Sunday, July 31, 2011

Foraging 22: Red Clover Lemonade, with a kick if you wish

What a miserable thing life is: you're living in clover, only the clover isn't good enough. – Bertolt Brecht 

Bees and butterflies love the sweet nectar of red clover. Photo: PeterFisken, Flickr ccl
I always find it enlightening when I go looking for information to give you about topics on which I choose to write. Without exception I always learn something. This is no less true with today’s foraging plant, red clover. 

You’re probably familiar with some variety of it. There are seven scattered throughout the northern hemisphere. If so most likely you remember being a small child and plucking the individual florets and sucking out the nectar. The taste is spicy sweet.

But there’s more to this plant than meets the eye. It has medicinal as well as culinary uses, and because of that there’s the inevitable potential side effects of which I must responsibly make you aware. It’s only for concentrations of red clover, but so be it. Medicinal uses are outlined below.

Photo: eLeSeA, Flickr ccl
What is red clover?
From Wikipedia...
Trifolium pratense (red clover) is a species of clover, native to Europe, Western Asia and northwest Africa, but planted and naturalized in many other regions.

It is an herbaceous, short-lived perennial plant, variable in size, growing to 20–80 cm tall. The leaves are alternate, trifoliate (with three leaflets), each leaflet 15–30 mm long and 8–15 mm broad, green with a characteristic pale crescent in the outer half of the leaf; the petiole is 1–4 cm long, with two basal stipules. The flowers are dark pink with a paler base, 12–15 mm long, produced in a dense inflorescence.

What is in it?
The main chemical components of red clover are phenolic glycosides (salicylic acid), essential oil (methyl salicylate), sitosterol, genistiene, flavonoids, salicylates, coumarins, cyanogenic glycosides, silica, choline, and lecithin. Red clover also contains vitamin A, vitamin C, B-complex, calcium, chromium, iron, and magnesium.

Medicinal uses
From University of Maryland Medical Centre
Red clover has been used medicinally to treat a number of conditions. Traditionally, these have included cancer, whooping cough, respiratory problems, and skin inflammations, such as psoriasis and eczema. Red clover was thought to "purify" the blood by acting as a diuretic and expectorant, improving circulation, and helping cleanse the liver.

Red clover can be made into tea. Photo: Carly & Art, Flickr ccl
Modern scientific tests have shown that red clover contains isoflavones, plant-based chemicals that produce estrogen-like effects in the body. Isoflavones have shown potential in the treatment of a number of conditions associated with menopause, such as hot flashes, cardiovascular health, and osteoporosis. However, as researchers have become aware of the side effects of taking estrogen, there is also some concern about the safety of isoflavones. And the evidence that red clover helps reduce any menopausal symptoms – like hot flashes – is mixed.

Side effects with red clover are generally mild and rare. They include breast tenderness, menstruation changes and weight gain. Red clover extracts have theoretically been associated with interactions with blood thinning agents (e.g. warfarin and hormonal therapies) but this has not been confirmed with actual case reports. Although there is no evidence for concern, it is advised that red clover extracts should be avoided in women with a history of breast cancer. Pregnant and breast feeding women should not take red clover.

Red clover ice cream in progress. There are many forms of red clover.
These aren't specifically ours in Nova Scotia but ours can be used.
Photo: Carly & Art, Flickr ccl
Cooking with clover
To gain any of the benefits or worrisome effects of red clover you would have to ingest an awful lot of the blossoms. All the medical information pertains to extracts or concentrations, so you’re safe using it to cook. For example, clover honey is sold in grocery stores and there’s no health warnings blasted on the side of it. 

Now if you sat down and ate a gallon of clover honey you would probably have more to worry about than what is written above…

Clover blossoms can be brewed as tea, made into ice cream, tossed into salads, added to pancakes, biscuits or rice, as well as boiled into syrup that can be used as a sweetener. The seeds can also be sprouted and used much as alfalfa sprouts. These are only a few culinary options. There are many more if you look. 

So let’s get cooking, shall we? Let’s make summer drinks!

