because it  meant they all got dinner and a movie too. On Saturday my husband brought me a load of dirt for my newest raised bed.  On Sunday I wanted yard work, gardening, and a walk in the woods to forage wild edibles. I spent some enjoyable time with my family, and came back from the woods with a big batch of one of my favorite spring delicacies, ramps.  Because the season for ramps is only a couple of weeks long, I prolong it by making some refrigerated pickled ramps and compound butter for the freezer. The pickled ramps make a tasty martini (Gibson) garnish. The ramp butter can be used melted over vegetables, on crusty warm bread, to make your morning scramble, or anything in which you’d like to ramp up the flavor (pun intended).

The amounts given below are for each pint of pickled ramps. I like my pickles vinegary, so I never add sweetener to my pickling brine.

Pickled Ramps
Ramps, cleaned and trimmed
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1 teaspoon peppercorn

Place cleaned and trimmed ramps in jars. Combine vinegar, water, salt and spices into a pan and bring to a boil. Pour hot liquid over ramps. Cool to room temperature, cover and store in refrigerator.

Now, it’s confession time. I just gave you the traditional method for pickled ramps. I only make a couple of jars and they don’t last long, so I skip a step. I don’t heat the brine. I just pour it cold over the ramps and stick the jars in the refrigerator.  I’ve also used other spices in the past. You can use mustard seed, celery seed, coriander, thyme, red pepper flakes….. get imaginative.

Not one to be wasteful, I even use the pickling brine. With it’s strong oniony-galicky-leeky flavor (just how do you describe the flavor or ramps?), the brine is wonderful mixed with a little olive oil for a vinaigrette.

Oh, and for the ramp butter, and ramp martini….. stay tuned!



Vegetable Pork Shumai

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

This is a recipe that I don’t make often, and when I do I choose a day when I know I have plenty of time.   I also make a gargantuan batch so I have plenty for the freezer.  This is one of my youngest son’s favorites, and I’ve been known to get up early to steam some of these  yummy little bits so he can take them to school in his thermos for lunch.

There are two menus I prepare for my family so I have the necessary leftovers for making shumai.  First, I get a 4 pound pork tenderloin roast and roast it in the oven, as well as an assortment of veggies. One of our favorites is squash and apples.  The next meal I fix is an Asian chicken salad using a portion of a large head of napa cabbage.  I’ll try to blog that recipe at a later date.  Measurements given below are approximate for an average batch, but I never follow them and I always make way more. Any type of mushroom will work.  I prefer shiitake, but they can be expensive and are not always available in the markets in my area. This time I found some very reasonably priced, beautiful organic baby bella mushrooms.

Vegetable Pork Shumai
Cooked pork, ground in food processor
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, chopped
2 cups shredded napa cabbage
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2-3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
Wonton wrappers

Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 or 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Maple syrup or honey to taste

I make the dipping sauce the day before so it will have plenty of time for the flavors to blend.  Simply mix the ingredients together and store in a jar in the refrigerator.

Here’s a picture of the consistency I like the pork to be ground. I want it fine enough that the finished filling will hold together, but still coarse enough that the pork can be identified in the mixture.

I chop the veggies at this consistency.

Once all of the grinding, chopping, dicing, and shredding is completed it’s time to prepare the filling for the shumai. Heat sesame oil over medium heat.  Add mushrooms, onion, and ginger.  Cook until onions and mushrooms are softened.  Add cabbage and continue cooking until cabbage has softened and reduced significantly. Add ground pork and hoisin sauce and mix thoroughly. I don’t measure my hoisin sauce. I add it a dollop at a time until the ingredients are coated and the mixture tastes appropriately seasoned.  Take the mixture off the heat and allow it to cool until it can be handled comfortably.

This is one of the ways I assemble my shumai.  I find it the fastest way to put them together if I’m going to steam them immediately.  If I’m going to freeze them, then I fold them up using a samosa (with a twist) wonton fold. The link shows a number of different wonton folds, and one of these days I’m going to get around to trying more of them.  I’ve also used this filling to make egg rolls. For egg rolls I tend to use a larger proportion of cabbage in the mixture.

Once the shumai are assembled, I place them in my  Bamboo Steamer and steam for about 6 minutes.  I use a double decker steamer basket so I steam them for 3 minutes,  reverse the top and bottom baskets, and steam for an additional 3 minutes.  Serve with dipping sauce. My family enjoys steamed rice and some homemade eggdrop soup with our shumai.

