Friday, May 25, 2012


In a previous life, if there are such things, I'm quite certain I was a butterfly collector.

I have discovered that I pursue unusual foods for canning with the same zeal, nay, obsession, that I imagine nineteenth century entomologists expressed for their quarries.  Once I discover that it is possible to can something, to preserve it in some way, then I must procure it.  It was this way with the paw paws.  The violets and lilacs.  Foraging for a wider variety of foods.  Each time, the internet is my enabler.  I read something on a blog, describing a food I haven't yet tried, or canned, or even considered a food, and off I go.  Obsessed, really.  So is it any surprise that I've been driving around looking for black locust trees, after I found this jelly recipe?

Nope, no surprise to me.  Nor to my husband.  I think he's used to my "quirks."

Mallow peas.  Aren't they cute?
Yesterday I thought I caught a glimpse of some, with reachable blooms, near the house.  Today I walked out to it and, yes, it was a black locust tree.  It was actually four of them, in a row, with just enough blooms within reach for me to make that jelly.  I also stopped by the one and only mallow plant I'd managed to find in all my foraging and grabbed the first few mallow peas.  Those went into a beef stew tonight in an attempt to thicken it.  (We ended up adding flour to thicken it further, as a tablespoon of mallow peas just aren't enough!)

After steeping the locust flowers in boiling water, I drained them and used the liquid to make the jelly.  Repeating it here because then I'll have it in one place:  4 cups flowers, steeped in 3 cups boiling water for at least 8 hours, then drained.  To the liquid add 4 T. strained lemon juice, one box of powdered pectin, and boil.  Add 4 cups sugar, return to a rolling boil for 1 minute and then process in jars for 10 minutes.  I used 4 ounce jars so I can give these as gifts and it made 10 jars and a little extra.

Now that that's out of my system, I wonder what's next?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Root Beer Syrup with a Twist

I went for a walk in the woods today, keeping my eye out for foragy-type things.  I have it in my head right now to find locust tree flowers, but I am always looking for morels after a friend found some in his backyard recently.  (Talk about envy...)  What I came away with is sassafras root.

Using Hank Shaw's recipe for root beer syrup, I made a batch.  I did not have any burdock root, and I'm still a little shaky on what burdock is, so I figured I'd proceed without it.  In his cookbook he says that's fine.  However, at the last minute I discovered I don't actually have peppermint extract in the house.  If I'd saved the wintergreen berries I'd found last weekend I could have popped those in but, no.  So I used a peppermint candy.  Close enough.  A little extra sugar won't hurt, right?

The other change is that I'm attempting to can it, like other syrups, rather than just store it in the fridge.  So I put the syrup in pint jars (4) and processed it for 10 minutes in the boiling water canner and let it rest for 5 before removing it.
We had an opportunity to use the syrup: 4 T. with seltzer was just right.

I also brought home a few leaves so will try drying them in the oven overnight to make file powder.  Not that I've ever used file powder, but it might come in handy someday.

Licking the pot suggested that it tastes pretty much like root beer soda, and that is a good thing.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Nettle Ravioli, Revisited

Remember how last year I made nettle ravioli?  With rye pasta, and nettles on the inside?  Well, I'm in the mood to mix things up a bit.  This time, the nettles are on the outside!

I made half a batch of pasta dough: half a pound of flour, 2 eggs, 1 T. olive oil and 39 g frozen nettles.

The nettles were thawed then pureed with the oil and the eggs, mixed with the flour and the dough was allowed to rest for about 15 minutes.  After that, I rolled it out.  Initially I was just going to make fettucini, but then I changed my mind and mixed up a quick filling of grated parmesan, grated mixed italian cheese, cream cheese, and 2 eggs.  Instead of using the ravioli press, I used the cutter I got for Christmas.  The shapes are all a little wonky, but that is OK.  They won't win any beauty contests, but I think they will taste fabulous!
Now, what to serve them with?  Any suggestions?

Update:  Clam sauce!  And it was AWESOME!  The 7 year old ate it all up, with just butter and cheese, and declared it the best ravioli ever (and that's saying something, isn't it?).
To make the sauce: half a pound of chopped clams, 1/4 cup butter, spoonful of minced garlic, plus pepper, oregano and basil, simmered until the clams were cooked.  Super, super easy!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Anxiety and Pretty Flowers

The other day I took the kids out to the nearby meadow for a little foraging.  Well, for them it was rock scrambling and playing.  For me it was digging up wild carrots (more on that later), some field garlic, and finding a treasure trove of violets!  The kids joined me on the violet hunt and I soon had enough to finish that batch of jelly I'd hoped for.  After steeping the violets overnight, today I have 9 half-cup jars of violet jelly to start this year's gift stash.

As far as the wild carrots go - I think I may have lost my nerve!  I know what they look like, what they smell like, and what they taste like.  But, after getting a few home, I was struck with anxiety that I might have messed up.  Gotten poison hemlock instead (which we did see, by the way).  I waited several hours, sure I was going to die a horrible, paralytic death.  My toes tingled, and I quietly worried.  Swore I would do no more "extreme foraging."

Well, as you can see, I am still alive, but that doesn't make me feel any better.  What if one of the carrots, one of the ones I didn't taste, isn't a carrot?  Death could be lurking in the fridge for me.  I think maybe, as with the mushrooms, I will be a less enthusiastic forager....

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Spring Canning

I've been thinking about canning more than I've actually been able to can.  Spring is always a little hectic around here.  I have half of the violet infusion I need to make a batch of violet jelly; I just didn't have a lot of flowers this year and I think perhaps I won't get many more, so I might have to give that up for a year.  Last week I bought a pound of fiddleheads and was hoping to get them pickled but am only getting to them today - a whole week later!  To be fair, if we hadn't gone camping last weekend, I'd have done them sooner....

When I asked my husband if he wanted the sweet or sour fiddlehead pickles, he voted for sweet, so this year it will be just sweet ones.  I packed the fiddleheads into 5 half-pint jars and poured the cider vinegar syrup over them.  They're in the canner now for 10 minutes.

I haven't had a whole lot of foraging luck due to the rain, but I did discover wild carrots in the back yard and tasted a Solomon's Seal rhizome (yum!).  Yesterday at the stables I found curly dock, a huge amount of chickweed, and some kind of cress/mustard green thing.  Tasted a bit like arugula.  Looked a bit like it, too.  Anyway, I brought all that home and I'll be using the curly dock tonight in a risotto, but last night we had a salad with the chickweed, cress, a little of the curly dock (the small leaves), and garlic mustard flowers.  I liked it, but my husband said it tasted like freshly cut grass smells and, being a bitter taster, was abruptly put off by the cress.  As was the 10 year old.  I guess being a bitter taster makes foraging just that much harder.

Currently I'm supposed to be at a Tai Chi class in the park, but it's raining so I bailed.  Not that I mind the rain.  It's been such a dry winter and spring so far!