Photo: fritish, Flickr ccl
Red Clover Lemonade
If desired use this as a mixer and sneak in a little vodka for an afternoon deck party. If not, just add ice for a refreshing summer drink. Essentially you’re making a clover “tea” which is then flavoured with lemon juice.

6 cups fresh red clover blossoms, examined for insects (of course) and washed
16 cups (1 gallon) water
2 cups white sugar (you can substitute clover honey)
1-1/2 to 2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to your taste
optional: 1 or 2 drops of red food colouring (to make it pink-ish)

Simmer the clover blossoms in the water for 10 minutes. Then add the sugar (or honey)and  stir it until the sugar is dissolved. Cover the pot and let it steep for several hours or overnight. Steeping makes the “tea” stronger.

Lastly, add the lemon juice and red food colouring. If your tea is too brown you may want to omit the food colouring. It's up to you. Chill before use.

Lemonade is a fantastic refresher on a hot summer day and herbal lemonades are no exception.


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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Herb of the Day: Hardy Garden Sage

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it. – Proverbs 15:17

Up close and personal. Photo: lord_bute, Flickr ccl
A couple weeks ago I was adding a two small flower beds out in front of the house between the sidewalk and the road. Since it was “closing time” for the seasonal plant centres, I went scouring for bargains.

Sage flower stalk. Photo: haligumby, Flickr ccl
As you can imagine, stuff was pretty much picked through. Not a whole lot to choose from and much wasn’t even worth looking at. I picked up some lysmachia, day lilies, hosta (for $1!! each), a few annuals and some grasses. A good start, but I wanted something else for “filler.”

Walking around I found two beautiful sage plants. Some herbs aren’t very decorative but sage actually is very decorative if you let it go to flower. That’s usually not a good  thing for most herbs if your intent is for kitchen use, but since these will be out front, subject to dog pee, and such a good price I took them.

I paid $4 each for what I consider really good plants in 1 gallon pots. You pay $3.99 at the grocery for small pots. So I thought they were a real deal. I found them at Home Depot, if anyone’s looking.

Garden sage (Salvia Officinalis) is a hardy perennial that likes lots of sun, moderate water and fairly dry soil. It’s what is called a “clumping herb” and is grown for both its leaves and flowers. The leaves grow to upwards of 3-4” long and are a beautiful grey-green. There are also golden, purple and variegated varieties available.

Clumps of sage can grow quite large, and it’s hardy to USDA Zone 4-8. That’s perfect for our climate. Friends of ours have a sage by their deck steps that seems to come back more ferociously every year. Starting from a single plant it is now easily 3 feet across and gets covered in purple flowers every year.

Purple sage. Photo: Lady T 220,Flickr ccl
A native of the Mediterranean, the name comes from the Latin Salvare which translates to “save” or to “heal.” Medicinally, sage has been used for respiratory infections, congestion, cough, sore throats, appetite stimulant, indigestion and is also said to have a beneficial effect on the liver.

Sage has been in use since at least the time of the ancient Greeks and quite probably much further back in time. An interesting historical fact is that in the 1600s, herb strewers were employed by English royalty to scatter sage and lavender to cover the "stench of urban life." Wouldn’t that have been an interesting job...

In the kitchen sage is a four season star. It can be used both fresh and dried. It can easily be dried in a low oven until it can be crushed by hand. Another method is to hang bunches dry but there is a risk of mould growing on the leaves if done that way.

We have one sage plant in a spot where we can ensure it’s not watered by canines and use it quite often. Sage is a common accompaniment for pork and turkey, but has uses far more vast than those. 

Here’s two recipes for pasta accompaniments: one uses leaves; the other flowers or leaves.

Simplicity itself. Photo: erin.kkr, Flickr ccl
Fried Sage on Pasta
An excellent way to use it is possibly the most simple.

1 cup sage leaves, chopped
1/2 cup butter

Melt the butter in a skillet and add the sage. Fry the sage until it becomes darkened. Watch out as it can burn and become “off” flavoured. The butter will turn slightly green in the process. 