Maple Bread Pudding

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Last week I made a couple of loaves of organic whole grain raisin bread. For some reason only one loaf got eaten, and I found myself with a whole loaf of stale raisin bread.  Also, with maple syrup production in full swing, I had a little of last year’s syrup that I wanted to use up.  Maple Bread Pudding was the solution to my overabundance of stale bread and old maple syrup.

This recipe uses stale bread. I’m telling you, the texture of the finished pudding won’t be right if you use fresh bread. If you don’t make your own bread, then something like stale french bread from your local bakery can be used. However, don’t use that soft chemical laden stuff that masquerades as bread.

Maple Bread Pudding
6 to 7 cups roughly cubed stale bread
6 eggs
2 1/2 cups milk or half & half
1 1/2 cups amber or grade B maple syrup. Save your good light stuff for pancakes.
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Specks scraped from 1/2 a vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place bread cubes in a buttered 9 x 11 baking dish. Whisk together milk, eggs, maple syrup, salt and spices.  Pour egg mixture over bread cubes.  Place dish in refrigerator for about an hour.  It’s important to give the bread cubes plenty of time to absorb the liquid if you want your pudding to have a nice silky texture. I made mine up the afternoon before and refrigerated it overnight so that it was ready to bake on Sunday afternoon when I had the oven already heated for a roast chicken.

Place a roasting pan with about an inch of water in the oven, and preheat to 350. Place pan of bread pudding in the water and bake for about an hour.  I’ve discovered that it’s quite common for ovens to be out of calibration, and highly recommend the use of an oven thermometer when preheating.  I really need to get my oven calibrated. I have to turn my oven on to 420 to heat to an actual 350.

Remove bread pudding from oven and allow to cool for a little while.  Serve with a drizzle of  maple syrup and a couple of generous splashes of cream. This stuff is comfort food at it’s best!

Maple Sugar Camp 2011

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Near mid February here in Northeastern Indiana, our day time temperatures creep into the 40’s melting off the long winter’s blanket of snow, and our night time temperatures dive back below freezing.  Each year when my husband notices the signs indicating this change is about to take place, he takes to our woods and begins setting up his maple sugar camp.

A couple of weeks ago he began cleaning buckets, assembling equipment, and organizing his camp in the woods.  Last weekend weather conditions indicated that the first major sap run of the season was imminent, and he placed more than 150 taps in the maple trees. A couple of days later the day time temperatures soared into the 40’s and 50’s and the sap began to run. By Thursday it was time to start cooking the sap down into maple syrup. Once cooking starts, Bart lives in the woods.  I’m not kidding you. He sets up a cot and sleeps in the woods on nights when he needs to keep the fire burning under his cooker. He also cooks quite a few of his meals over the fire. In the shot below, sausage gravy and toast is on the menu.

Being a two business family, the 3 to 4 week sugaring season can be a little rough for us. Bart is careful not to schedule construction jobs during this time, and I try to hold things down at home and in the shop. I try to make trips back to the woods on the weekends, but by the end of the whole thing I’m usually feeling a little testy.  However, the reward of a year’s supply of sweet, natural maple syrup is well worth the hassle.

Bart sells some of his surplus syrup to help offset the cost of bottles, filters, and some miscellaneous supplies. Due to numerous requests from non-local friends who wanted to purchase syrup, we set up a website last year at Bart’s Maple Syrup.  Syrup should be available for sale within the next couple of weeks or so. The syrup will be available on a first come, first served basis.  When it’s gone, there won’t be any more until the next sugaring season.

Elderberry Sherbet

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Each year in late summer, my husband and I spend some time together foraging for elderberries.  This year we hit the mother load and found a gargantuan new patch. Last Friday I was extremely busy in the shop, so my well meaning hubby decided to help me out.  He had a HUGE plastic storage tote full of elderberries waiting for me when I finished work. I spent Friday evening, and just about all of Saturday stripping berries from the stems. Of course, my husband had a major job going over the weekend and had to be on the site, leaving me to deal with 35 pounds of elderberries all by myself! I started out on my front porch, but after several hours I moved my operation indoors and watched / listened to chick flicks while I worked. The fruit of my labor (pun intended) was 30 pints of rich elderberry juice sweetened with honey from a local beekeeper. I also added some lemon juice for tartness and a chunk of ginger in the bottom of each jar.