Toss the sauce with any kind of pasta, gnocchi or ravioli. the recipe makes enough for 4 people.

Yes, this sauce is is absolutely delicious. And no, it isn’t low fat.

This is sage leaf pesto. Photo: peretzpup, Flickr ccl
Sage Flower Pesto
I haven’t made the following pesto recipe this year because I don’t have enough flowers yet, so there’s no picture. Sorry. 

You can substitute sage leaves for the flowers for a wonderful green pesto if you wished.

1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups sage flower blossoms (or sage leaves or a combination)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil, or more (see directions)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Place all the ingredients except for the oil and parmesan in a food processor. Pulse until well chopped. With the motor running, pour 1/2 cup of olive oil into the mixture. Let it run until well blended. If it’s too thick add a little more oil.

Remove the pesto to a bowl and stir in the parmesan. Many recipes add the cheese in with the herbs but I find the texture is nicer if it’s added at the end. You can add it with the flowers and nuts if you prefer.

Besides using it on pasta, a few tablespoons would also be excellent stirred into a mushroom risotto just before serving.

The recipe makes between 1-1/2 to 2 cups of pesto.

Sage pesto tossed with pasta. Photo: neon.mamacita, Flickr ccl

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Booze from the Movies: Butterbeer

Why don't we go and have a butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks? It's a bit cold, isn't it? – Hermione Granger

The marketing phenomenon that is Harry Potter.
Photo: Profound Whatever, Flickr ccl
Well it's definitely not cold here in Nova Scotia, but if you’re a fan of the Harry Potter movies, you’ve heard of butterbeer. Before we go off on a discussion of underage drinking, the author—J.K. Rowling—probably intended her literary version (served to young students) to be less alcoholic than its real life progenitor. 

The historic recipe is actually nearly as alcoholic as a beer, not surprisingly since it’s made of beer... British ales often have more alcohol than common mass produced local beers as well, so take that into consideration when imbibing the finished product.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando.
Photo: lightrace, Flickr ccl
According to the (somewhat obsessive) people involved in the make believe world of the boy wizard, butterbeer is a “popular wizarding beverage with a very slight alcohol content which could get elves drunk but seems to have a less pronounced effect on humans.” 

Indeed.. It’s made from beer and precious little else. How much alcohol content do you think is in it? I have read that by simmering the mixture longer you can burn off some of the alcohol, but culinary opinion is divided on just how much reduction takes place.

According to those Muggles pontificating online about the beverage “it is served cold in bottles and hot in foaming tankards.” (Unfortunately I didn't have a tankard hanging around...)

Traditional Tudor “buttered beere” was served warm. Refrigeration was scarce at that time, to say the least. Also be careful about what recipe you decide to use if you do make it. I’ve seen some of the online recipe for butterbeer. There's some really bizarre concoctions. They're not butterbeer at all.

But enough of Harry Potter. Let’s talk about the real thing, because it IS a real thing, or at least was. “Buttered beere,” a creamy/spicy beverage, hails from Tudor England. It is supposedly an acquired taste because of the spices but after a few sips apparently becomes “extremely drinkable.”

I found the spices in perfect balance instead of an acquired taste, and it was extremely drinkable right after the first sip. Really tasty, with hints of butterscotch. I wouldn't call it very "beer-y" at all.

Tudor rose. Photo: a.drian, Flickr ccl
This is the original from the Tudor Age:
From The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin, 1588

To make Buttered Beere
Take three pintes of Beere, put five yolkes of Egges to it, straine them together, and set it in a pewter pot to the fyre, and put to it halfe a pound of Sugar, one penniworth of Nutmegs beaten, one penniworth of Cloves beaten, and a halfepenniworth of Ginger beaten, and when it is all in, take another pewter pot and brewe them together, and set it to the fire againe, and when it is readie to boyle, take it from the fire, and put a dish of sweet butter into it, and brewe them together out of one pot into an other.

The only real problem with replication is the "penniworth" measurement. As its name suggests, it's how much of the spices you could purchase with a penny. It's essentially anyone's guess as to how much that would have been. Cross referencing recipes has given me an approximation. You can alter the quantities slightly to your own taste.

As a personal side note, in about 1999 or 2000 the graphic design company where I worked was contacted by publishing representatives of J.K. Rowling. 

We were asked to submit a proposal for an in-store display for what would have been the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. This was before the novels became a massive hit.

Unfortunately the short lead time made it impossible for us to respond. In hindsight it may have been to our advantage to have pulled out all the stops to try to get in on the ground floor of this worldwide phenomenon.

Tudor Buttered Beere
Photo: knittymarie, Flickr ccl
1.5 L British Ale (3 pints, see bottom of this entry for a list of what is available at the NS Liquor Corp)
1/4 tsp ginger, ground
1/2 tsp each cloves and nutmeg, ground
1 cup brown sugar
5 lg egg yolks
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed

Pour the beer into a saucepan trying to not put too much frothy "head" on it. Add the ground spices and slowly bring to a boil. Immediately turn the heat down to low and barely simmer for 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, using a mixer, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until they become light coloured, thick and creamy.

Remove the spiced beer from the heat and stir in the beaten yolks and sugar. Put back on LOW heat and stir constantly for between 3-5 minutes. This process cooks the raw egg yolks.

If you use too high a heat to do this step you will scramble the eggs and ruin all your work.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. The whisking action will froth the liquid slightly and make it creamy.

Let cool to a drinkable temperature (which is not very long) and serve immediately.

I used Spitfire for my ale. The result was very, very good. It would be perfect on a cool Autumn afternoon or early evening.

British ales available at the NSLC: Brakspear, Duchys Originals, Fuller’s London Pride, Greene King IPA, Newcastle, Old Speckled Hen, Sharps and Spitfire. Take into consideration that our private liquor outlets probably have others and you have quite a lot of choice for your British ale.

Don’t use any of the massed produced local Canadian brands. They're not the same at all.


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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Recipe: Old Fashioned Southern Hummingbird Cake

All the world is birthday cake, so take a piece, but not too much. – George Harrison, It’s All Too Much (The Beatles)

Mmmm, hummingbird cake. Photo: thetwistedchrf, Flickr ccl
Have you ever had hummingbird cake? It’s a close relative of carrot cake and if you like one odds are you’ll like the other. The main difference? Hummingbird cake uses pineapple and bananas while carrot cake uses…well, carrots. A nickname for this cake is “the cake that doesn’t last.”

I wonder of those fake flowers would attract
hummingbirds... Photo: hfb, Flickr ccl
This cinnamon laced cake is sweet, heavy and moist, just like good carrot cake.

Nearly every cookbook worth its salt has a recipe for this delicious cake, the Joy of Cooking being one, but oddly Fanny Farmer does not. There are many (usually similar) variations on this cake widely available.

From what I have learned hummingbird cake first achieved real notice after it was submitted to Southern Living Magazine (p. 206) in the February 1978 issue, by Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina. 

Unfortunately, an explanation of the cake's unusual name was not given. There is some evidence that the cake was popular before this time in the Southern USA but went by various other names.

Hummingbird cake became the most requested recipe from that magazine for decades, until it was surpassed by another southern favourite, coconut cake.

This cake quite probably started as a cake from Jamaica. Bananas and pineapples are tropical and the hummingbird (also known as Doctor Bird) is one of the national symbols of the island. That may very well be the origin of the name.

Another reference I found says: “29 March 1969, Kingston (Jamaica) Daily Gleaner, pg. 7: Press kits presented included Jamaican menu modified for American kitchens, and featured recipes like the Doctor Bird cake, made from bananas." It does not state if the cake contained pineapple, which is a necessity.

After crossing the Gulf of Mexico to the USA it gained the addition of pecans, which grow in the South. Cream cheese frosting is also a uniquely Southern touch.