Elderberry is part of my winter regimen for preventing and treating colds and flu. Elderberry has been used in folk herbalism for eons, and modern medical studies are now confirming it’s effectiveness.  Last year I used elderberry tincture and tea. A friend of mine gave me a jar of her canned juice when I picked up a rare cold, and I found it to be very soothing to my sore throat. As a result, I promised myself that I would can my own juice in the future.

With such a glut of elderberries I’ve been able to experiment with recipes a little more. My friend Tina has quite the collection of recipes going on her blog, and I’d like to offer one of my own for elderberry sherbet.

Elderberry Sherbet
3 cups elderberry juice
Juice of one lemon
1 cup honey
2 or 3 slices ginger root (optional)
1 cup cream

Place elderberry juice, lemon juice, honey, and ginger slices in a pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once completely cooled, remove ginger slices and add cream. Refrigerate mixture several hours to chill thoroughly. Place chilled elderberry mixture in an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s directions. This is a soft sherbet, so you will need to transfer it to a container and place it in the freezer overnight to firm up.

I have a human powered Donvier 1-Quart Ice Cream Maker that I store in my deep freeze at all times. Whenever I make  ice cream, sherbet, or sorbet, I sit and churn in the evening while I watch TV. Then I pop the frozen treat in the freezer and it’s ready for dessert after dinner the following evening.

Elderberries and Sumac Lemonade

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

This past weekend, my husband and I went out to forage elderberries. We noticed that the berries seem to be ripening a little more quickly than last year, and wanted to get some before the birds did. Last year I dried enough elderberries, and made enough tincture to supply a small army. The berries we picked this weekend went to my dad to make elderberry wine. I plan to pick some more this coming weekend which I will can as juice with honey, lemon juice, and a little ginger.

I just got the following email from my dad this morning:

“I thought you might be interested to know that we’ve got one of the hottest ferments going that I’ve ever seen. I made a yeast starter about 12 hours before pitching the yeast. When I put it in the batch it started bubbling vigorously within three hours. This morning is going like “gangbusters”. Doing the juice extraction by simmering was a good choice because it gave us a really rich, ruby red juice with no sign of “green goo”. I think this is going to be a good batch. Dad”

Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to tell you how the wine turns out for about 18 months. The process begins with primary fermentation and progresses to racking, fining, and bottling about 6 months later. Aging will take another year.

While we were out picking elderberries, I grabbed some ripe Sumac berries so I could make some Sumac Lemonade at home. Now before you get alarmed, this is Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) and not the much less common poison variety (Toxicodendron vernix or Rhus vernix).

I’ve always been a bit mystified why there is so much confusion over poison sumac. The poison stuff has white berries, and doesn’t look a thing like true Sumacs which have red berries.

Staghorn Sumac berries are covered in a layer of a sort of fuzzy red, waxy powder. When collecting the berries, the easiest way to know if they are ready is to rub the berries between your fingers and then lick your fingers. If the taste is sour you know they’re ready. This tartness comes from ascorbic acid (vitamin C).  We haven’t had much rain this month, so the Sumac berries are in good shape. Rain will wash off the berries, taking the tart flavor with it.  It’s also a good idea to choose clusters of berries that look relatively clean. It’s best not to rinse the berries before making the lemonade.

Sumac berries are slightly diuretic and laxative, so don’t go hog wild and drink a whole pitcher of the lemonade, or you may be visiting the restroom frequently. However, if you’re having difficulty in that department, then a pitcher of the lemonade may be just the herbal remedy that you’ve been looking for. While we’re on the subject of herbal remedies, I though I would mention that Sumac has a long standing history of use in Native American and Appalachian folk medicine.

To make the Sumac Lemonade I placed some of the berries in a bowl of cold water. I rubbed the berries a little bit, and then set the bowl aside for about an half hour to infuse.  It’s important to use cold water. Boiling the berries will bring out tannins, resulting in a bitter unpleasant drink. Also, the longer you infuse the berries the stronger the flavor will be.

After infusing the Sumac, I poured the resulting liquid through a coffee filter.  I know some directions will call for straining through cheesecloth, but even with a coffee filter I still get a fine red sediment at the bottom of my container. If you look closely at the picture to the left, you will see a small amount of a fine red sediment in the bottom of the glass.

Sweeten the Sumac Lemonade to taste and enjoy!