Old Fashioned Southern Hummingbird Cake 
Posted by Bev on on October 10, 2002
From Southern Living Magazine. See original here.
Prep: 20 min  |  Total: 50 min

The cream cheese frosting recipe makes enough to fill 3 layers and
the top and sides of the cake. Photo: I Believe I Can Fry, Flickr ccl
For the cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups chopped bananas
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Cream cheese frosting (makes 3 cups)
1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter or 1/2 cup margarine, softened
1 (16 oz) pkg powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine first five ingredients in a large bowl; add eggs, and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not beat.) Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup pecans, and bananas.

Pour batter into 3 greased and floured 9" round cake pans.

Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Photo: Don't Loose Your Lunch, Flickr ccl
While the cake is cooling, beat the cream cheese and butter at medium speed, with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.

Spread the frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake; sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top.

Store the frosted cake in the refrigerator.

If you want to "gild the lily," crush more pecans and press them into the sides of the cake.


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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Recipe: Bacon Mushroom Swiss Loaf with Roasted Vegetables

He who distinguishes the true savour of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise. – Henry David Thoreau

Moist meatloaf with crisp bacon and pockets of swiss cheese.

A page from a Dutch 1709 Apicius.
Photo: Wiki Creative Commons
Meatloaf is a much maligned dish. It often is thought of as a dish for those that cannot afford a real roast, or a tasteless 1950s throwback. 

This is a pity, because this cousin of meatballs can be flavoured with the most amazing herbs, spices and other items to make it the star of very flavourful meals. You can also dramatically change the consistency of meatloaf by the amount of "kneading" you do to the hamburger. More kneading renders a more even consistency.

I have two favourite meatloaf recipes in addition to this one. In the first the bottom of the pan is covered in hot salsa; in the other about 1 cup of brown sugar is sprinkled into the bottom of the pan. 

When the meat is placed on top and baked the juices mingle with what’s placed on the bottom and it bubbles up through the meat. Absolutely delicious.

Dried fruits can be added to meatloaf mixture to add unexpected flavours, as can crumbled bacon and swiss cheese as in this recipe.

Meatloaf has a long heritage. In The Roman Cookery of Apicius he outlines several recipes for “forcemeats” and sausages which come close to what we would consider meatloaf today. 

As you can imagine, because of the scope of the Roman Empire, every European nation has variations of ground meat dishes in their repertoires. 

Königsberger Klopse.
Photo Wiki Creative Commons
One ground meat recipe that I have made before and will probably post in the future is the Prussian Königsberger Klopse. This variation has meat balls that are smothered in a white sauce flavoured with capers and sometimes lemon.

Meatloaf is often a dish that is craved on cool Autumn nights. It seemed for a while this last summer that it actually was Fall, so I guess that’s the reason I wanted to make it. It didn’t hurt that hamburger was on sale either.

Since the oven is on anyway, roast some of your favourite vegetables while the meatloaf is cooking. It’s kind of the same as a one pot meal then, isn’t it?

A nice variation would be to make individual small meatloaves like the Italians often do so each person gets their own uncut serving. Of course, baking time will be reduced somewhat.

Just a note: there's nothing low fat about this recipe. It's pure comfort food.

Bacon Mushroom Swiss Loaf with Roasted Vegetables
Shape it as though it was in a loaf pan.
Prep: 30 min  |  Bake 1 hour 5 min  | Serves 6
1/2 lb bacon, chopped small
1 white onion, finely chopped
1/2 lb mushrooms, chopped
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 lb Swiss cheese, grated
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp thyme, dried
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp cracked black pepper

Side dishes: Roasted maple brussels sprouts and roasted potatoes for 6.

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

The loaf just before melting the cheese.
Fry the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until brown. Reserve 1/4 cup in a small dish. Place the remaining bacon in a bowl big enough to mix the meatloaf in. There will probably be a lot of fat. That’s OK.

Add the onions to the fat and cook until browned but not burnt. You’re essentially shallow frying the onions. Lift out with a slotted spoon and add to the bacon in the bowl. 

Pour off all the oil except fo 1/4 cup. Then add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until they are browned. Reserve 1/4 cup and put it with the reserved bacon. This will be your topping for the end of the cooking time. Add the rest to the mixing bowl.

Add the beef, egg, milk, bread crumbs, maple syrup and spices to the bowl. Mix slightly and then add 3/4 of the grated cheese. Mix again. Shape into a rectangular freeform loaf in the centre of a 9x13 baking dish.

The shape and size should be about the same as if you were using a loaf pan. This will give the loaf a nicer exterior crust and table presentation. Make sure you have a flat top to hold the extra cheese, bacon and mushrooms.

The roasted vegetables are cooked at the same time
as the meatloaf for a complete meal.
Wash and quarter the potatoes. Combine 1 tbsp each of olive oil and maple syrup. Toss with the whole brussels sprouts and sprinkle with salt. Arrange on a baking pan and set aside. Place the meatloaf in the oven as well as the potatoes.

Bake for 1 hour or until the internal temperature reads 170°F. Halfway through put in the brussels sprouts. They only take 1/2 hour to roast. At the end of the hour remove the potatoes and brussels sprouts and keep warm.

Drain off any excess fat from the meatloaf and sprinkle the flat top with the remaining cheese and bacon. Return to oven, and bake about 5 minutes until cheese is melted.

Remove to a serving platter and let sit for a few minutes. Arrange the potatoes and brussels sprouts around the meatloaf and bring it all to the table.


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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Foraging 12: Flowers on your toast, Fireweed Jelly

There are easier things in life than trying to find a nice guy... like nailing jelly to a tree for example. – Anonymous

Photo: Bruce McKay~YSP, Flickr ccl
Common Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) is in bloom right now in Nova Scotia. You can see it quite easily along many of the "100 Series" (Trans Canada) highways that criss cross the province. Did you know you could eat it? I bet not.

Fireweed is one of the easier plants to find in the wild. It is distinctive in its upright habit and recognizable fuchsia blooms. As its name suggests, it is fond of burned out areas of forest but can just as easily be found in ditches, along roads and even in parks. It's not too fussy where it puts up shop.

Photo: Travis, Flickr ccl
Fireweed is actually a beneficial plant in the wild because it is one of the first to recolonize disturbed areas. This aids in helping to re-establish vegetation in those areas.

Fireweed is extremely edible. 
This is the list of what you can eat:
From Wikipedia
The young shoots were often collected in the spring by Native American people and mixed with other greens. They are best when young and tender; as the plant matures the leaves become tough and somewhat bitter. 

The southeast Native Americans use the stems during the mature stage. They are peeled and eaten raw. 

When properly prepared soon after picking leaves are a good source of vitamin C and pro-vitamin A.

Photo: Sloan G, Flickr ccl
The root can be roasted after scraping off the outside, but often tastes bitter. To mitigate this, the root is collected before the plant flowers and the brown thread in the middle removed.

In Alaska, candies, syrups, jellies, and even ice cream are made from fireweed. Mono-floral honey made primarily from fireweed nectar has a distinctive, spiced flavor.

In Russia, its leaves were often used as tea substitute and were even exported, known in Western Europe as Kapor tea. Fireweed leaves can undergo fermentation, much like real tea. Today, Kapor tea is still occasionally consumed though not commercially important.

There is one warning in all of this though. Fireweed may act as a laxative if "eaten in quantity." What "quantity" is would be anyone's guess, but I'm assuming that it would be more than what would comfortably consume.

Fireweed Jelly
This jelly recipe has a nice distinctive flavor for with peanut butter in sandwiches or on pancakes, scones or even in thumbprint cookies.

Photo: amandabhslate, Flickr ccl
8 cups fireweed blossoms
1/4 cup lemon juice
4-1/2 cups water
2 pkgs powdered pectin
5 cups sugar

Pick, wash and measure out 8 cups of fireweed blossoms (flowers only). Add the lemon juice and water. Bring the mixture to a boil for 10 minutes and then strain.

Cool the resulting juice to lukewarm. Add the powdered pectin and bring to boil. Add the sugar. Boil hard for 1 minute, then pour into hot clean jars and seal.

Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.


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Monday, July 25, 2011

Foraging 20: Invasive Garlic Mustard

Criticizing another's garden doesn't keep the weeds out of your own. – Proverb

Pretty, isn't it? Don't be fooled... Photo: gmayfield10, Flickr ccl
There's plants you can eat, and then there's plants you SHOULD eat. This one falls into the latter category. It's not because it's really good for you (which it actually is...), but that you're doing the world a favor by cooking with it.

Second year garlic mustard. Photo: Chris jeffries, Flickr ccl
I'm talking about garlic mustard. And it is invasive. Terribly invasive. It's so invasive that it actually can choke out other beneficial species of plants in the wild – and in your garden. I've been fighting with this particular menace since I bought my house 15 years ago. It had kindly settled into my back garden. I believe we've called it a draw, as neither side is winning.

So what is Garlic Mustard?
First off, it's much like it sounds. It has the flavors of both garlic and mustard plants. The leaves flowers and fruits/seeds are all edible although the leaves are best in the Spring when they're young. But you can still eat from the adult plant.

From Wikipedia:
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a biennial flowering plant in the Mustard family, Brassicaceae. It is native to Europe, western and central Asia, and northwestern Africa, from Morocco, Iberia and the British Isles, north to northern Scandinavia, and east to northern India and western China (Xinjiang). 

First year growth. Photo: alumroot, Flickr ccl
In the first year of growth, plants form clumps of round shaped, slightly wrinkled leaves, that when crushed smell like garlic. The next year plants flower in spring, producing cross shaped white flowers in dense clusters. As the flowering stems bloom they elongate into a spike-like shape. When blooming is complete, plants produce upright fruits that release seeds in mid summer. 

Plants are often found growing along the margins of hedgerows, giving rise to the old British folk name of Jack-by-the-hedge. Other common names include Garlic Root, Hedge Garlic, Sauce-alone, Jack-in-the-bush, Penny Hedge and Poor Man's Mustard. The genus name Alliaria, "resembling Allium", refers to the garlic-like odour of the crushed foliage.

Click on the image to read the sign.
Photo: heidigoseek, Flickr ccl
This common weed is tasty tossed with salad greens, made into pestos, steamed, simmered or sautéd, or wherever you would like their pungent, mildly bitter, essence of garlic.

Garlic mustard was introduced to North America in the 1860's as a culinary herb. Big mistake, as the insects and larvae that prefer to eat this plant are not present in North America. 

Not even our deer populations will touch it, as they don't like the garlicky taste. Instead they will eat the neighbouring plants that the garlic mustard is already crowding out. So nature gets a double whammy in North America. This plant has had a pretty free ride for over 150 years.

I think it's time we did our bit to help Mother Nature. Let's all go out and make some pesto, or salad, or deviled eggs, or green yogurt, or mashed potatoes, or quiche, or pumpkin bread, etc. 

I found a site (HERE) with a list of over 40 great sounding recipes that use garlic mustard as an ingredient. So you have no excuse. Here's one more recipe that happens to not be from that site. Garlic mustard recipes seem to be as prolific as the plant itself.

Grilled cheese sandwich with garlic mustard pesto. Photo: di.wineanddine, Flickr ccl

Green Lentils with Wild Garlic Mustard Pesto

Garlic mustard pesto. Photo: di.wineanddine, Flickr ccl
2 cups green lentils, sprouted or soaked for at least 7 hours and drained
2 cups garlic mustard leaves, packed
1/2 to 1 cup romaine lettuce, packed
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup water
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup brazil nuts or almonds

Cook lentils in enough water to cover until soft. Drain off any excess water.

While lentils are cooking prepare the pesto. In a food processor or blender combine all ingredients and blend until it forms a thick paste. Thin with additional water if necessary. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary.

Combine hot lentils with pesto and serve with an additional grating of cheese if desired.

Note: This pesto can be tossed on pasta, put on potatoes, or hard boiled eggs as well as used with the lentils as above. Be creative!

Garlic mustard pesto tossed on pasta. Photo: h-bomb, Flickr ccl


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